CHILDISH OR CHILDLIKE? THAT IS THE REAL CHOICE.

by Carl R. Trueman at FirstThings.com

Childish

Last week over at salon.com, Jeffrey Tayler wrote another of those predictable polemics against religion. All the usual clichés were present, from the idea that religion motivates weirdness and evil to the strange inability to present the Christian faith in terms which any thoughtful believer (or informed atheist, for that matter) might recognize.

One paragraph in particular stood out:

Why childish? A majority of adults in one of the most developed countries on Earth believe, in all seriousness, that an invisible, inaudible, undetectable “father” exercises parental supervision over them, protecting them from evil (except when he doesn’t), and, for the mere price of surrendering their faculty of reason and behaving in ways spelled out in various magic books, will ensure their postmortem survival. Wishful thinking characterizes childhood, yes, but, where the religious are concerned, not only. That is childish.

Childlike

Now, he may well be correct. But what is described here has little to do with the historic faith of the Christian Church. It is not the God of the Book of Job or the Gospel of John. Nor is it the Christianity of the Catholic Creeds or the Protestant confessions. It is not the faith of Augustine in his Confessions, or Aquinas in his Summa, or Calvin in his Institutes, or Bunyan in The Pilgrim’s Progress, or Pascal in his Pensées.

Yet it was not Tayler’s impressive confidence in his ignorance of Christian theology that fascinated me. It was his contrast of religion as childishness with secular liberalism as adult.  Such is not original to him, of course, but Tayler justifies his own version of this traditional thesis by arguing that childishness has at its core wishful thinking.  This, he claims, is a central part of religion.

Finish reading the original article here

 

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41 Responses to CHILDISH OR CHILDLIKE? THAT IS THE REAL CHOICE.

  1. toadspittle says:

    To sum it up for Mr. Truman:
    “Yes, religion’s Pie-In-The-Sky-Wishful-Thinking is childish – but a great many people’s thinking nowadays is even more childish than that – especially regarding drivel in films, pop music, and on TV.” Comparing like with like of course.

    “Palestrina, Bach’s sacred oratorios, and the poems of John Donne and Gerard Manley Hopkins strike me as somewhat more adult* than America’s Got Talent, Taylor Swift’s latest lyrics, or the wit and wisdom of Jon Stewart.”
    How odd. I’d have to reluctantly agree. Comparing like with like of course.

    * Ouch! Yikes! The savage irony! JH will love it!

  2. toadspittle says:

    “But what is described here has little to do with the historic faith of the Christian Church. It is not the God of the Book of Job or the Gospel of John. Nor is it the Christianity of the Catholic Creeds or the Protestant confessions. It is not the faith of Augustine in his Confessions, or Aquinas in his Summa, or Calvin in his Institutes, or Bunyan in The Pilgrim’s Progress, or Pascal in his Pensées.”
    Quite right, it doesn’t. But it does, I suggest, accurately sum up the Christianity of my parents, of me as a child, the vast majority of semi-literate Christian believers in the world today, and even several people on CP&S, if they are honest enough to admit it.
    …And who have never heard of Pascal or Aquinas.
    And who think Calvin is a pair of posh jeans.

  3. Michael says:

    Quite right, it doesn’t. But it does, I suggest, accurately sum up the Christianity of my parents, of me as a child, the vast majority of semi-literate Christian believers in the world today, and even several people on CP&S, if they are honest enough to admit it.

    Congratulations Toad – you’ve given great support to part of the author’s argument (the attribution of childish, anti-rational, sky-fairy type belief to huge swathes of Christians, just because that being the case provides a convenient distraction from the truth that contemporary secular culture and thought is shallow and confused) with this statement.

  4. Michael says:

    To sum it up for Mr. Truman:
    “Yes, religion’s Pie-In-The-Sky-Wishful-Thinking is childish – but a great many people’s thinking nowadays is even more childish than that – especially regarding drivel in films, pop music, and on TV.”

    Nope – straight to the back of the class I think, where you might care to adjust your spectacles and read the article again.

  5. toadspittle says:

    Anything to oblige, Michael.
    But how can the acknowledged truth of my statement regarding religious wishful thinking re immortality (for one) detract from the indisputable fact that contemporary secular culture is junk (which it always is, anyway)?
    Surely the two aspects can both be childish and exist simultaneously?
    I think they do.

  6. toadspittle says:

    I’ve replied to the above Michael. Gone straight to spam, apparently.

  7. Michael says:

    But how can the acknowledged truth of my statement regarding religious wishful thinking re immortality (for one) detract from the indisputable fact that contemporary secular culture is junk (which it always is, anyway)?

