Literary critic Lionel Trilling once referred to “the dark and bloody crossroads where literature and politics meet.” In reality, almost all literature is political in some sense. Oddly enough, the most explicitly subversive literature is often presented to the very youngest among us — our children. Far too many parents seem not to notice.
In “The Defiant Ones,” a recent essay published in the New Yorker, Daniel Zalewski argues that picture books for children now reflect a world turned upside down in terms of the relationship between parent and child. As he explains, in the newest picture books for children, the kids are solidly in charge.
In this sense, the books we read to our children reflect the cultural values of our age. Inescapably, these narratives for children reveal far more than a storyline. Indeed, the books tell us more than we may want to know about the tenor of our times.
And Zalewski explains:
Like the novel or the sitcom, the picture book records shifts in domestic life: newspaper-burrowing fathers have been replaced by eager, if bumbling, diaper-changers. Similarly, the stern disciplinarians of the past—in Robert McCloskey books, parents instruct children not to cry—have largely vanished. The parents in today’s stories suffer the same diminution in authority felt by the parents reading them aloud (an hour past bedtime). The typical adult in a contemporary picture book is harried and befuddled, scurrying to fulfill a child’s wishes and then hesitantly drawing the line.
Zalewski’s insight into the revelatory character of books for children is truly important. As he knows, today’s parents have indeed experienced a “diminution in authority” that is unprecedented in human history. Increasingly, it is children who have the upper hand in the power equation. Parents, who have been drinking deeply from the wells of contemporary secular parenting advice, have largely become passive facilitators in the lives of their children.
As Zalewski argues, today’s young parents “learn that there are many things they must never do to their willful young child: spank, scold, bestow frequent praise, criticize, plead, withhold affection, take away toys, ‘model’ angry emotions, intimidate, bargain, nag.” In other words, “nearly all forms of discipline appear morally suspect.”
Modern “experts” like Alfie Kohn now go so far as to argue that rewarding children for good behavior is virtually as injurious to the child as punishing children for negative behavior. Arguing against what he calls “conditional parenting,” Kohn came out against everything from the “time out” to positive reinforcement. Writing recently in The New York Times, Kohn asserted:
Conditional parenting isn’t limited to old-school authoritarians. Some people who wouldn’t dream of spanking choose instead to discipline their young children by forcibly isolating them, a tactic we prefer to call “time out.” Conversely, “positive reinforcement” teaches children that they are loved, and lovable, only when they do whatever we decide is a “good job.”
Today’s parents, advised by the likes of Alfie Kohn, are themselves the children and grandchildren of a generation raised by parents who abandoned traditional parenting for the advice of Dr. Benjamin Spock. The war against parental authority gained momentum throughout the 20th century. Now, today’s children are often virtually undisciplined — their parents having abandoned the central role of disciplinarian due to distraction, ideological intimidation, cultural pressure, or sheer confusion.
In his essay, Zalewski reviewed some of the most popular of the picture books released in recent years. In these books, “the default temperament of the child is bratty.” Indeed, the brattiness of the children depicted in these books is often “so zesty and creative that the behavioral transgressions take on the quality of art.” Parents are presented as frustrated, bewildered, and concerned — but clearly not in charge.
It was not always so. As Zalewski observes, “The parents in picture books used to be tougher.” Parents used to set the rules, and children were expected to obey. Disobedient children were corrected and (gasp!) even punished. The new literature for children presents a world in which parents are more likely to obey their children.
Indeed, in today’s world “nearly all forms of discipline appear morally suspect.” Do parents have any clue that it is the lack of discipline that is far more likely to harm a child?
Today’s Christian parents must push hard against the prevailing secular wisdom if they are to be faithful. The Bible makes clear (and simple observation affirms) that children desperately need discipline from their parents. Furthermore, the Bible reveals that the faithful and wise parent disciplines, teaches, corrects, chastens, rewards, and punishes the child as a demonstration of true love and parental responsibility.
