Typos p. 25: coprolangia [= coprolagnia]; p. 32: inacceptable [= unacceptable]
The Main Sources of the Mischief
"Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven."
For many years it has been my private opinion and one which not long hence will probably be acknowledged as correct that much of the mischief of child-adulation and of excessive deference to children has sprung from this alleged remark of Jesus. For, to the faithful, who could not very well dismiss it as a young bachelor's shot in the dark, its implications have for centuries led to a complete and disastrous misunderstanding and distortion of child psychology. In 1934 I had occasion elsewhere to remark that psychological insight is not a strong point with the Holy Family and, in the above instance, we have a further conspicuous example of this divine shortcoming.
Closely scrutinized by any man or woman with a tolerably good memory, it has a disturbing ring; for, by implication, it appears to mean that the Kingdom of Heaven cannot be the kind of place which, throughout their adolescence and youth, they had been led to picture in their imagination.
Were they perhaps odd? Were they to conclude that their own child-life did not tally with Jesus's estimate of it only because they themselves had been exceptional? Or were they merely exceptional adults who had unusually retentive memories?
As a rule their cogitations on the subject would be dropped at this stage and for ever dismissed as otiose. One could get on in life without squaring every one of Jesus's alleged generalizations with one's own experience. Nevertheless, assuming that our man and woman with tolerably good memories also had some knowledge of science and, above all,
But wait! Even scientifically it might be possible to prove Jesus's dictum right if only we were prepared to accept all its consequences and could persuade ourselves of the truth of the following propositions:
1. That, although like me and a good many others, Jesus had no children, he knew all that I and modern science know about them.
2. That this knowledge in respect of the terms of his statement differed from mine and that of modern scientific psychology only in the fact that, unlike me and modern scientific psychology, he knew the Kingdom of Heaven.
Accepting these propositions as true, we must, if we are to make such sense of his remark as will bring it into line with an informed lay and scientific opinion of children, therefore assume that, when he spoke about the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus had in mind a place where complete amorality prevailed, and where people could and did behave like children i.e., with all the habitual aggressiveness, sadism, duplicity, cunning, obscenity, sexual curiosity and play, egotism, egoism, unscrupulousness, pitilessness, will to power, untruthfulness, hatred, vindictiveness, hostility and homicidal jealousy, not to speak of coprophilia, coprolangia, and other seductive traits, which normal (not only average) children display.
Nor am I referring here to mere infants, but to normal children up to seven or eight years of age, in whom modern scientific psychology has found all the above characteristics more or less openly displayed nay more, in whom modern scientific psychology has recognized all the essential roots of subsequent asocial, criminal and otherwise reprehensible
But of this we may now feel certain that only on condition that Jesus meant that the Kingdom of Heaven was inhabited by beings possessing all the characteristics enumerated, could his famous remark have any meaning.
I suppose that it is just possible to conceive of such a place as a Kingdom of Heaven peopled in this fashion. Indeed, when discussing the matter in this light with certain extreme worshippers of Nature cru et vert, some have actually declared that it is the best proof of their contention that Jesus's real and true mission, misunderstood by the Apostle Paul and the Church, was actually to relieve mankind of any sense of sin in connexion with the very traits I have enumerated, which are customarily frowned upon. They even quoted other texts to show that, in fact, Jesus's main endeavour was to give man a clean conscience in amorality.
Parenthetically, I may remark here that, as far as I am concerned, the feature about children which, in my maturity, I have always regarded as most uplifting, is precisely their amorality, their unconcern in the manifestation of passions, impulses, desires and feelings which we as adults regard as shameful. But this is only a personal point of view, and is too Nietzschean to be taken seriously. All the same, I venture most emphatically to question first the validity of the point of view that Jesus's real endeavour was to give man a clean conscience in amorality, and secondly that he understood children as modern scientific psychology understands them when he pronounced his famous words. The important point is, however, that we cannot now make any sense of these words, unless we do assume that he meant the Kingdom of Heaven to be a place peopled by Nietzschean amoralists. If we assume it to be a place to which only saints and holy folk in the Christian view have access, Jesus's words can have no meaning.
For we must remember that, assuming he actually did use
We have, therefore, two alternatives. Either we must accept the view of the Kingdom of Heaven as a repository of souls anathematized by the accepted morality of Christianity, in which case Matthew XIX. 14 has some meaning; or else we must take the traditional Church view of the Kingdom of Heaven as a place fit only for holy Christian saints and martyrs and so-called "good people," in which case Matthew XIX. 14 is nonsense and we have to conclude that Jesus knew nothing whatsoever about little children.
