Monday, June 11, 2012

What does it mean to "be as a little child?"

British scientist and educator, Thomas Huxley, observed in 1860: 
“My business is to teach my aspirations to conform themselves to fact, not to try and make facts harmonize with my aspirations.  Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads, or you shall learn nothing.” 
Another injunction to "be as a little child" can be found in Matthew 18:1-4:

  1. At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?
  2. And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them,
  3. 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.
  4. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
To a Christian, "being as a little child" generally means to believe and trust what the Bible, your leaders, your parents, etc., tell you.  Most importantly, it means to not question authority. Children do not reason their way to a belief in the dogma of religion.  It is true that an uncritical acceptance of information from adults, especially parents, is a trait of some children, particularly young children.  

However, so are the qualities described by Huxley, i.e., looking as the facts objectively and be willing to humbly follow the facts without preconceived ideas.

I like Huxley's version better.

1 comment:

  1. Thinking about this a little more, Huxley, and possibly even Jesus, may really be trying to say "Be an adult that is unprejudiced like a child." Adults should be reasoning and have the ability to choose fact from fiction. Combine that with a child's alleged lack of preconceived beliefs or cultural constraints, and the truth should prevail.

    Jesus' original idea may actually be the antithesis of a modern Christian interpretation of those verses. I would hope that if the historical Jesus was confronted with a fact that refuted a religious tradition, he would change his mind. There is some of that kind of rebellion in the Jesus story.