The Loss of Mystery and the Loss of Childhood

«The loss of mystery in the late twentieth century coincides with the death of the child and the attack on the sacredness of life.»

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In the aftermath of the sexual revolution of 1960s — which espoused sex education, the contraceptive mentality, no-fault divorce, and legalized abortion on demand — an anti-life and anti-child philosophy has prevailed over much of Western civilization, where European nations are barely replacing their populations or suffering a decline in birth rate.

In a culture of death that slaughters 1.5 million pre-born babies in the womb each year, permits infanticide in the procedure known as partial-birth abortion, and tolerates physician-assisted suicide in the name of mercy and a quality of life ethic, life is cheap and loses its sacredness. Whenever life loses its sacredness and society considers “man’s life’s as cheap as beasts,” to quote from King Lear, then the mystery of life as a gift and blessing diminishes.

When children in the womb are designated “fetal material” or “product of conception,” then human life becomes reduced to mere matter or animal life with no divine origin or eternal destiny. The attack on the children in the womb entirely destroys the sense of human life as a divine mystery or precious gift. If human life is not precious or sacred, then everything else that encompasses a human life also loses its spiritual dimension and suffers a loss of mystery. Thus, everything is measured in purely utilitarian terms of usefulness, productivity, efficiency, cost effectiveness, and quality of life. Nothing is absolutely inviolable, neither the innocence of children, the holiness of marriage, the inalienable rights of human beings, or the sanctity of divine law. Destroying the mystery of human life as a priceless gift undermines the whole nature of a culture and transforms all of its institutions and its entire way of life. With the loss of the sense of the sacred comes the cult of the profane.

The classics of children’s literature revere and honor the gift of human life. No amount of gold in the world is more precious to King Midas than his daughter Marygold. Diamond’s baby brother and sister in At the Back of the North Wind are gifts from heaven: “Where did you get your eyes so blue?/ Out of the sky as I came through.” The deepest longing in the heart of a woman is the desire for a child in several of the Grimm folktales: “How dull it is without any children about us,” says the poor woman in “Tom Thumb,” adding, “if we could only have one . . . how happy I should be! It would indeed be having our heart’s desire.” Without this recognition of the mystery of life and the blessings of children, all of life loses its sacredness. “Safe sex” replaces the mystery of romance, and cohabitation becomes the equal of the sanctity of marriage.

Without the acknowledgement of God as the author of life and the giver of all good gifts, the sense of mystery vanishes from every facet of human experience from birth to death. The magic of childhood disappears as a time of innocence and becomes a period for indoctrination in sex education, and old age loses its reverence and dignity. Without a sense of the inherent goodness of the miracle of human life, man becomes the judge of life and death and attributes value arbitrarily, determining that an “unwanted child” or a handicapped baby has no worth, whereas a wanted child or healthy baby possesses value. When mystery and a sense of the sacred vanish, then nothing is absolutely evil or intrinsically good, all matters of right and wrong become relative and variable — only a matter of political opinion rather than a question of absolute truth. When life is not sacred, then it can be manipulated, used, or abused by way of in vitro fertilization, cloning, and fetal harvesting.

Because children’s classics depict the child as a great wonder and blessing, then other facets of life also preserve their mystery, sacredness, or awe in these stories. Whereas luck in classical myths or Christian folktales is always equated with divine intervention, luck loses its aura of divinity in an age of anxiety obsessed with control — birth control, population control, government control, thought control (political correctness). Technology and science, rather than an abandonment to Divine Providence, come to regulate life when pills, abortifacients, sterilization, surgical abortion, and physician-assisted suicide become available and acceptable — modern methods around which people “organize their lives” to use a phrase from the Planned Parenthood v. CaseySupreme Court decision.

Whereas in children’s literature the home is a domestic church where family members become sources of grace to each other (“I do think families are the most beautiful things in all the world! remarks Jo in Little Women), in the culture of death the home assumes “a plurality of forms,” to use the language of the United Nations, referring to cohabitation and same-sex marriages. If life is not precious, then marriage also loses its sanctity and its sacramental nature and becomes merely a temporary, convenient association based on mutual pleasure rather than an institution designed for the procreation and care of children.

And whereas in children’s classics, goodness is always beautiful and attractive in the form of innocent children or beautiful princesses and evil is ugly and loathsome in the form of repulsive witches and disgusting monsters, the modern sensibility destroys the beauty of goodness by attacking purity and chastity in government-funded, aggressive sex education which eliminates the mystery of sexuality and procreation by cheapening it to sterile “safe sex” outside of marriage. The sublimity of virginity, love, and marriage are degraded to the level of sex as recreation. While children’s literature represents evil as a Medusa’s head which turns men into stone if they gaze at the monster, the contemporary world exaggerates the virtue of tolerance, the passive, indifferent acceptance of evil as a non-threatening example of “choice” or “diversity” in a pluralistic culture.

While good and evil are always categorical, absolute, and irreconcilable in children’s literature — the four friends versus the stouts and weasels in The Wind of the Willows, the Princess and Curdie versus the goblins in The Princess and the Goblin – evil is equivocal and ambivalent in the modern world, a matter of choice, lifestyle, and opinion. While truth, beauty, and goodness are consistently associated with the splendor and glory of light — realities which are divine or holy in origin and nature — truth, beauty, and goodness in the late twentieth century are determined by surveys of opinion, by the shifting tides of politics, by the erratic judgments of the Supreme Court, and by the fashionable views of Hollywood, the media, and the intellectual elite. Thus, the loss of mystery in the late twentieth century coincides with the death of the child and the attack on the sacredness of life — the primal mystery.

When life is no longer a miracle, goodness loses its purity, truth is deprived of its divine authority, and beauty loses its glory. A profane culture that destroys life also desecrates the magic of childhood, the mystery of romance, the holiness of marriage, and the sanctity of the home.


Mitchell Kalpakgian, Ph.D. is a contributing editor of New Oxford Review, and writes for Saint Austin ReviewHomiletic and Pastoral Review, and The Wanderer. He is also author of seven books: The Marvelous in Fielding’s Novels, The Mysteries of Life in Children’s Literature, The Lost Arts of Modern Civilization, An Armenian Family Reunion (a collection of short stories), Modern Manners: The Poetry of Conduct and The Virtue of Civility, and The Virtues We Need Again. He has designed homeschooling literature courses for Seton Home School, and he also teaches online courses for Fisher More College and Fisher
More Academy. This article was published by kind permission of Human Life International’s Truth and Charity Forum.

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Mitchell Kalpakgian

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