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Recapturing Our "Childness"

This week on THE JOURNAL, historian Martin E. Marty discusses that sometimes mysterious quality that children possess, that we often often strive to cultivate in ourselves, even in our later years:

"I think that notion that you spend your life finding ways to change and become like a little child means you will be more open to mystery, more responsive to others, more receptive."

What do you think?

  • Do children possess certain qualities worth emulating as adults?
  • What do you think is lost in the transition away from childhood, and have you ever tried to recapture it?

    Photo: Robin Holland


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I think that we should pull back are troops from the war in Afganistan.

People don't have faith in religion, they have faith in their parents or whoever taught them to believe in the first place. Thomas Paine said religion is an accident of birth and I agree. I do also believe the essence of god or the creator lies within us. We were given sense enough to know what is good and what is not. It is that simple. The teachings of Jesus are quite strange themselves. Who in their right mind is going to turn the other cheek when someones hits them? Who will watch their child being slapped and tell them to just go ahead and turn the other cheek? Not me! Also, if you hate someone you don't murder them in your heart. You may be the only one who knows you feel that way and the person you hate goes happily along. When you really murder someone, they are dead. They get planted in the grave. Their families suffer and grieve. You have taken a real life! You do not commit adultery by thinking. Adultery is a physical act that takes two. If that is the way thinking works, then if I see someone who is in dire need and I think in my heart about helping them but I don't, I should still be blessed for just thinking of it. See how stupid that is? We should all have the heart of a child without a book of nonsense to go along with it. We should love, enjoy one another and share. The golden rule was taught way before the NT was ever thought of.

The mainstream interpretation is a justification of one's faith! It is interpreted to mean that we must not question the mainstream Church -- we must not think -- but instead base our religious belief on blind faith. Well quite frankly, this is a handy way to rope followers into a train of thought.

Instead, doesn't it seem to ring truer that the real meaning has to do with children's lack of rationale, and their use of gut intuition? The same intuition / gut feelings -- God's cruise control or auto pilot?

Shakti Gawain in her book 'Living in the Light, A Guide to Personal and Planetary Transformation' says in part:

"Most of us have been taught from childhood not to trust our feelings, not to express ourselves truthfully and honestly, not to recognize that at the core of our being lies a loving, powerful, and creative nature."

I try not to find fault with other beliefs as much as possible. But in this case I really feel the need to highlight this lie. Because it is a very significant twist of truth. I don't usually claim to know truth either. But in this case I am sure all of the participants in this discussion forum will agree that they can feel the truth of this significant deception. That to be a child does not mean to be blindly faithful. It means to live in the present and the presence of God. There may be scriptures where we would be wise to be blindly faithful, but this is not one of them.

Otherwise, why would Jesus have said "The Kingdom of God is Within You?" Within as in within your gut.

I am not knocking Christianity. I just wish it would change (to be more like the original, pre-Roman Christianity.) To be more gnostic I guess. To be gnostic doesn't mean to be a know-it-all I don't think. I would think it means to tap into God's know-it-all-ness. To be child-like in this respect of not relying on reason. To "be unreasonable" as they say at http://landmarkeducation.com .

(On a side thought, in education, they teach teachers to teach poor children how to use self talk, as a way to develop their brain. Children of higher income levels learn self talk from their parents. For some reason, the culture of poverty results in poor children not learning self talk (according to author Ruby Payne anyways.) I think we need to teach children to use self talk, but also to teach children to stay in touch with their gut feelings and intuition, and perhaps to talk to themselves regarding their gut feelings and intuition. This is just sort of a note to self as I am halfway through obtaining a teaching credential.)

HERE READ IT AGAIN !

I find it interesting, yet not surprising, how scripture can be taken out of context to mean something entirely different or explained as vague and obscure as to meaning, particularly by so-called "intellectual giants and their ideas".

