Saturday, March 17, 2012
Innocency, Part One (Loss)
It all starts with a story. For me, it was Prince Caspian, by C.S. Lewis. Well, not the book as such, but the movie, that my sister claims ruined the story. The exact story matters less than the atmosphere in which such stories take place. We tell these stories to our children. We call them fables, myths, or fairy tales. One might characterize them as depicting innocents against whom an evil world arrays itself. Snow White and the prince face off against the evil queen. Cinderella and Prince Charming struggle against the evil stepfamily. Sleeping Beauty and her prince war against the evil fairy. We don't tell children the original Grimm's version, but the Disney version that minimizes the complexity of life. The perennial conflict is characterized by the words of the fairy that enchants Prince Philip's sword against Maleficent in Disney's Sleeping Beauty. "Thou sword of truth, fly swift and sure, that evil die and good endure!"
These tales resonate so well with our collective psyche, because they present an absolute antithesis between innocency and error, good and evil. They portray us as innocents struggling against the world. Such tales presume upon a value that we soon forget and no longer acknowledge. We desire innocency.
If this is true, it presents us with certain questions. Why do we tell these tales to our children if we merely intend them to mature so that they may throw off the "shackles" of innocency? Are we merely telling lies to placate and manipulate their childish ignorance? Perhaps, but it seems doubtful. The more likely explanation argues that man truly values innocence.
Why then do we maintain that maturity demands the loss of innocence? I have often marveled that in this world of instantaneous communication, society has defined maturity in terms of the loss of innocency. This idea holds no claim to originality, for it comes from the very beginning of humanity. In Genesis 3, that very point of prohibition for the first couple involved the denial of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God's command prolonged man's innocency but not at the expense of man's maturity. Nevertheless, Satan deceived Eve into thinking that maturity demanded the loss of innocency. He claimed that in order to ascend to the order of divinity, man needed to throw off obedience to God and to assume the knowledge that He withheld.
Having spent thousands of years wallowing in the misery produced by that initial loss of innocence, one might think that we had lost all remembrance or desire for that which we surrendered in the fall. Do we even remember that lost innocency? In a world where true innocency cannot exist, how could we miss that which we never experienced? Yet we do. Because God created us in innocency and in His image, we still retain the memory of innocency. Memory inadequately expresses the nature of our knowledge. This knowledge comes not from historic experience, but through the very fabric of our constitution. We understand innocency because we know it as part of our makeup that we ought to have within us but don't.
We may spend most of our lives content in the lack of innocency, preferring the vanities of sin to the substance of righteousness. The world acts publicly as if they possessed no desire for innocency. Even I rarely contemplate the implications of the loss of innocency, but when I do, it strikes me like a ton of bricks. I watch a film like Caspian, and the innocency of the story and the characters reminds me of the lack that I find within even myself. Eventually, we remember all we have lost.