Rev. Steve Schlissel - February 5, 2018
Personification happens when inanimate objects or abstractions are represented as possessing human form. Surely among the most compelling charms of little ones is their intractable tendency to view all the world as *personal.* Witness this picture drawn yesterday for me by Verdinah, age four. She had recently been applying her considerable energy to the motor and aesthetic challenges four-year-old’s face when attempting to represent buildings with ink on paper. Satisfied she had gained sufficient mastery of the basics (i.e., squarishness and windows/doors, and on churches, a prominent cross), she wasted no time moving to the next logical step: infusing them with life. The churches, of course, she filled with people (proving she was relying upon her imagination rather than what she experiences at Messiah’s). For domiciles she ordained a different touch. Here we see a lovely little dwelling conveying its “livingness” through its prominent head and face. My favorite feature, however, is the flower growing out of the head.
This work of my progeny brought to mind our quite mistaken adult tendency to *dismiss* such renderings as if emanating solely from naivete and ignorance. I protest. The children KNOW there is no head with a face on the building. They haven’t been hallucinating. Then why the personification? Regarding what is a virtually universal human behavior as meaningless because early is hasty at best, doltish at worst. Perhaps it would help to remember that these tiny ones have also been breathing–starting when they were even tinier, even before they got to drawing. We don’t think of maturation as the abandonment of inhaling and exhaling. Why should it include the end of personification?
“But,” someone will say, “we don’t SEE all about us buildings with heads growing out of them, especially not heads sprouting flowers. Therefore, we do well to encourage our tykes to continue with their breathing but to bring to an early conclusion their Dali-esque dalliances with ‘breathing’ edifices.” How soon must they cease to see life in structures? “Oh,” the experts opine, “any time before the appearance of their second set of choppers.”
If that is your idea of a normal course, be assured that I’m not trying to talk you out of it. What I *am* doing is urging you to at least consider if there may not be something much greater than naivete at work in these kid-prints. Like what?
Like this: Why not think of this characteristic in children’s artwork as “The Watchmaker” argument in a very pure form? You know the argument, one of the so-called traditional proofs for God. It posits the following: No one looking at a fine watch would waste a moment giving credence to any proposition alleging that the watch had no maker but just “happened.” Similarly, the argument goes, no one having the faintest familiarity with this awe-inspiring universe in which we live, move and have our being, would lend credibility to any theory arguing that it “just happened.”
Whatever weaknesses may belong to the watchmaker argument in the hands of philosophers or theologians are made irrelevant in the kindergarten version, at least as I see it. The instinctive persistence of children around the world seems to regard all in their purview as somehow the product of a PERSON. Further, because of that obvious fact, all that IS, whether mobile or static, necessarily shares– to some extent–that PERSONality. This rule is as inflexible and invariant as that which says of a chair, “That is mine,” for what is offered as a self-evident reason, “Because I was sitting in it before you.”
In the latter instance we are often confronted with sound instinct plus sin. In the former, well, to my mind it is nothing other than an evidence of the human condition operating without the aid of sophisticated sinfulness. Before it would occur to children that the suppression of God is needed for a sinful self to enjoy his illicit autonomy, before they’ve been taught–or figured out– that removing God from one’s consciousness–as much as possible–is *necessary* for the conceit of self-creation and self-legislation to flourish, they are reflexively expressing through their art the world as they’ve ACTUALLY found it.
I understand why this view of kid work is unattractive to the rebellious human mind. I get why it’s more flattering to the self to be satisfied with a “How cute!” I see why evolutionary theory, instead of explaining it, like in everything else, just explains it AWAY. Children see “person” by extension because they see God’s fingerprints, as it were. But those who have, a priori, decided that there is no God and therefore no prints on “His handiwork,” imagine children’s vision to be analogous to “animism.” In a Lemarck redux, they posit that, just as animism is pre-theistic man’s first pitiful attempt to make sense of the world, i.e., putting personality into inanimate forms in the hope of managing dangers, so children express similar ignorance in similar fashion. The question, of course, becomes, just who is the truly ignorant one?
I submit that it is worth giving thought to the question to come up with a satisfying answer. I suggest that in children’s earliest artistic efforts we find evidence of the REALITY we had to LEARN not to perceive. Before they are recruited into the army of deniers in search of autonomy, they “can’t help but” reveal that, in their view of things–in their worldview– contra Lemarck, nothing arises from nothing. And behind EVERYTHING there is most certainly a Person.
Those chosen by that Person will come to learn His name. Seeing how practiced we are at hating and ignoring Him, that’s more than we merit.
It occurred to me that, when Jesus exhibited His mastery over “inanimate” creation, His disciples, who were not children at the time, said, “Even the winds and the waves obey Him.” Inanimate things OBEYED. That’s not only personification–that is the truth. And the ONLY time anyone would think to deny is if he had first come to regard the Lord as a threat, as an enemy somehow bound and determined to rob us of all pleasure. And these are the people who say “religion” began with an effort to control threatening spirits in rocks. Guess where the rocks are.
With four decades as a disciple of our Lord, I have learned to see just how outrageous, slanderous and stupid it is to cast God as the cosmic killjoy. It’s no coincidence to discover that description, with a little extra blasphemy tossed in, to be the very one used by the serpent to describe the Lord to Eve. But to believe that lie now takes a special kind of dolt. Why? Because since the Rebellion, the Lord God came to Earth, in the PERSON of His Son, to DIE– so that we may live. Does that sound like an enemy? If you don’t know the answer, ask your kid.
Better yet, ask them to draw you a picture.