The Christianity that is usually recited to a child is actually not Christianity but idyllic mythology. It is the idea of childlikeness raised to the second power. And, sadly, the child’s lovable misunderstanding of what is essentially Christian often transmutes parental love into a piety that is nevertheless not actually Christianity.
A Christianity based on a child’s piety is not the spirituality of a disciple. This gets everything mixed up – as if the mother should try to get nourished by the milk that nature provides the child. If this is the parents’ entire religiousness, then they lack authentic faith. This “childlike” piety, which we so often laud, and this blessedness are lovely and lovable, but it is not really Christianity. It is Christianity in the medium of idyllic fantasy. It is a Christianity from which the cross has been removed. It is a sentimental view of faith which forgets that Christ’s call provokes the consciousness of sin.
Let us look more carefully at what Christ actually says with regard to children: “Let the little children come and do not for bid them to come to me, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 19:14). The whole chapter speaks of the difficulty of entering the kingdom of heaven, and the expressions are as strong as possible: “There are eunuchs who have castrated themselves for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” It is no wonder that the disciples become so terrified that they exclaim: “Who then can be saved?”
After Christ answers the disciples, he goes on to speak of the reward awaiting those who have left houses and brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands for the sake of his name. All of these teachings are salty expressions depicting the collisions in which a Christian can and will be tested. Consequently, Christ makes entering into God’s kingdom as difficult as possible. But if entering this kingdom is supposed to be about the loveliness and innocence of being a little child, a proper little angel, then what could this possibly mean in the presence of the apostles who were called to pick up their cross and follow?
A childish view of Christianity is ludicrous. If the assertion about being a child must be understood literally, then it is non sense to preach the cross of Christ to adults. Yet this is the way Christianity is defended by orthodox fencers. Childlike Christianity, which in a little child is lovable, in an adult is childish. Faith such as that confuses everything. If a little child (literally understood) is to provide the definition of what Christianity is, then there is no terror; it ceases to be an offense, as the apostle Paul says, to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks.
When a child is told about Christ it naturally appropriates everything that is gentle, endearing, and heavenly. He lives together with the little Jesus-child, with the angels, and with the three kings. He sees the star in the dark night, journeys the long road, and now is in the stable, wonder upon wonder, and always sees the heavens open. With all the inwardness of the imagination he longs for these pictures. And now let us not forget the candy canes and all the other magnificent things that come along with such religiousness! Christ becomes the little divine child, or for the somewhat older child, the friendly figure with the kindly face. The child-conception of Christ is essentially a fantasy-perception.
With regard to being Christian, then, childhood is not the true age. On the contrary, adulthood – in the truest sense – is the time when it is to be decided whether a person will be a Christian or not. To become a Christian is a decision that be longs to a later age. The child’s receptivity is so entirely without decision that it is no wonder people say: A child can be made to believe anything. This is because they do. This does not mean we should rigorously coerce a child into decisively Christian qualifications. By no means! If this happens, such a child will suffer a great deal. Such an upbringing will either plunge him immediately into despondency and anxiety or later into the anxiety of lust on a scale unknown even in paganism.
Even still, we must do everything we can to guard against changing Christianity into a beautiful, innocent recollection, instead of being what is most decisive in a person’s becoming. Genuine Christianity is an offense to the religious and foolishness to the wise. It is not some complacent something that of fends no one, where people smile at it instead, and where defense of it only incites them.
It is beautiful and lovable that Christian parents, just as they otherwise take care of the child, should also nourish the child with childlike ideas of the religious. But a stupid, sentimental, and clumsy misunderstanding of childhood is reprehensible. It is immense stupidity to say that childhood itself is the time for really deciding to become a Christian. And insofar as this urge and inclination to push becoming a Christian back into child hood becomes common, this in itself is proof that the decisiveness of Christian faith is on its way to dying out.
Written by Søren Kierkegaard: Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard. Compiled and Edited by Charles E. Moore p. 196-198
Copyright 2011 by The Plough Publishing House. Used with permission. [Photography added]