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Should We Celebrate the Loss of Innocence?

One day Andrew Shearman said something to me that stopped me in my tracks, “We need to celebrate the loss of innocence.” Celebrate the loss of innocence? Why? Aren’t we jaded enough? Isn’t the evil and messiness of this world something better avoided?  Innocence implies a guiltlessnes…
By Seth Barnes

One day Andrew Shearman said something to me that stopped me in my tracks, “We need to celebrate the loss of innocence.”

Celebrate the loss of innocence? Why? Aren’t we jaded enough? Isn’t the evil and messiness of this world something better avoided? 

Innocence implies a guiltlessness that is often the result of non-engagement. Children are innocent that way. The political issues that upset us haven’t touched their world yet. But if we are to address the pain caused by evil in this world – the pain that causes people to leave their homes and become refugees, for example – we can’t avoid confronting evil.

Innocence vs responsibility

And that leaves us with a question: Is it better to engage evil and become responsible or to remain innocent and allow evil to continue its work? I’ve watched a generation of young people say, “There is a moral equivalency to choice. Evil is ambiguous, not personal.”

When we engage with the ambiguity of evil, we may well end up with more confusion than clarity. Richard Rohr says: “One always learns one’s mystery at the price of one’s innocence.” There are parts of us that we don’t understand, that are a mystery. Our lack of awareness is a kind of innocence.

The word innocent comes from the Latin for unwounded or not harmed. Rohr says, “The innocent one hasn’t yet learned from his or her wounds, and therefore doesn’t know his or her full reality yet.”

In other words, when we are exposed to pain, we begin to lose our innocence. 

Moving toward maturity

David Whyte says that when we’re innocent, we’re postured to move toward maturity: 

Innocence is…not a state of naivety. It’s the ability to be found by the world you’re now inhabiting. We’re supposed to give ourselves away, actually. A sign of maturity is understanding that you’re a mortal human being and you are going to die. Maturity is realizing that the rest of creation might be a little relieved to let you go. That you can stop repeating yourself, stop taking all this oxygen up, and make way for something else which you’ve actually beaten a trail for. It could be your son, your daughter, could be people you’ve taught or mentored.

To move toward maturity, we must lose our innocence. Paul rebukes the Corinthian church, “I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.” (1 Cor. 3:2) To grow up, they needed to move into a place of responsibility, owning the consequences of their actions.

Where was God when innocence was taken, when the thief came? He allowed the pain of banishment and a loss of intimacy to flow from choice. 

Cause for celebration

So while the consequences of a poor choice are not something we celebrate, the potential to move from innocence to a place of responsibility is. When we make disciples of others, we lead them out of their season of ignorance and show them both the necessity of choice and the horror of evil.

I hate the sex trade in Thailand. I am deeply troubled by the plight of so many vulnerable children in Swaziland. But I’m so thankful that I’ve been exposed to the pain they feel so that I might have the opportunity to help them.

And if you join me in touching their pain in a way that is novel for you, then perhaps we will have cause to celebrate the loss of your innocence as well. We may not throw a party, but the newfound compassion you feel that motivates you to show you care can be a thing of beauty.

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