First, Jesus was not telling them to returning to adolescents, seeking their guidance in life's matters, or "to be more open to mystery" as Mr. Marty concludes and as other posted comments here seem to express . If that were the case Jesus illustration would be useless and meaningless to his disciples if it were a mystery.

To truly understand the sense of what Christ Jesus was alluding to one might do well to examine the surrounding verses of Matthew 18.

In verse 3 of Matthew 18 "Truly I say to YOU, Unless YOU turn around and become as young children, YOU will by no means enter into the kingdom of the heavens.

Here Jesus was admonishing his disciples to "turn around and become as children" in response to their question to him in verse 1, "Who really is greatest in the kingdom of the heavens"?

By reading verses 4, "Therefore, whoever will humble himself like this young child is the one that is the greatest in the kingdom of the heavens", we can see that is was an object lesson about humility.

His disciples were not to become high minded (as their question would indicate) about their chosen, heavenly calling, to the kingdom of the heavens because that would stumble others from putting faith in him (verse 6).

They were commissioned by Christ Jesus to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20) and obviously Jesus knew that humility was needed to accomplish that work.

Mr. Marty said:

"The problem," says Marcel, "Is something that I could isolate." "Problems," he says, "Have solutions or potential solutions." Mysteries don't. Mysteries have depths. Mysteries are unfathomable.

I have an illustration of this which I have treasured among childhood memories, all of which are so precious. I remember looking at the stars at night and thinking that they were singing - after all, didn't they twinkle in the same rythm as the crickets sang?

As an adult, I thought of this memory in somewhat the same vein as a Santa Claus delusion overcome by real world facts - yet indeed, on a deeper level the stars DID twinkle in unison with the crickets' song.

And the mystery returns.

I do not think you can extract out this or that quality of childness and say 'this is what Jesus meant.' In a nearby verse he says that the angels of little children stand very close to the face of God, so it is childness in its entire mystery, its wholeness,and even a sense of inner wisdom, which is to be wondered at.

Here's an mp3 where I talk about the simplicity of children, culture and spiritual enlightenment. http://www.feel.com/video/jaananda.mp3

Except ye become like little children you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Those who are not pure in heart cannot see God. The Soul is that spark of life. Pure life force, energy, which is at the heart of all matter. It is an intelligent life force evolving life forms that have an ever greater ability to think and feel so that they one day will completely know and therefor feel the source from which they originate, Mother Nature itself, our Creator. Children are purer and more in touch with it because they just came out of it, Mother Nature, through the process of birth. They are untouched by the complicated behavior of cultural tradition, norms and expectation which undermines the simplicity of Being in Harmony with the force of Nature Itself. One can learn this through meditation. See more at: http://www.feel.com/meditation2.htm

Marty on the "new school of atheists":

"As you and every other listener has to know, these 4 or 5 all say that if you just get rid of all religion the world would be benign and peaceful."

I assume he's referring to Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens or Dennett who, in fact, do NOT make that claim.

How does he respond to this imaginary assertion? With a question:
"How do you explain Mao, and Stalin and Lenin and ALL the great totalitarians...ALL of whom set out to get rid of God and religion and killed several hundred people?"

So he's able to insult atheists (like me) in an offhand way by just asking a question. Fox News is famous for this trick. And he's proud of this rhetorical dodge. He sums up by admitting that you can't debate the fundamental point of God's existence so why bother. Instead, we should see how prevalent religion is in the world and just succumb to its authority. Resistance is futile.

So basically: "Atheists are ruthless murderous totalitarians. Doubters can STFU."

I'm offended by this insulting guy. And sad that Moyers would give him so much respect and airtime.

I am no historian but I don't remember reading that Stalin banned the Russian Orthodox Church. But there were pograms against the Jews. I don't even remember reading that Mao banished religion. As one the other posters said it was a cult of personality.

Even Hitler didn't ban religion unless you were jewish And then there was the Spanish Inquistion.