As I have already suggested, the first alternative is at least possible and tenable. It, moreover, has the advantage of exculpating Jesus from the charge of not knowing something of which his divine omniscience should by definition have given him full knowledge.
Unfortunately, the trouble is that the Christian world, apparently from very early days, never understood these words of Jesus in the only way in which they can make sense.
It assumed that the Kingdom of Heaven was a place peopled only by the haute volée of Christian believers, presided over by God and his angels. It concluded from the fact that Satan had been "fired" from the Kingdom of Heaven that it was no place for creatures possessing his characteristics.
We have only to read the Apocalypse of Peter, of the year 170 A.D., or thereabouts, to find that this was so even at that comparatively early date. Heaven is there defined as a place where, apart from its divine hosts, only such earthly candidates were admitted as "high priests," and "righteous men" presumably all characters supposed to be unsullied by, or else purged of, every vestige of the traits enumerated above as normally displayed by children. Nor can there be any doubt that to the Apostle Paul and the Fathers of the
Thus the Christian world inevitably assumed that the Kingdom of Heaven was reached only by the pure or the purified. Indeed, Jesus himself declared that the "pure in heart" were blessed, "for they shall see God." And since Jesus repeatedly referred to his father as "in Heaven," and his father, to him, meant God, it seems obvious that "the pure in heart" would see God in Heaven. In the parable of the sheep and the goats, he further told them that the former (on the right hand of the Son of Man, "come in his glory" to judge the nations) are blessed and "inherit the kingdom prepared for [them] from the foundation of the world." It is taken for granted that this again is the Kingdom of Heaven. And, seeing that the New Testament makes it abundantly plain that God and his angels live there, together with the Son of Man and the saints, who are paragons of Christian moral virtue, it is not unnaturally looked upon as a place where only perfect, or perfected people, can be admitted.
But perfect people, in the Christian sense, do not normally display the traits catalogued above as characteristic of children, although Satan is proverbially supposed to do so.
The Christian world, which has had free access to the Scriptures and hence to Jesus's words in Matthew XIX. 14, has for centuries, therefore, argued as follows: Since Heaven is a place whither only the pure, the rigid observers of Christian morality, can hope to go, and in which all the denizens are in the society of God, his Son and the angels and saints; children, of whom Jesus said that "of such is the Kingdom of Heaven," must accordingly be the embodiment of all that is most pure and desirable from the standpoint of Christian moral standards.
Given the facts as found in the New Testament, together with the freedom to interpret them independently of any
True, it meant that the believer was obliged, whether or not his memory was retentive, conveniently to forget what he had been as a child and to overlook what he had observed in the children who had been his contemporaries. But, apart from the fact already noted that it is comforting to forget a good deal of one's childhood's days, wishful thinking has never been a rare gift among men. On the other hand, psychological insight does happen to be a rare gift. Thus, to a vast majority of people, the feat of conceiving heaven as the ultimate home of perfect beings in the Christian sense, and at the same time as peopled by creatures like children, presented no insuperable difficulties. And that is how the words of Jesus concerning children grew by tradition to mean that children are "innocent," pure, and morally superior to adults.
In puritanical countries, obsessed by the more acute forms of sex-phobia, this conclusion seemed the more obvious in view of its apparent validity on the plane of sex alone. For, since children did not know our "dirty secrets" they must be our moral superiors. They were, in short, the equivalent of angels in our midst. "Clearly then," said the Christian in his heart, "this is what Jesus must have meant by the words he used concerning them." It explained everything!
Perhaps no people have ever believed this more blindly and fanatically than the Anglo-Saxons of two continents during the nineteenth century. Nor is it any accident that the belief received its most magisterial and artistic expression at the hands of an English poet about 1806. I refer to Wordsworth's Ode, Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.
The whole of the fifth stanza of this Ode should be studied for the light it sheds on Wordsworth's own psychology and sex-phobia. Indeed, than these nineteen lines of English verse, there exists a no more monumental record of the Anglo-Saxon misunderstanding and distortion of child nature as the result of a naïf acceptance of Jesus's dictum.
For what Wordsworth put into lofty, noble language, all English speaking people certainly all middle-class English people then believed. Wordsworth was blazing no new trail. He was merely giving magnificent expression to what all his contemporaries in his station of life felt, and to what almost all their posterity to this day, were to feel.
In vain did a shrewder reader of the human and, above all, of the child's heart, flatly contradict him. The reading public do not as a rule ask to be taught or enlightened. They demand only striking, moving and lively formulations of their own sentiments and feelings.
