. . . the vision of the world relieved of our burden, with its flora and fauna blossoming wildly and wonderfully in every direction, is initially seductive. Yet, it’s quickly followed by a stab of bereavement over the loss of all the wonder that humans have wrought amid our harm and excess. If that most wondrous of all human creation – a child – is never more to roll and play on the green Earth, then what really would be left of us? What of our spirit might be truly immortal? (Wiseman, 2007, 244)

From the early beginning of humankind, in our rush to get somewhere, children have often been pawns or ultimately victims. In scripture we read of Isaac’s possible death as a sacrifice, the use of a baby in Solomon’s object lesson to two quarreling women, and the lad who had to give up his lunch so Jesus could make a point! Throughout time immortal children have been sacrificed, punished, abused, molested, and mistreated. Even into modern times, children are sold as “sex-toys” for adults, enslaved in factories, and prosecuted in justice systems that punish adults to a far lesser degree for committing the same crime. In a not-too-distant past, children were considered adults at the age of seven and were “hi-ho, hi-ho, off to work they go”1 in a world where they were introduced to disease, prostitution, hard labor, adult vices, and often, too, an early death. While more aggressive societies appeared to have been more amiable toward the “least of these,” providing education, shelter, and food, such social orders were often motivated by greed. Such societies needed these younger workers to understand ever increasingly more complex machinery. Better health care and educational opportunities translated into a more skilled worker.

On our way to a “world without us,” Marilynne Robinson (1998) states, “An employed American today works substantially longer hours than he or she did twenty-five years ago, when only one adult in an average household was employed and many more households had two adults. The recent absence of parents from the home has first of all to do with how much time people spend at work . . . many people patch together a living out of two or three part-time jobs or work overtime as an employer’s hedge against new hiring . . .” This work pattern is not the sacred cow of an American society, but is replicated around the world. So what are the results? Greater anxiety over the uncertainty of a global economy? Increased levels of stress that wear away at our emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being? Under the guise of relaxing, heightened measures of entertainment that take us on emotional joy rides but never dull the ache for an inner peace and social harmony? The ever presence of fear that security and stability of the way things were will never be replicated again? This is not multiple choice. Anxiety, stress, emotional peaks and valleys, and fear are all powerful negative emotions that are very hard for us to calm in the midst of uncertainty and insecurity.

Human nature is such that when a person or a society believes exclusively too much in myths that self-destruct, they compensate by and through entitlements. From a global view, entitlement grooms an ever present philosophy: “The world’s resources are mine.” “If I can reason it, ‘it’ must be everyone’s reality.” “Equitable justice and accessibility to care is a good thing, as long as I’m first in line and get what I want.” The ambiguity of the place of the child in today’s society can be understood on a continuum through how one’s social view sees a child’s wants replacing basic needs to how children become chattel sacrificed in tribal wars, government disputes, and world conflicts.

In introducing his book, Twilight of the Mammoths, Paul Martin (2007) chose the International Wildlife Museum. The museum is a replicate of a French Foreign Legion Fort in Africa. It is a popular tourist attraction, but referred to by local residents as the “dead animal museum.” Say the word “dead.” There is something final yet mysterious in the sound. There is something quizzical about this one syllable word that begs examination. For Martin, the museums are the right places to launch his book Twilight of the Mammoths. Before he speaks to audiences, Martin gazes at the hundreds of stuffed animal heads and then he speaks:

I can’t imagine a more appropriate setting,” he says, “to describe what amounts to genocide. In my life time, millions of people slaughtered in death camps, from Europe’s Holocaust to Darfur, are proof of what our species is capable of.2 My 50-year career has been absorbed by the extraordinary loss of huge animals whose heads don’t appear on these walls. They were all exterminated simply because it could be done. The person who put this collection together could have walked straight out of the Pleistocene. (Weisman, 2007, 66-67)

On further reflection of Martin’s words, Wiseman talks about the conclusion of Martin’s book, and for us clearly states, “The matter is more complicated than a killer instinct that never relents until another species is gone. It involves acquisitive instincts that also can’t tell when to stop, until something we never intend to harm is fatally deprived of something it needs. We don’t actually have to shoot songbirds to remove them from the sky. Take away enough of their home or sustenance, and they fall dead on their own” (Wiseman, 2007, 66-67).

Wiseman’s words can infiltrate the “take aways” of modern society. Take away . . .


. . . a desire to provide basic needs for all individuals and replace them with personal wants.

. . . a conscience in decision making on using natural resources and replace that conscience with impulse.

. . . a passion for natural beauty preserved in a natural environment and replace it with artificial and fabricated holding cells called museums or zoos.

. . . respect and care for the elders of our world and replace such care with a factory mill of holding pins for people waiting to die.

. . . a heart and mind collaborating to raise children with an awareness that children around the world are my children living in my home and replace it with the rationalization of creating designer babies, adultified pre-adolescents, and adults stuck in a never-ending cycle of hormonally fed adolescents.

. . . a responsibility to care for the displaced, the throw-aways, the refugees of the world (human and animal), and find an impoverished soul, crippled mind, ethically confounded waiting for “a world without us.” In building ethical character, in as much as we do to the least of these reflects our own sense of value and worth.

 

Footnotes:

1. For an informative essay of children in the work force, see Family in The Death of Adam by M. Robinson (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1998).

2. For a view of children being victims of such wars, see Leave No Child Behind, Donald W. Shriver, Jr., The Living Pulpit, October-December 2007.

References:


Robinson, Marilynne. (1998). The Death of Adam. New York: Hughton Mifflin Company.

Wiseman, Alan. (2007). The World Without Us. New York: St. Martin’s Press.