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Christ and the Kids

David Cowles

Dec 1, 2023

“So what is it that makes children so much better than us? First…a child is not a ‘mini-you’… Is an Octopus a mini-you? Then neither is a child.”

Jesus did not have a lot to say about childhood…but when he did speak, his words were blockbusters. In all three synoptic gospels, his rare, reported interactions with children all broadcast a single message: ‘They are better than you!’

“Let the little children come to me; do not prevent them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” (Mark 10:14) As I said (paraphrasing Jesus), children are better than you; theirs is the Kingdom of God, and “…unless you turn and become like children, you shall not enter.” (Matthew 18:3) 

Israel at that time was a ‘caste-conscious’ society: ‘Pharisees talked only to Levites, and Levites talked only to God’. Among the lower castes were slaves, oxen, women, Samaritans, and children – a proper proletarian stew if ever there was one! Dry kindling, one spark short of a conflagration: “I have come to set the world on fire, and oh how I wish it were already ablaze.” (Luke 12:49)

Today, if someone says you’re 'childlike', that might be meant as a compliment, but not in ancient Israel. There, to be compared to a child, would have been a great insult. And so, as always, Jesus’ message is revolutionary:

“Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven…” (Matthew 18:4) and “…Whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” (Mark 10:15)

Karl Marx was ‘Jesus-light’. Marx advocated a specific revolution focused on access to the means of production. Jesus understood that no such ‘specific revolution’ could be successful. It’s pointless to put lipstick on a pig. And the proof is in the pudding. All of history’s specific revolutions have ended the same way: “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” (The Who)

Jesus, and the Christian movement around and after him, understood that only a ‘global’ revolution could succeed. Even before Jesus' birth, his mother is quoted as saying, “He (YHWH) has scattered the proud…put down the mighty…exalted the humble and meek. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.” (Luke 1:46–55)

Society must be turned upside down. The stone which the builders rejected must become the cornerstone. To cement the point, Jesus, regarded by many, then and now, as the Messiah, the Lord of the Universe, self-identifies as a child: “…Whoever receives one child such as this receives me.” (Matthew 18:5) 

So what is it that makes children so much better than us? First, they are not proto-adults; a child is not a ‘mini-you’. They are an entirely different phenomenon. Is an Octopus a mini-you? Then neither is a child.

Your brain is wired for action and production. You raise a family, earn a living, tend livestock, grow crops, build houses or work in a cube. Children can do none of these things. Their brains are wired for discovery and contemplation. They can rarely even impact the world, much less change it, but they can study it (and themselves in the process) and come to understand it, at least provisionally.

Prior to about the age of 12, children’s brains are still ‘plastic’; they are in the process of wiring themselves based on the child’s experiences. During this developmental phase, children can juggle multiple, conflicting maps of the world at the same time; they are oblivious to the apparent inconsistencies. If some kind adult points one out, that adult is likely to be met with a shrug of the shoulder, meaning, “So what! Who cares?” (The child is being honest, not rude).

Many years ago, I was playing with Play-Doh with a three-year-old grandchild; we made a car. But he startled me when he asked in all sincerity, “Why doesn’t it start?” At that moment, I realized for the first time the magnitude of the cognitive gulf that exists between adults and children. No wonder we can’t communicate; we don’t even share a common universe of discourse. 

Reading this, you might be tempted to say, “You just needed to teach him the principles of auto mechanics.” Sorry, but that is precisely the wrong response. Instead, you need to savor this rare window onto a radically different conceptual landscape. Soak it in; don’t stifle it!

Children’s minds are more magical than they are scientific. Initially, children take events at face value. Very gradually, they come to realize that events can form patterns that allow us to make predictions and divert the flow of Heraclitus’ famous river. By the time we reach adulthood, we no longer see ‘one-off’ events at all; we see only patterns. 

We cannot see the elephant in a room if it is not part of our logos, our pattern of expectations. But put any child in a room with an elephant and I guarantee you, it will be seen, smelled, felt, and, God forbid, licked.

Are you with me so far? Great, but that may soon change! Consider yourself warned. Events occur, patterns emerge, and we exploit those patterns to manipulate our world and optimize our experience in that world. What could possibly be wrong with that?

Nothing…except those patterns are not of your own making. Once you realize that experience discloses order, you’re ready for what society calls ‘education’. Just as the invention of the calculator made arithmetic easier for generations of hapless youngsters, so ‘education’ in general has made it easier for adults to live productive lives. 

The message: “You don’t need to find patterns on your own. You stand on the shoulders of giants, and they have already found all the patterns you need to live a successful life. So, just learn them.”

And so you do. You listen to the adults around you. You imitate what they do. Eventually, you go to school and learn to read, so you can inhale the welter of patterns others purport to have discovered. As you do, you lose even the ability to form patterns on your own. Use it or lose it; your native intelligence atrophies. Ultimately, you find that you have voluntarily exchanged your individual consciousness for a spot in the collective consciousness of the Borg. (Star Trek – The Next Generation)

We are the Borg! (Sorry, Captain Picard.) How do we know? 97% of the things we think are actually the thoughts of others. We imagine that we are swapping information back and forth with our fellow adults, but in reality, we are just reading from a dogeared script.  

Unlike children, who see the world naked and as it is, we see the world masked by language. If you can’t say it, it doesn’t exist. We only see what our language allows us to see, and unfortunately, that is a highly distorted version of reality. Modern Indo-European allows us to see the world only in terms of subjects and objects, mediated by active or passive verbs. 

Worse, the ‘language mask’ creates ‘blind spots’, massive holes in the panorama of the world that our brains do not see. We think we’re looking at the whole picture when, in fact, we are only seeing a culturally curated version of the world.

Children, of course, experience the world unfiltered. They recognize ‘truth’ that we don’t even notice. “When the chief priests and the scribes saw the wondrous things he (Jesus) was doing, and the children crying out in the temple area, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’, they were indignant and said to him, ‘Do you hear what they are saying?’ Jesus replied, ‘Yes, and have you never read the text, ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nurslings, you have brought forth praise’?” (Matthew 21:15–16)

So where does that leave us? First, we will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven unless we ‘convert’ and become childlike again. That’s bad enough, but it gets way worse. When we interact with children (not babies), we are almost always wearing the uniform of a drill sergeant. Well-meaning, we do precisely the wrong thing: we teach our children to ‘grow up’. Why? For what? So can they be as miserable and closed-off as we are? Apparently, misery does love company.

“A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys. Painted wings and giant’s rings make way for other toys.” (Peter, Paul, and Mary) Adult toys! (I’ll spare you the enumeration; you’ve already been through enough.)

So where does this leave us? Hint: it’s not good! “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” (Mark 9:42) 

We spare no effort encouraging our children to shed their ‘childish fantasies’, to stop ‘believing fairy tales’ and to begin living in ‘the real world’. When they do, inevitably but unwittingly, they ‘sin’. But they sin our sins – the sins we taught them – not their own sins; for their part, ‘they know not what they do’. The sins of the parents are visited on them. 


David Cowles is the founder and editor-in-chief of Aletheia Today Magazine. He lives with his family in Massachusetts where he studies and writes about philosophy, science, theology, and scripture. He can be reached at


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