Thus, when Robert Browning, in 1846, published his Soul's Tragedy, English people never dreamt of revising the views on childhood which Wordsworth had most eloquently phrased for them. Besides, who read Browning? Middle-class people, as a body, either knew Wordsworth's Ode and were consequently fortified in all that they had already learnt to feel about children, or else they did not know it, and merely shared its sentiments through having imbibed them from the common source. But, whether they knew it or not, they acted on it and, in so doing, unfortunately set the tone for the whole nation including, of course, the working class.
The consequences of this wide dissemination of what we
Had the majority of nineteenth century English speaking people read their Browning, and had even the small number who did read him understood him, they might at least have faltered in their faith. For Browning told them that men actually grew better as they grew older, that they were worst in childhood and improved with maturity (which of the vast majority is undoubtedly true). He further told them that even "the sweetest child" would be rudely handled by the world's inhabitants if he retained his angelic infantile desires when he had grown six feet tall, black and bearded.
But although Browning in 1846 already had little to learn from the New Psychology, what could he avail against Wordsworth backed by the high authority of Jesus? For at the time Browning wrote the Soul's Tragedy, the authority of modern scientific psychology could, of course, not be appealed to in the controversy.
Besides, there were other influences at work which favoured the Wordsworthian view.
It has been fashionable in certain English circles during the last sixty years or so (for a much longer time among Protestant divines) for people who wished to appear truly advanced and enlightened to pit against the traditional doctrines of Christianity as spread by the Church, what they are pleased to call "real" or "true" Christianity. As I need hardly point out, this "real" Christianity invariably differs from all other brands of the same provenance according to the individual who happens to be expounding it. But what all brands of Christianity, as opposed to "Church" Christianity, have in common is that they derive from an individual study of Jesus's alleged ipsissima verba, and the interpretation each individual chooses to give them is then opposed to what the Church teaches.
Among the people who adopt, or actually contribute to this "Modern Thought," it is, moreover, usual to look upon it as embodying much wiser, more acceptable and more practical views about the subjects covered by Church doctrine than are to be found in traditional Christianity. Long ago, however, I began to suspect that there was more self-assurance than soundness in the cool claims advanced by these "real" Christians, and many of their conclusions struck me as very much more shallow and hasty than those arrived at by the body they were attacking.
It seemed to me that this was so probably because Church teaching, however inacceptable it may be in many respects and I speak as a convinced supporter of all that Nietzsche says against Christianity is, after all, tinctured with a good deal of ancient wisdom, subsequently reinforced by the cumulative experience of civilized men ever since the year I of our era.
At all events, on this subject of the child, which is the only one that concerns us here. Modern Thought, by accepting Jesus's words as axiomatic, fell wholeheartedly on the Wordsworthian side of the controversy, with all that this implies in false doctrine relating to other spheres of life, and thus proved itself in opposition to the traditional Catholic standpoint.
Indeed, the very fact that it found itself in such opposition lent it heart and courage, and convinced it of its wisdom.
I shall leave for the moment the question of the implications of the Wordsworthian point of view in other spheres of life, and abide by the main issue.
If, then, we examine Church tradition on the subject of the child, even in Protestant countries, we at once behold a doctrine and a scheme of ideas very much more in harmony with Browning and the latest findings of scientific psychology, than with Jesus or Wordsworth. For, in the first place, we
This brings the teaching of the Church much closer to Browning and the latest scientific findings than anything Modern Thought holds to be true on the same subject. And, from Augustine to the present day, the orthodox Christian attitude has never deviated from it. Indeed, to anyone with a knowledge both of children and of all that has now been established about their natures, the Wordsworthian view, upheld by Modern Thought, must in comparison with the Church view appear merely silly.
To read Augustine now is to find so many striking parallels between him and both Browning and science, that one's respect for the magisterial figure of this early Father of the Church and his confrères increases by leaps and bounds.
I have already called attention to the important part played by memory in any cogitations on the subject of childhood and it is, therefore, all the more interesting to note that, whereas Browning, whose memory was evidently most retentive, does not trouble to mention it in connexion with his valuable remarks on the child, Wordsworth, who gives the false picture, would have us believe that his famous Ode was written "from Recollections of Early Childhood."
I do not suggest that here Wordsworth deliberately lied, or wished to deceive us. He may quite sincerely have believed that the Ode did represent his childhood recollections. But, if this is so, he was evidently a confirmed wishful thinker. For having, as the poem demonstrates, utterly forgotten his childhood, and never troubled to correct his faulty memory
As for Augustine, he frankly denies all recollection of his earliest infancy, but is careful to state that at least he went to the pains of collecting information about it from elders, and adds that when, as an adult, he wished to complete his picture of human infancy, he supplemented this information by personal observation of the infants about him.