Furthermore, the Bible straightforwardly presents a model of the family in which the parents possess an authority over their children that is nonnegotiable and essential for the health and happiness of the entire family. Indeed, the faithful parent is the one who rightly exercises and fulfills that authority. In our current cultural context, there are few collisions more direct and determinative than that between the secular and biblical conceptions of the role of parents.
Once again, we are reminded that books matter. In this case, Daniel Zalewski’s essay reminds us that books intended for the very youngest matter very much. The picture books we put in front of our children help frame their expectation and understanding of their place in life and in the family. Today’s parents must look carefully at the books they put before the eyes of their children. Some of the most subversive literature in the land is designed to put children — and not parents — firmly in charge.
I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me at email@example.com. Follow regular updates on Twitter at www.twitter.com/AlbertMohler.
This past week, the price of gold reached a record high as foreign leaders were reportedly discussing doing away with the diminishing American Dollar as the world’s standard reserve currency. What would replace it? There’s talk of a new global currency that would serve to unite the world in a merged economy. Can a one-world government, as the Bible predicts Read more
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Dr. Joel Beeke was our featured guest on The Christian Worldview this past Saturday, October 3rd. Our topic was “What Makes Great Preachers Great?” as we took a look back at the common distinctives of the great preachers of the past who had immense influence on America.
After the show, Dr. Beeke offered our radio listeners a special discount of 50% off the cover price for Meet The Puritans. Be sure to take advantage of this great offer. Call 616-977-0599 and order your copy today! Be sure to mention The Christian Worldview in order to receive your discount.
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Guest: Dr. Joel Beeke, President, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary
Once upon a time in America, godly preachers shaped the worldview of the citizens of this country by preaching the Word of God “line upon line and precept upon precept.” No more. Now, the entertainment industry, the media, and the educational system, all with their humanistic, ungodly, unbiblical worldview, are the primary influencers of our society. Is it any wonder why evil is called good now and good called evil?
This Saturday in Hour 1 of The Christian Worldview, we’ll take a look back at the common distinctives of the great preachers of the past that had immense influence on America – from John Calvin and Martin Luther of the Reformation to the Puritan preachers of the 1600′s to George Whitefield and Read more
Guest: Bob DeWaay, author, The Emergent Church: Undefining Christianity
You have probably heard the old saying, “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it!”
Well, there’s a whole new generation of professing Christians that would keel over at the “arrogance” and “certainty” of making such a statement … and some of them are most likely in your church.
Bob DeWaay, pastor of Twin Cities Fellowship Church and author of The Emergent Church: Undefining Christianity will join us in Hour 2 of The Christian Worldview this Saturday to discuss what post-modernism is and how it has infected both our culture and a large swath of the evangelical church. Interestingly, Pastor DeWaay says the errant eschatology of the Emergent Church has led to a place where Read more
After hearing in Hour 1 from Robert Knight, senior writer for Coral Ridge Ministries and author of Fighting for America’s Soul, we will take listener phone calls in Hour 2 on any of the issues discussed with Mr. Knight.
Whether it’s the right to life, same-sex marriage, the homosexual agenda in our culture, government’s war on private charity, the socialization of health care, you will have the opportunity to offer your feedback.
So be ready with an insightful comment as we devote all of Hour 2 to ”Listener Response to America’s New Civil War.”
Guest: Robert Knight, author, Fighting for America’s Soul
We were promised “change” and that is what we have received from the Obama Administration when they came into power in January 2009. Robert Knight, our guest in Hour 1 of The Christian Worldview this Saturday, writes on the back of his book, Fighting for America’s Soul, “What’s happening is nothing less than a mighty clash of worldviews, with secular collectivist forces now in the driver’s seat and hoping to enact as much of their agenda as possible, before Americans wake up in time to fight for their liberties.”
Knight will frame the raging debates over issues such as the right to life, marriage, health care, judges, military, globalism, and several other hot topics. Get informed about the battle and what you should think and do as a Christian by tuning into Hour 1 of The Christian Worldview.
John T. Elson’s most famous article for TIME magazine appeared over 40 years ago, and it largely defined his journalistic career. His April 8, 1966 cover story, “Is God Dead?,” became an icon of the rebellious and increasingly secular sixties.
