Childish Ways

From  “On the Spectrum: Autism, Faith, and the Gifts of Neurodiversity” by Daniel Bowman Jr. 

What are some childish attitudes that bad Christian stories feed into and encourage?

  • The immature need to have correct beliefs, as opposed to the adult need to consider and examine diverse voices to develop critical thinking, empathy, and love. (Anne Lamott reminds us that “the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.”)
  • The immature need to be continually comforted, rather than the adult need to be comforted when afflicted, but also afflicted and challenged by difficult art when one has become too comfortable, even complacent, in his or her faith, relationships, work, and leisure.
  • The immature need clear answers to questions that have none, as opposed to the adult need to learn to live creatively with mystery and paradox. What Keats called “negative capability” is helpful here: he described it as an “ability to contemplate the world without the desire to try and reconcile contradictory aspects or fit it into closed and rational systems.”
  • The immature need to separate good and evil into clear camps at all times, as opposed to the adult need to learn to let the wheat and the tares grow together until the harvest.
  • The immature confusing of real emotion and true empathy with shallow sentimentality and greeting card cliche, as opposed to the adult need to feel deeply through encounter and catharsis while confronting our own contradictions.
  • The immature need to romanticize the past, interpreting, for example, the 1950s in America as a kind of moral golden age from which we’re constantly slipping further away, as opposed to the adult need to recognize the complications, flaws, and entrenched injustices of every era – and in that recognition, to nevertheless work in faith to love God and our neighbors. 

I suspect that many of these attitudes are the result of the immature need to be in control – as opposed to the adult need to learn to live in liminal spaces, to trust in and wait on God through ambiguity, to accept with serenity that which we cannot change, to pray for the courage to change what we can and should, and to humbly seek the wisdom to know the difference.