Let us now look at what he says in his Confessions. For Augustine wrote in the late fourth and early fifth centuries, when Church doctrine was crystallizing, and he did much to help this process.
Describing his earliest days, he says: "I would wrangle at those elder servants that would not submit to me, and the children that did not aptly humour me [Will to Power]; and I thought to revenge myself upon them all, with crying [child's conscious tyranny of tears]. And this, as I have learned, is the fashion of all children" (teste the latest findings on child psychology!)
"Who will put me in mind of this? [meaning infant un-Christian manifestations]. Any such little one, in whom I now observe what I myself remember not."
Then comes a Browning touch: "For as we grow, we root and cast out such childishness: nor have I seen any man who, purging out bad things, casts the good also. But whether may this pass for good, by crying to desire what would have hurt to be given, and to be sullenly froward at freemen and elders that did not humour me, and mine own parents too; yea, and fighting as fiercely as I could at divers other discreet persons that did not cockney me in everything,
Browning might have been inspired by this, if he had ever read it. But I call attention in passing to this shrewd explanation of the term "innocent" as applied to children. Evidently, at that remote time, Augustine felt the need of pointing out to those who might be influenced by Jesus's words about little children words to which, by-the-bye, he tactfully makes no reference throughout his discourse on the subject! that the alleged innocence of children was to be understood, not as a disinclination to hurt and harm, but as a physical, or muscular, inability to implement the inclination to hurt and harm.
Although it may be doubted whether he ever read Augustine's Confessions, Herbert Spencer expresses a somewhat similar but less enlightened view in Chapter III of his Education, where he says: "The popular idea that children are 'innocent,' while it is true with respect to evil knowledge, is totally false with respect to evil impulses, as half an hour's observation in the nursery will prove to anyone."
Now look at this passage in Augustine which might have come straight out of a book by Aichhorn, Miss Susan Isaacs, or Freud himself: "I myself have seen and observed a little baby to be already jealous; before it could speak, what an angry and bitter look it would cast at another child that sucked away its milk from it."
And Augustine adds: "But may this pass for innocency, that a baby full fed should not endure a poor foster child to share with him a fountain of milk plentifully and freshly flowing, though destitute of succour, and having but that only nourishment to sustain its poor life withal?" (William Watts' translation, Loeb Classical Library, 1919).
I submit that this brief sketch of some of the features of his own and other people's infancy is nearer the truth about
Unfortunately, while the majority of English speaking middle-class people, whether religious or not, know and hold the Wordsworthian point of view, either from reading or, as; more often happens, from having picked it up in the air they breathe, it is still true to say that only the few are acquainted with Browning's standpoint and its authoritative scientific confirmation.
As for the illiterate in Anglo-Saxon countries, it is perhaps no exaggeration to say that, either through their overpowering wish to emulate their "betters," or else through the latters' precept, they now all accept without question the; Wordsworthian view of the child. Nor can there be any doubt that the effect of this on their family life is significant.
The middle-classes, especially those who are more well-to-do, usually escape the worst consequences of thinking and acting along Wordsworthian lines, at least as it affects their children's up-bringing, because of the frequent delegation among them of all parental dudes to strangers. For as these, even if Wordsworth disciples at heart, cannot allow his child-psychology to control their methods, for fear lest their charges get completely out of hand, it follows that, in practice, they have to lean to the Church, Browningian and New Psychological point of view, in order to turn out men and women more or less fit for society.
It is probably true that the inclination in Anglo-Saxon countries to accept Wordsworth is to a great extent motivated by the endemic puritanical bias, conscious or unconscious. But, seeing that, ever since the Evolutionists first propounded their doctrines, the Browning standpoint has been available to all, though presented in a different dress, and was more than ventilated in 1861 when Herbert Spencer published his
Thus in seeking for the remote cause of the Wordsworthian point of view of the child in Anglo-Saxon countries, and in all other countries to which it has spread, it seems impossible to overlook the influence of Matthew XVIII, 3, and XIX. 14; Mark X. 14, and Luke XVIII. 16. Indeed, when we bear in mind that, in Protestant countries at least, hardly an adult of any class can be found who does not know, or who has not heard, the sentiments expressed in these texts, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that their influence in this matter has probably been decisive.
It is not often that I find myself in agreement with C. E. M. Joad; but in this particular instance, if we may assume that the sentiments expressed by Jesus in the above-mentioned texts represent his original and not a borrowed point of view, I cannot help cordially echoing the Professor's opinion that "it is when He is most individual that Jesus seems to be most unsatisfactory." (Rationalist Annual. 1940, p. 46).