As a parent, I’m constantly making decision, weighing choices and thinking of the future in terms of what’s in the best interests of my sons, Alexander and Gabriel. By ‘interests’ I’m usually, unconsciously, thinking about what will get them the best education, get them into college, get them a good career etc.
This language of best interests is how our legal system makes judgments and sets policies considering children too.
But is ‘best interests’ a big enough category? A high enough goal? A big enough ambition- for Christians?
Emory University’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion has just put a compilation of essays entitled ‘The Best Love of a Child: Being Loved and Being Taught to Love as the First Human Right.’
The essays, coming across disciplines, try to change the target by asking the question: ‘How can we best love the child?’
Shifting from language of interests to love has an interesting implication in this book. Just as its our responsibility has parents and society to love children, it’s also our responsibility as parents and society to teach them how to love, how to be ‘bearers of sanctity.’
After all, I don’t only-or even firstly- want my boys to be successful and happy. I want them to be compassionate, kind and generous. Framing parenting in terms ‘best interests’ risks raising kids who may be healthy, have good teeth and educations but who are nonetheless narcissists.
I’m certainly not one of these Christians who think we should have religion being taught in public schools; they’d only muck it up, watering ours- or someone else’s- faith down to the point of impotency and unintelligibility.
However, these essays do raise in me the question of the cost of an increasingly secular society; that is, does a neglect of religion bring with it a failure to teach children how to love others? And if so, is our consumer, materialistic society a symptom evidence of that failure?
It could be, this book makes me wonder, that the Church is now the best hope of teaching children not just love but an otherwise civic function- communal responsibility.