How Christianity Invented Children

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry has the crazy idea that maybe the changes that Christianity has brought to civilization aren’t all bad. He writes, for instance, about how it revolutionized our ideas about children:

Various pagan authors describe children as being more like plants than human beings. And this had concrete consequences.

Well-to-do parents typically did not interact with their children, leaving them up to the care of slaves. Children were rudely brought up, and very strong beatings were a normal part of education. In Rome, a child’s father had the right to kill him for whatever reason until he came of age.

This is the world into which Christianity came, condemning abortion and infanticide as loudly and as early as it could.

This is the world into which Christianity came, calling attention to children and ascribing special worth to them. Church leaders meditated on Jesus’ instruction to imitate children and proposed ways that Christians should look up to and become more like them.

… Christianity’s invention of children — that is, its invention of the cultural idea of children as treasured human beings — was really an outgrowth of its most stupendous and revolutionary idea: the radical equality, and the infinite value, of every single human being as a beloved child of God.

Matthew 8:3-6: And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

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