Elson, who died September 7 at age 78, was the son of a reporter, and he knew a big story when he saw one. He worked on the TIME cover story for more than a year, interviewing theologians and religious leaders. When published, the story became a symbol of the tumultuous decade of the sixties. For the first time, TIME published the magazine cover without a photograph or drawing. The question, “Is God Dead?,” was all that mattered.
As William Grimes of The New York Times recounts,
The issue caused an uproar, equaled only by John Lennon’s offhand remark, published in a magazine for teenagers a few months later, that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. The “Is God Dead?” issue gave TIME its biggest newsstand sales in more than 20 years and elicited 3,500 letters to the editor, the most in history to that point. It remains a signpost of the 1960s, testimony to the wrenching social changes transforming the United States.
Elson’s report looked at the increasing secularization of the society. The decade of the 1960s saw the emergence of secularizing trends in intellectual life, the arts, and mass culture. And yet, Elson’s major focus was on the radical theologians of the decade. The so-called “Death of God Theologians” were garnering headlines and forging a new post-theistic theology.
As Elson reported:
Is God dead? The three words represent a summons to reflect on the meaning of existence. No longer is the question the taunting jest of skeptics for whom unbelief is the test of wisdom and for whom Nietzsche is the prophet who gave the right answer a century ago. Even within Christianity, now confidently renewing itself in spirit as well as form, a small band of radical theologians has seriously argued that the churches must accept the fact of God’s death, and get along without him. How does the issue differ from the age-old assertion that God does not and never did exist? Nietzsche’s thesis was that striving, self-centered man had killed God, and that settled that. The current death-of-God group believes that God is indeed absolutely dead, but proposes to carry on and write a theology without theos, without God. Less radical Christian thinkers hold that at the very least God in the image of man, God sitting in heaven, is dead, and—in the central task of religion today—they seek to imagine and define a God who can touch men’s emotions and engage men’s minds.
Elson got right to the point. The radical theologians, influenced by theologians such as Paul Tillich, rejected the existence of a God who would possess being, but affirmed what Tillich called the “ground of being.” The “theology without theos” Elson described became mainstream fare in liberal seminaries and divinity schools. Before long, leading “Death of God” figures such as Thomas J.J. Altizer, Paul Van Buren, and William Hamilton had become media celebrities and public intellectuals.
The radical theologians pressed their case that orthodox theology was based on an outdated understanding of God. God does not have to exist to be meaningful to human existence, they argued. He remains a potent symbol and source of meaning. God is still a useful concept, they insisted, but, in the words of Langdon Gilkey of the University of Chicago Divinity School, the believer “still needs to learn that talk of God is largely symbolic.”
Seen in retrospect, it is clear that the “Death of God” movement did not survive the 1960s. Within a few short years, much of the stridency of the secular tide had been repackaged into the more benign-appearing “spiritualities” of the postmodern age. Furthermore, many of the central concepts of the “Death of God” movement were simply absorbed into the increasingly secularized mainline Protestant world. Theological non-realism no longer holds the power to shock within liberal theological circles.
Looking back to the TIME cover story, what seems most remarkable now is what was absent from that report — the rise of a vigorous and fully orthodox alternative to liberal theology. Elson noted the continued presence of the “true believer,” but the believer appeared to be in a rather lonely position. Missing from the account was the rise of an energetic Evangelicalism. That story would produce a memorable cover story for Newsweek, exactly ten years later.
John T. Elson concluded his iconic cover story by wondering if the “contemporary Christian worry about God could be a necessary and healthy antidote to centuries in which faith was too confident and sure.” An antidote? Not hardly. But Elson’s essay about the death of God was a theological wake-up call that will be remembered long after his own death.
This past week, former President Jimmy Carter exemplified where America has come in its level of discourse by saying, “I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he’s African American,”
So, according to Jimmy Carter’s worldview, the majority of people who oppose President Obama’s policies are racists.
The accusations don’t stop at racism. If you oppose same-sex marriage, you are a “bigot” and a “hater” and want to return America to its pre-civil rights days. Read more