Much of what Jesus said in the course of His life and, even more, His deeds insisted that He did not have just this one father (God), who insisted on the observance of His commandments, on sacrifice and was demanding, distant, invisible, and infallible, a father whose "will [must] be done." From His early days Jesus also knew another father--Joseph, who never called attention to himself, who protected and loved Mary and the child, encouraged the child, assigned him central importance, and served him. It must have been this modest man who made it possible for the child to distinguish what was true and to experience the meaning of love. This is why Jesus was able to see through the hypocrisy of his contemporaries. A child raised in accordance with traditional principles, who knows nothing else from the start, is not able to detect hypocrisy because he lacks a basis for comparison. Someone who knows only such an atmosphere from childhood will perceive it as normal in all situations, perhaps suffering because of it but unable to recognize it for what it is. If he has not experienced love as a child, he will long for it, but will not know what love can be. Jesus did know.
There would without any doubt be more people capable of love if the church, instead of urging its members to obey authority and expecting allegiance to Christ on these grounds, would understand the crucial significance of Joseph's attitude. He served his child because he regarded Him as the child of God. What would it be like if all of us regarded our children as children of God--which we could do, after all? In his Christmas message of 1979 in honor of the Year of the Child, Pope John Paul II said that it is the task of adults to instill ideals in their children. These words coming from a man capable of love are certainly well-intended. But when pedagogues, both clerical and secular, set out to instill prescribed ideals in a child, they invariably turn to the methods of "poisonous pedagogy" and at best train children to become adults who train others in turn instead of raising them to become loving human beings.
Children who are respected learn respect. Children cared for learn to care for those weaker than themselves. Children who are loved for what they are cannot learn intolerance. In an environment such as this they will develop their own ideals, which can be nothing other than humane, since they grow out of the experience of love.
I have been told more than once that someone who was able to let his true self unfold during childhood would become a martyr in our society because he would refuse to adapt to some of its norms. There is something to be said for this idea, which is often advanced as an argument in defense of traditional child-rearing practices. Parents say they want to make their child learn to adapt as early as possible so he or she will not have to suffer too much later on in school or professional life. Since we still know very little about the influence of childhood suffering on the development of personality, it would seem difficult to refute this argument. Examples from history also appear to confirm it, for there are many who were forced to die a martyr's death because they refused to accept the prevailing standards of society and instead remained loyal the truth (and thus themselves).
But who is it actually who is so eager to see that society's norms are observed, who persecutes and crucifies those with the temerity to think differently--if not people who have had a "proper upbringing"? They are the ones who learned as children to accept the death of their souls and do not notice it until they are confronted with the vitality of their young or adolescent children. Then they must try to stamp out this vitality, so they will not be reminded of their own loss.
In the history of art the massacre of children has been depicted over and over again. Let us take as an example King Herod's slaying of all the male children in his realm. He feels threatened by them because there may be among them the new king who will one day vie for his throne, and for this reason he brings about a bloodbath in Bethlehem by ordering every boy aged two and under to be killed. Mary and Joseph flee to Egypt in order to save their child. Their love not only saves Jesus's life, it also enables the riches of His soul to unfold, which ultimately leads to His early death. One could rightly claim that it was Jesus's authenticity that caused His death, from which a false, conformist self would have saved Him. But can a meaningful life be measured quantitatively? Would Jesus have been happier if His parents, instead of treating Him with love and respect, had raised Him from an early age to be a faithful subject of Herod or to live a long life as a scribe?
The fact that Jesus grew up with parents whose only goal was to love and respect Him can hardly be denied, not even by believing Christians, who, in accordance with religious tradition, see in Jesus the Son of God. Every year throughout the Christian world the child is honored in the celebration of Christmas, yet Christian pedagogy has never been guided by this. Even someone who assumes that Jesus owes his capacity for love, His authenticity and goodness to the grace of His Divine Father and not to the extraordinary loving ways of Mary and Joseph might wonder why God entrusted these particular earthly parents with the task of caring for His child. It is quite astonishing that none of Christ's followers has ever raised this question, which could had led to new directions in child-rearing. The caring parents of the child Jesus have never served as models; on the contrary, religious manuals generally recommend strict disciplinary measures starting in infancy. Once it is no longer a secret that certain psychological laws are behind this kind of model, once enough parents become aware that preaching love will not nurture the child's ability to love, whereas respect and understanding in childhood will, then those who receive this respect and understanding in childhood will no longer be the exception and will not have to to die a martyr's death.
If we also take Herod as a symbol of our own society, we can point to aspects of the story of Jesus that may be used as arguments either for or against traditional child-rearing practices (depending on our personal experience): on the one hand, the massacre of the innocents and, on the other, extraordinary parents, servants of their child, who in the eyes of traditional pedagogues would then of necessity have become tyrants. Society, personified in Herod, fears children's vitality and authenticity and attempts to eradicate them, but lived-out truth cannot be destroyed, not even when the officials of Church and state take it upon themselves to "administer" the truth with the intent of eliminating it. The repeated resurrection of the truth cannot be suppressed; again and again, individual human beings affirm and live it. The Church as a social institution has continually attempted to prevent this resurrection from taking place--for example, by instigating wars in the name of Christ or by encouraging parents, by instigating wars in the name of Christ or by encouraging parents to use strict coercive measures to deaden their children's souls (i.e.,feelings) in the name of the sacred values of child-rearing (obedience, submissiveness, denial of self).
The church's struggle (supposedly an expression of God's will) against children's vitality is renewed daily by training them to be blindly obedient to those in authority and to think of themselves as wicked; this approach is more reminiscent of Herod, with his fear of the resurrection of the truth in the child, than it is of Jesus, with His demonstrated confidence in human potentiality. The hatred rooted in the small child's reaction to this training swells to immense proportions, and the Church (in part unconsciously) abets the proliferation of evil, which, on a conscious level, it professes to oppose.
It requires no great effort to identify the apocalyptic features of our century: world wars, massacres, the specter of nuclear war, the threat to the earth's ecological balance, the depletion of energy sources, the increase in drug addiction--the list could go on and on. Yet the same century has also taught us knowledge that is utterly new in human history and that could bring about a decisive change in our lives if its full significance was to penetrate public consciousness. I am referring to the discovery to the territory that the period of early childhood is of crucial importance for a person's emotional development. The more distinctly we come to see that the most ominous events of the present and recent past are not the products of mature rationality and the more clearly we recognize the absurdity and unpredictable of the arms race, the most urgent becomes the need to investigate the origins and nature of the human destructiveness whose helpless victims we all are.
The magnitude of destructiveness that we read about in the newspapers every day actually represents only the last chapter of long stories we are usually ignorant of. We are victims, observers, reporters, or mute witnesses of a violence whose roots we do not see, a violence that often takes us by surprise, outrages us, or simply makes us stop and think, but we lack the inner ability (i.e., parental or Divine permission) to perceive and to take to heart the simple and obvious explanations that are already available. pages 96-100.
Alice Miller used a term above "poisonous pedagogy," which some people may not be familiar with, so I will enclose a link to a section in her book For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in
Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence, where she explains in a summary what the term "poisonous pedagogy" means