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What's Wrong with the World: The Lie about Children
Over a century ago, The British, Catholic essayist GK Chesterton responded to a newspaper article that asked readers to submit answers to the question “what is wrong with the world”? He responded very simply: “Dear Sirs, I am, G.K. Chesterton.” He also wrote a book by the same name What’s Wrong with the World. As with so many of his writings, one can’t help being struck by just how much of what he said over one hundred years ago still applies today. He titled main sections of his book, “Imperialism: or the Mistake about Man,” “Feminism, or the Mistake about Women,” and “Education, or the Mistake about the Child.” The mistakes about the three of these have not grown less in our day, but greater and, as we look at the world and wonder how it has gone so badly wrong today, it is worth using Chesterton’s categories to review the lies the world tells about men, women, and children today.
Taking the latter first in this article, I thought about the Psalmist in Psalm 126, Nisi Dominus, “Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it…lo children are a heritage of the Lord…Blessed is the man whose desire is satisfied with them” (Psalm 126). And yet, how little our world agrees with the Psalmist. “Children are a heritage,” and “blessed is the man whose desire is satisfied with them,” communicate a particular view of children, especially the idea that they ought to satisfy a man’s desire. And yet, we don’t see a world that is satisfied with children. We see something far different.
I am struck by this every so often where I teach and when faculty and staff sit around making small talk and inevitably someone makes the utterly hilarious (they think) joke about being so happy they are at school and away from their children. “I love my children but,” with the emphasis on the “but.” I’ve never been able to find the joke funny-- if it is meant as a joke- because it seems too serious and to reflect a certain modern view.
That view is the lie about children. Chesterton referred to the “error” of men, women, and children, but I think we must go further and call this not only an error, but a lie about children. And the lie about children is this, that children are burdens, obstacles to our self-fulfillment, bad for the world and society, and that their numbers should be strictly limited. And we see this lived out as people are having fewer children and the birth rate in America continues to decline.
Not only are people having fewer children, they are spending less time with them. Society is veritably constructed to have parents spend as little time with their children as possible. After a child is born a few short weeks of maternity leave (and almost no paternity leave) end and then the child is placed in a daycare (sometimes labeled as a “school” to give the idea that this is a great opportunity for one’s infant or toddler), to be raised by strangers. Strangers will both hear the child’s first words and see his first steps. Parents have been alienated from their own children. It is the error of a society that has organized the family around one’s life, rather than one’s life around one’s family. And it is an error based on a lie, the lie that children are a burden and obstacles to self-fulfillment.
One can’t help but wonder who thinks it so important to separate parents from their children… and why.
And the error and the lie have not made us happy. America has grown wealthier and more prosperous than ever, yet happiness is near a 5 decade low, David Brooks made the same point. Americans have a higher standard of living, the government spends more than ever on social services, and we are more comfortable than ever before. We are also not happy. By other measure one could look at the continued push to legalize marijuana and “decriminalize” other hard drugs, build more casinos and legalize prostitution. Then, of course, one thinks of the continued push for assisted suicide Can anyone think we are a happy society or people?
It is certainly true that having children is not always easy, but then few things worth doing in this world are. Parents will endure sleepless nights, financial worry, and harm to their careers among other challenges. But what of that? If we are to recapture the something of the joy and optimism of earlier ages and younger societies, we will have to reject the modern lie about children; we will have to stop seeing children as burdens and obstacles and start to see them as Our Lord saw them 2,000 years ago: Let the children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these…
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