Even Christians don't get along. Just look at Ireland.

I don't think anyone except for some extremists supports banning religion. At least in America you still have a right to your beliefs.

I like the word "childness' a lot. I have been seraching for such a word to describe the being of a child. I like the interview and the commentary on Karl Rove was one of most excellent commenataries I have heard for a long time. I look forward for more honest and bold journalism like this. Thank you.

I don't think that you want comments. My previous comment was rejected because the computer said I didn't give my name And e-mail address which I clearly did like above. I disagree about Martin Marty's comments about the relevancy of the failure of the Soviet Union to totally rid itself of "religion." The Soviets failed because they tried to force disbelief rather than take the time to teach freethinking and reason. Most everyone realizes the terror and wholesale murder that went on in the Soviet Union under Stalin and in Germany with Hitler. Dr. Marty glossed over the similar carnage that has been done by the Christian Church and in the name of the church. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. My start to sanity began with a Bible study group in college and then a comparitive religion course that was given to prove that Christianity was "best". The TV evangelists railed against secular humanism. When I looked it up I found that indeed I was a secular humanist. Tom paine spelled it all out in the 1700s.

Why would Bill Moyers waste our time with somebody who uses his own self as the starting point in a worn-out philosophical arrangement?

Although Martin E. Marty may be one of the most respected and distinguished church scholars in the country; A University of Chicago professor emeritus, Lutheran minister, senior editor of The Christian Century, and the author of over 40 books, I’m afraid that each of these esteemed categories is rendered meaningless with his utterances on the 8/17/2007 show.

Marty’s bold egocentrism bore holes into my ears to the point where I wondered if this interview may actually be pure satire.

I was laughing out loud at the conclusion of this chauvinistic utterance, “And I think we sometimes can get-- sense that better in a-- in a-- quote, primitive culture, which keeps some of these dimensions. One of my sons was in Africa when his mother died. Ten people of the tribe moved into his house for ten days. That's just what they do. To console. To beat drums. And to make the food and do all that.”

It is no surprise that Marty would find solace in his women cooking and beating drums “and all that.”

If there were ever a contest for a “poster child” to represent an embodiment of the academic, egocentric “Old White Men” club, I would nominate Martin E. Marty.

I thank the Bill Moyers Journal for pointing out the lingering existence of these type of "thinkers," but I look forward to more in-depth guests in the coming months.

I find it interesting, yet not surprising, how scripture can be taken out of context to mean something entirely different or explained as vague and obscure as to meaning, particularly by so-called "intellectual giants and their ideas".

First, Jesus was not telling them to returning to adolescents, seeking their guidance in life's matters, or "to be more open to mystery" as Mr. Marty concludes and as other posted comments here seem to express . If that were the case Jesus illustration would be useless and meaningless to his disciples if it were a mystery.

To truly understand the sense of what Christ Jesus was alluding to one might do well to examine the surrounding verses of Matthew 18.

In verse 3 of Matthew 18 "Truly I say to YOU, Unless YOU turn around and become as young children, YOU will by no means enter into the kingdom of the heavens.

Here Jesus was admonishing his disciples to "turn around and become as children" in response to their question to him in verse 1, "Who really is greatest in the kingdom of the heavens"?

By reading verses 4, "Therefore, whoever will humble himself like this young child is the one that is the greatest in the kingdom of the heavens", we can see that is was an object lesson about humility.

His disciples were not to become high minded (as their question would indicate) about their chosen, heavenly calling, to the kingdom of the heavens because that would stumble others from putting faith in him (verse 6).

They were commissioned by Christ Jesus to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20) and obviously Jesus knew that humility was needed to accomplish that work.

Comment to James Nimmo post:

I think you misrepresent Dr. Marty’s words. I do not think Dr. Marty linked atheists to Mao and Lenin as you say. He mentioned these cases to show that a society completely deprived of religion might not be the perfect society as some people believe it would be. The disappearance of religion does not guarantee the disappearance of desire and belief in power, control, and dominance.