    I don’t think such a statement (though I’m not sure who has acknowledged it as true) does detract from the fact that secular culture is ‘junk’. What I was getting at is that, in your previous comment, you gave a very clear example of what the author was getting at – which is to take a version of Christianity which, whilst I’m sure parts of are believed by some, is mostly a fanciful cobbling together of minority beliefs that just happen to support the bizarre theses of Dawkins et al, and misapply such beliefs to vastly more people than actually do believe them (e.g.; ‘the vast majority of semi-literate Christian believers in the world today’).

    This might be a convenient peg for the secularist to hang their hat on, but it is largely a straw man, and the only reason it continues to be perpetuated is that its rhetoric provides the secularist with a target and distraction, so that he can point ‘over there’ and say ‘look at what idiots all those Christians are’, knowing that the one thing people nowadays (ironically) cannot bear to be is outside the ‘smart set’. This provides a distraction from the shallowness of what the secularist is himself proposing, as so long as this convenient target exists (no matter how lacking a ground in fact) people will not bother to examine what it is he is trying to present as an alternative – it is an assumed superiority, based on rhetoric, mythmaking and smokescreenery*.

    *Neologism of the day.

  8. toadspittle says:

    Nobody has brought up Christ’s words so far: “And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
    Beyond me, I fear. I don’t know very much, but I do know considerably more than a little child, and I don’t intend to pretend I don’t.
    Little children have underdeveloped minds and bodies.

  9. Michael says:

    Actually the author mentions it in his concluding paragraph, and it is implied in the title of the article (‘Childish or Childlike’). When Our Lord says to become like little children, He does not mean to forget all we’ve learned or anything like that, but to adopt an open, humble and trusting faith – one that loves without the encumbrance of prejudice and allows a sense of wonder and gratitude to inform our outlook.

    There is rather a good post on this here:

    https://rosesnearrunningwaters.wordpress.com/2014/10/16/living-like-children/

    Thus childlikeness is almost the opposite of childishness, which is characterised by constantly wanting to get one’s own way, acting out when we don’t, and allowing various prejudices to occlude our judgement. The later, more petulant stage of childhood versus the earlier, more open and trusting one.

  10. toadspittle says:

    “…but to adopt an open, humble and trusting faith…”
    But what if the faith offered for adoption is Islam, Methodism, or Mormonism, Michael? Not out of the question. Should we still be child-like and trusting? How are we to know?

  11. Michael says:

    How are we to know?

    By engaging our critical faculties. As I said, becoming ‘like a little child’ in faith does not mean forgetting everything we’ve learned, nor does it mean closing off our intellect. Faith and reason presuppose one another, and when confronted with alternatives to decide between, critical judgement is imperative – when a studied assessment has been made, then faith builds on reason, and having already decided the reasonableness of what is being accepted, childlike trust should, ideally, describe the character of that faith.

    This assessment of what is being proposed for belief can take place at many stages, and can be undertaken by someone brought up in a particular religion and considering its reasonableness (as well as the reasonableness of others) as well as someone of a completely non-religious background. The point is that there comes a point where, having weighed up the options as impartially as possible, you have to just let go and trust God to do the rest.

  12. toadspittle says:

    “By engaging our critical faculties. “
    I suggest, Michael – that had you been born to Muslims in Saudi Arabia, you would now be a Muslim, no matter how much you engaged your critical faculties. And had you been fortunate enough to be born in Salt Lake City, to Mormons, you be one of them.

    “The point is that there comes a point where, having weighed up the options as impartially as possible, you have to just let go and trust God to do the rest.”
    You have, no doubt, weighed up all religious options* before deciding on Catholicism as the only repository of Truth.

    *Including the 2,500 varieties of Christianity in offer in the U.S. alone.

  13. toadspittle says:

    “smokescreenery”

    Nice one, Michael.
    Yer… nice. Toad diffidently offers “Fatimania,”
    and is currently working on “weaselisms.”

  14. I wrote about this a few years ago – I think that re-finding a simple child-like trusting innocence in relation to Our Lord can help adult spirituality – http://defende-nos-in-proelio.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/child-like-vs-childish.html

  15. GC says:

    Indeed, Annie Elizabeth and thank you for your link. There is a very great difference between becoming “as a child”, as the Scriptures say, and “being a child”, as Toad and the atheists seem to prefer they said.

    Our Lord was addressing adults in these Gospel passages and He could hardly have been calling them to blow up balloons in the synagogue, paint their faces and devise Sesame Street liturgies.

    Of course, He was talking about how the love, trust and openness that a child has towards his or her parents is to be our approach to God. We are of course also to be as “wily as serpents and as innocent as doves”.

  16. toadspittle says:

    “There is a very great difference between becoming “as a child”, as the Scriptures say, and “being a child”, as Toad and the atheists seem to prefer.”
    Of course there is.
    …Same as being “as a toad,” is very different from “being a toad.”

