Enchanting Children by David Mills

Feature

Enchanting Children

Training Up a Child Requires a Well-Formed Imagination

Some friends who live in a small house once found that half an hour or so into a party, everyone who had been scattered through the four downstairs rooms was jammed together in the living room. They could never figure out why, until the husband noticed that their Corgi, one of the sort bred to herd cattle by nipping at their heels, was gently herding everyone into the room by nudging the back of their legs.

The dog, he said, put on an extraordinary performance making people go (a) where they did not want to go, and (b) without their realizing it. This is how, I think, our culture forms our imaginations, and why children, who do not have the gifts to recognize the culture’s compelling Corgis, are so peculiarly vulnerable.

A Relentless World

We know, for example, that our cultural and media elite are aggressively pro-abortion. We recognize the culture of death in the National Organization for Women and New York Times editorials. It is easy to explain to our children that these people want babies to be killed when their mother chooses, and that this is wrong.

But our culture’s assumption against life—its anti-life imagination—runs much deeper than its ideological and political expressions and is much harder to see. The world propagates its imagination in ways so small we don’t even notice them, but so steadily and so relentlessly that it pushes us into agreement without our even noticing we are being moved.

Look at movie and television families. They always have only one or two children, or at most three, unless the family comes from the backwoods and is shown to be laughed at. The possibility of having another child is almost always a time of pain and struggle, even for married couples, inevitably so if the child is “unplanned.” The talented woman always regrets (at least sometimes) the life she gave up to care for her child. Daycare and public schooling are the parents’ default choices.

Sexual activity is completely disconnected from the creation of new life. Sex is a need and a right, but children a choice, and one that must remain unrestricted, even by conception.

The good life shown in commercials, articles in the travel section of the newspaper, in the lifestyle magazines, is always a life unrestrained by small children, indeed a life impossible with more than one or two children. The basic needs of children are so elaborated that children become effectively a life-style option for the affluent.

Families are, with a few exceptions, dysfunctional, and the families that function well are usually collections of affectionate individuals without established (and certainly not hierarchical) places in the family. Families are rarely religious and if they are, they are certainly dysfunctional.

Christianity teaches that love is necessarily fruitful, and that the act of sexual union within marriage is given us not only for emotional intimacy but for the creation of new souls. The union of bodies should produce bodies.


David Mills has been editor of Touchstone and executive editor of First Things.


more on imagination from the online archives

11.5—September/October 1998

Speaking the Truths Only the Imagination May Grasp

An Essay on Myth & 'Real Life' by Stratford Caldecott

10.4—Fall 1997

Lessons from the Nursery

The Catholic Imagination Encounters Bambi by James L. Sauer

19.10—December 2006

Enchanting Children

Training Up a Child Requires a Well-Formed Imagination by David Mills

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