You mentioned that the areas of Latin-America, Central-America and Africa are the poorest, worst educated and you asked how can that be possible if not for the religious observance and its strangle hold on human progress etc. I think you simplify to the extreme the cause of poverty in the third world. You maintain they are the worst educated. That is simply not correct, you have to look at specific cases. The history of Latin America and Africa has the imprint of a bloody, corrupt colonization process, where ransacking, murder and corruption were the rule. To this day, the problems of Latin America, reflected in a complex political struggle in which the imposition of the Neo liberal economic model and the continuation of economic rule from post-war institutions like the World Bank have much critical impact than the power of the church.

Although Dr. Marty soars with the intellectual giants and their ideas, it is evident how well grounded he is with his own family and children, and the complexities and joys of everyday life.

Here is a great example of the essence of childhood:
http://www.godtube.com/view_video.php?viewkey=9e7c4b40cf5a13cea6ca

I especially liked Mr. Marty's "upside down" theory. We debate how best to teach our children and what to teach our children.

He posed an important question, "What can we learn from the children?" Who among us would not like to recapture the simple awe and trust we once felt?

Children are our best investment in the future, yet our "father-knows-best" society places them at the bottom of the totem pole.

Thank you again Bill Moyers for presenting such informative and stimulating programming. I am forever grateful to pbs, you and your staff!

In consideration of Marty Martin's presentation, how would you Bill Moyers conduct a conversation with President Bush (being "open to the other" as if he was a mystery to you)? How does a child convince another that they are acting immorally? I understand the beauty of being a child, but I don't understand exactly how they can create a justice culture. Aren't we as adults in charge of that because we aren't dependent? Or are we dependent i.e. so influenced by our society (government, media, parents, schools, etc.)we aren't open to the other? Can we dialogue("be open to the other")in the media? For me, having a conversation with President Bush would be betraying my "soul" or my "childness" and my sense of justice.

Jan H.

The commentary at the end of the Bill Moyer's Journal regarding the departure of Karl Rove was concise, insightful and revealed a depth of perception far beyond that of either network or cable conglomerates. Once again Mr. Moyers has dared to prove that true journalism does not need flashy graphics/hyperbole or commercials. The world is a better place for having Bill Moyers especially in this format. I search for the next Moyers or Charlie Rose, but the machinations/institutions that created them no longer exist. Nithing Gold can last.......

Would you please repeat Martin's definition of "soul" given in tonight's broadcast? I'd like to reflect on it more.

Mao, Stalin and all the other despots and dictators trotted out by the religious as examples of evil done in the name of atheism are failing to understand the basic mechanisms by which these types come into and retain power. They're simply replacing a cult of religion with a cult of personality and are exploiting the same unfortunate tendency to believe without question instilled by any organized religion into its followers.

It is amazing and disappointing to me how long it takes the US to notice, and l o n g e r to PERHAPS deal with glaring issues. President Bush may have enacted legislation against citizens' inalienable rights that are guaranteed by our apparently worthless constitution and by God, but we are collectively responsible for ceding our power to him and his cabal. Maybe now more Americans will pay more attention to THEIR government, education, maturity, and spirituality than to mindless hedonism and cealize that their vote is their opinion, it impacts their lives, and they had best be honestly and well-informed to use it wisely. This requires familiarity with as many facets of any issue as possible, whether or not at first blush one may agree with them, in order to give oneself the opportunity to weigh them and arrive at a soulsearchingly meaningful conclusion, or opinion, and to defend their rights, property, bodies, and souls from corruption. If our constitution works as intended, we are required to hold impeachment procedings against any elected official who misuses the public trust. If our laws work as intended, justice should be served to them and their cohorts.