  17. Michael says:

    I suggest, Michael – that had you been born to Muslims in Saudi Arabia, you would now be a Muslim…

    Well, that’s a different issue altogether, and I’m pretty sure, since I have personally linked to it here on several occasions, that you should be familiar with the Church’s position on those who, through no fault of their own, are unaware of the Gospel (a position that was established in principle as early as the 2nd Century). Also, I maintain that it is indeed possible, as I mentioned above, to reason one’s way to accepting another belief system – though I certainly admit that in the case of Islam, it is very often a highly dangerous thing to do.

    You have, no doubt, weighed up all religious options* before deciding on Catholicism as the only repository of Truth.

    Yes. I think you see this task as more complicated than it really is though – although there are a great many religions in the world, there are not really that many ‘big players’ (as it were), and amongst these, a lot of time can be saved by deciding whether one is more convinced by the Abrahamic, monotheistic traditions, or by the Dharmic, monistic traditions. If you go for the latter, you are left with various schools of Hinduism, then Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism*. If you go with the former, your choice is between Judaism, Christianity** and Islam, where the major point of difference that has to be addressed is ‘what think ye of Christ?’

    A little time taken to read up on the differences between Eastern and Western thought, and then the historical and philosophical pros and cons of the religions within each subset is not really that much of an ask, though it certainly shouldn’t be rushed through either. It also goes without saying that before any of this one would have to consider whether or not God exists – more of a modern problem admittedly, but still something that might need to be worked through.

    *Sikhism is itself monotheistic as well, and stands out a little from the other Eastern faiths, but shares much more in common with them, particularly in its affirmation of monism, than with the Abrahamic religions.

    **The issue of the many thousands of different Protestant denominations can be dealt with by simply addressing the question of whether Protestantism is itself someting consistent with either the witness of Scripture or the earliest records of Christian history that we have. When one has realised that the Protestant principle is a novelty of the 16th Century, then it is just a matter of choosing between Catholicism and Orthodoxy, wherein the question of the special role given to Saint Peter and its perpetuation in the office of the papacy is the main point of contention.

  18. Michael says:

    Toad diffidently offers “Fatimania,”
    and is currently working on “weaselisms.”

    Not bad either – I particularly like ‘weaselisms’! How about ‘toadality’ (the state where behaviour is becoming more and more toadlike, often involving the denial of propositions as either true or false)?

  19. GC says:

    By the way, the only reference I could find to toads in the Sacred Scriptures was the following, in a version called “the Message”:

    Psalm 37

    I saw Wicked bloated like a toad,
    croaking pretentious nonsense.
    The next time I looked there was nothing—
    a punctured bladder, vapid and limp.

    A bit unfair, I think.

  20. toadspittle says:

    “..a punctured bladder, vapid and limp.” – Toad to a “T!”

  21. johnhenrycn says:

    Psalm 37:
    Hmm😉 I think you jest, GC.

  22. Hard to see how The Message gets that out of:

    “I have seen the wicked highly exalted,
    and lifted up like the cedars of Libanus.
    And I passed by, and lo, he was not:
    and I sought him and his place was not found.
    Keep innocence, and behold justice:
    for there are remnants for the peaceable man.”

  23. GC says:

    They say “the Message” version errs too much on the “dynamic equivalence” side of translation technique, if that makes any difference to Toad.

  24. Michael says:

    I just did a search for ‘spittle’ instead of ‘toad’ and got the following (RSV-CE):

    So he changed his behavior before them, and feigned himself mad in their hands, and made marks on the doors of the gate, and let his spittle run down his beard. (1 Samuel 21:13)

    How long wilt thou not look away from me, nor let me alone till I swallow my spittle? (Job 7:19)

    As he said this, he spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle and anointed the man’s eyes with the clay (John 9:6)

    As for the other nations which have descended from Adam, thou hast said that they are nothing, and that they are like spittle, and thou hast compared their abundance to a drop from a bucket. (2 Esdras 6:56)

  25. GC says:

    Yes, THR, 36. Biblegateway is a protestant effort as is “the Message”

    Did you see the Our Father?

    Our Father in heaven,
    Reveal who you are.
    Set the world right;
    Do what’s best— as above, so below.
    Keep us alive with three square meals.
    Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
    Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
    You’re in charge!
    You can do anything you want!
    You’re ablaze in beauty!
    Yes. Yes. Yes.

  26. toadspittle says:

    “…often involving the denial of propositions as either true or false,”
    Doesn’t everyone?
    “Greece is in a bad way.” – True
    “Tony Blair is nice.” – False

    But I intend to get “toadality,” in a comment – toot sweet.

