Whom to Imitate: Adults or Kids?

Source: Jacques Brunschwig and David Sedley, “Hellenistic Philosophy,” The Cambridge Companion to Greek and Roman Philosophy, ed. David Sedley (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003) 161.

“Unlike Aristotle, who looked to the mature adult as the best judge of what is good, Epicurus appeals to the new-born infant, still blissfully free of whatever value system its family and culture will in due course impose on it, and therefore the true voice of nature’s own values. And, so Epicurus argues, what guides the new-born from the first is visibly the pursuit of pleasant feelings and the avoidance of painful ones.”

This quote reminds me of a few things. First, when I was at Harvard Divinity School, I took a class on how to design a religious studies curriculum for public schools. One of the books we read offered an idea, and I remarked that it sounded too Unitarian-Universalist for my taste. A gay UU then responded that he liked the proposed curriculum, since he’d love for students to learn tolerance before they’re conditioned to accept religious barriers.

I’m not sure what to say about that. As a Christian, I have to believe in religious barriers, since the religions of the Bible aren’t exactly all that tolerant. “Kill all the prophets of Baal,” the Mendelssohn song goes. At the same time, I realize that barriers have contributed to wars and strife. And yet, do we want to eliminate diversity and make everyone the same, just so we can have peace? Can’t we arrive at peace with religious barriers?

Second, the New Testament is divided on whom we should imitate: adults or children. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs” (Mark 10:14), and “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3 NRSV). Paul, on the other hand, remarked: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways” (I Corinthians 13:11). So are we supposed to become like adults, or little kids?

The “little kids” side will point to the innocence of childhood. I’ve seen shows in which adults are bigoted, yet their children play with kids of other races. They’ve not yet been conditioned by society’s barriers! At the same time, Augustine did well to point out that babies can be quite obnoxious and self-centered. There’s a reason that “immature” generally equals “bad.”

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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3 Responses to Whom to Imitate: Adults or Kids?

  1. nebcanuck says:

    I don’t think at all that the Bible is contradictory concerning the issue of who we should emulate. The answer is both.

    You’re absolutely right about the innocence being key on one side. Paul, too, writes that we should be as innocent as doves regarding evil ways. And yet, in the same breath, Paul says we should incredibly sly.

    Jesus uses much the same analogy.

    The reasoning is clear, although difficult to attain. We should be innocent to evil, refraining from wrong acts and placing absolute faith in Christ to help us through our trials. But on the flip side, we need to be crafty when it comes to goodness, being fully aware of what it means to be good, and how to avoid evil. We should also be able to defend our faith against evil.

    Neither Paul nor Jesus was naive. But they were both innocent. It’s in that that we should emulate children, not in our day-to-day composure, such as throwing temper-tantrums or ignorantly refusing to increase our knowledge.

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  2. nebcanuck says:

    PS. You’re incredibly prolific. How do you manage to churn out so many thoughts in my short absence? As a student, I find it hard to make the time to write out thoughts once in a while!

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  3. James Pate says:

    I’m avoiding writing my papers, Nebcanuck! (Just kidding–professors).

    I’ll read your comments above when I get back. I agree with you–we’re supposed to be like both.

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