Even now intelligent people shrug their shoulders in despair and submission; not so all peoples from the beginning of recorded time to the present. If our founding fathers could observe us now, I think that they'd be sad, shocked, disappointed and ashamed; God, by any name, loves us all and gives us repeated opportunities to choose live in harmony or to self-destruct. What will WE choose; what will YOU choose?

We sometimes over complicate things. Jesus' statement that to see the Kingdom of God we must first become as little children is relatively simple and generates two questions: what are the attributes of children? and how does that relate to the Kingdom of God?
In the context of Jesus' teachings, a child is loving and trusting, with a ready and willing mind to hear God's wisdom, understanding and knowledge. They are not arrogant or haughty, and will easily enter into a relationship where there is love and absolute trustworthiness. Jesus is, therefore, saying that unless we humble ourselves, drop our defenses and enter into a relationship of mutual love and trust with God, we cannot enter into God's Kingdom.

We sometimes over complicate things. Jesus' statement that to see the Kingdom of God we must first become as little children is relatively simple and generates two questions: what are the attributes of children? and how does that relate to the Kingdom of God?
In the context of Jesus' teachings, a child is loving and trusting, with a ready and willing mind to hear God's wisdom, understanding and knowledge. They are not arrogant or haughty, and will easily enter into a relationship where there is love and absolute trustworthiness. Jesus is, therefore, saying that unless we humble ourselves, drop our defenses and enter into a relationship of mutual love and trust with God, we cannot enter into God's Kingdom.

Mr. Marty derides athiests and links us with dictators such ans Lenin and Mao.

I would like to remind readers and viewers that Bu$h is and Hitler was observant X-tians.

Not a single athiest I know of has a nuclear bomb at his/her disposal.


Marty went on to refer to what he calls the Ice Circle in which he describes as starting west of Poland, including Western Europe, Great Britain, Canada, in where religion is frozen in a negative way.

Then he goes on to describe Africa, Central and South American, and Asia as booming in religious fervor.

He missed, for some reason, yeah, to say that these "non-Ice" areas are also among the poorest, worst educated areas of the world.

Now, how could that be except for the imprint of religious observance and its strangle hold on human progress, including civil rights for women, gays and ethnic minorities such as Darfur.

I have often thought, of late, how ashamed many children must be of their parents who justify lying, stealing and killing for their own selfish reasons.

Children throughout the world know better

Matthew 18:3
And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Young children's curiosity and "sense of wonder" as Rachel Carson called it, enable them to explore and discover the world around them, being totally involved in the moment, and using all their senses to joyfully build knowledge and understanding. Children who build trusting relationships with caring and informed families and teachers are supported to optimize their learning discoveries.

Being fortunate enough to observe and support children’s active explorations, in turn has helped me hold onto and enjoy those very qualities myself. Formal education and relationships that motivate children to thrive and continue developing inquisitiveness and critical thinking gratefully encourage creative thinkers who become problem solvers and active participants in our democracy. Unfortunately, conforming to educational or societal standards/rules that do not nurture active learning or creative and critical thinking turn many learners off forever. We all lose out in the process, because a mind is a terrible thing to waste!

I'm lucky in that I didn't lose as much as most people, but I still spend a lot of time trying to get back to the intensity of childhood, when every little thing was endlessly fascinating and important and to the innocence of it, where we feel what we feel without regard to who is watching/judging us.

Children are uninhibited, extremely intuitive, and very open. Those are all qualities we adults desperately need. They lose them in the course of their "education," unfortunately. I'm a strong believer in public education because I think we need a common core of information with which we can work within the context of our culture, but I'd like to see public education take on a more humane form. We can teach our kids history and math without beating the natural artist out of them, and we'd all be better off for it.

Simple: accepting at face value what is told and what is demonstrated. There is inherent trust until it is deliberately broken. That's what "breaking" one's spirit is all about - bending someone's will. That's the true loss of childhood. When inherent trust is present, people are free to explore, free to give, and free to be themselves - the essence of childhood.

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