  27. GC says:

    The plot thickens, Michael. I am fearful of finding out how “the Message” dealt with that last one.

  28. Michael says:

    It does indeed🙂

  29. Michael says:

    Somehow I missed the second sentence of your comment there! We can be thankful that Eugene Peterson never turned his eyes towards the apocrypha of the Old Testament, as I am generally fearful of how ‘The Message’ deals with words in general. Try this one on for size:

    The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.
    We saw the glory with our own eyes,
    the one-of-a-kind glory,
    like Father, like Son,
    Generous inside and out,
    true from start to finish.
    (an only just recognisable John 1:14)

  30. Michael says:

    I suppose Peterson achieved one thing with his translation – I don’t think it can ever really become dated, as rendering that wacky, that far from the literal meaning, and that far from the way people actually talk (even then), stands outside of any time period we have known or are likely to know.

  31. Michael says:

    P.S. I should make plain that I wrote in error above – what biblegateway (where I got these excerpts) refers to as 2 Esdras is often referred to as 4 Esdras in Catholic bibles, because of the traditional naming of Nehemiah as ‘the Second Book of Esdras’. Thus 2 Esdras (as named by biblegateway) is something apocryphal to all Christians, as opposed to those canonical books considered apocryphal by Protestants. I erred in directly lifting the reference from what is (I think) a Protestant site, without checking. ‘oops’🙂

  32. GC says:

    I think even johnhenry will allow that that grave blunder qualifies as an “oops” with a capital “O”, Michael. Sorry.

  33. Michael says:

    I meant in the sense that one denies that any propositions can be either true <i<or false. It was intended as an honorific🙂

  34. Michael says:

    I certainly hope not – I’d corrected my errant habits just for him! I was informed that as a ‘visual idiom’, under no circumstances was it to be capitalised🙂

  35. johnhenrycn says:

    GC (20:42) – The Message‘s Lord’s Prayer is almost as good as the Hawaiian Pidgin one:

    God you our Fadda. You stay inside da sky. We like all da peopo know fo shua how you stay, An dat you stay good an spesho,
    An we like dem give you plenny respeck. We like you come King fo everybody now. We like everybody make jalike you like,
    Ova hea inside da world, jalike da angel guys up inside da sky make jalike you like. Give us da food we need fo today an every day.
    Hemo our shame, an let us go Fo all da kine bad stuff we do to you, Jalike us guys let da odda guys go awready, An we no stay huhu wit dem
    Fo all da kine bad stuff dey do to us. No let us get chance fo do bad kine stuff, But take us outa dea, so da Bad Guy no can hurt us.
    Cuz you our King, You get da real power, An you stay awesome foeva. Dass it!”

    Amen and Aloha.
    http://dahawaiipidginbible.com/Da_Lords_Prayer.html

  36. GC says:

    I’ll take your Hawaiian pidgin and raise you a New Guinea pidgin Our Father, JH.

    (This may help:
    Tok Pisin – Talk Pidgin – New Guinea Pidgin
    mipela – me fellow – we, us
    bilong mipela – belong to us – our
    bilong yu – your
    stap – stop – is, are
    stap long heven – are in heaven
    pogivim – forgive (it)
    long – in, at, to, for, on, from
    arapela – other fellow – others
    samting nogut – something no good – evil
    oltaim oltaim – all time – forever)

    Papa bilong mipela
    Yu stap long heven.
    Nem bilong yu i mas i stap holi.
    Kingdom bilong yu i mas i kam.
    Strongim mipela long bihainim laik bilong yu long graun,
    olsem ol i bihainim long heven.
    Givim mipela kaikai inap long tude.
    Pogivim rong bilong mipela,
    olsem mipela i pogivim ol arapela i mekim rong long mipela.
    Sambai long mipela long taim bilong traim.
    Na rausim olgeta samting nogut long mipela.
    Kingdom na strong na glori, em i bilong yu tasol oltaim oltaim.
    Tru.

    Childish, huh?

  37. johnhenrycn says:

    You win, GC:
    “Ooh-ee-ooh-ah-ah, ting-tang-walla-walla-bing-bang”
    Wish I could find a good version of the Witch-Doctor song by Sha-Na-Na on KehoeTube, but it’s been blocked in my country. Human rights concerns.

  38. GC says:

    Tok Pisin got you stumped, huh, JH? This will help.

    Did you know they call the Prince of Wales nambawan pikinini bilong Misis Kwin?

    http://www.theguardian.com/uk/shortcuts/2012/nov/05/prince-charles-papua-new-guinea

  39. toadspittle says:

    “So he changed his behaviour before them, and feigned himself mad in their hands, and made marks on the doors of the gate, and let his spittle run down his beard. (1 Samuel 21:13)”
    True. I often do that.
    Always gets a laugh.

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