EVERY day the newspapers are full of stories about the dreadful accidents that can happen to children. They can so easily get knocked down, tumble into ponds, fall out of trees, eat something that is poisonous. Take your eye off them for a moment and they're into trouble.
But even so parents do not gang together to ban motor cars, chop down all the trees, drain the ponds. They realise that despite their awn anxiety, the children must be allowed to take risks and sometimes face the consequences.
Ideally the degree of independence should be in line with the child's selfawareness and powers of judgement, but the balance is hard to strike: and probably it is better for a child to have a little more independence than he knows how to cope with rather than too little.
Few people are sadder than men and women whose parents have turned home into a fortified castle or an enclosed convent where life is remorselessly safe and diabolically dull. Smotherlove is so close to motherlove that it seems to have a dozen justifications, but then there is no devil so subtle as the one that can masquerade as an angel of light.
It can be equally hard for the Christian to appreciate that his fellow men must be allowed freedom to run risks. Intolerance, viewed in the kindliest possible light, can be an elephantiasis of zeal. The man who believes in God, that Christ is God, that the Church is a divinely instituted society, that the Gospels are God's word, is likely to be convinced that men would be happier and the world a better place if they believed so too. But they still have the same right to believe otherwise and live their lives differently.
. The only man who is safe with deep convictions is the one who believes that other men are entitled to theirs. Not because this is forced on him by a pluralist society but because the Gospel requires it. Faith must be free. We may believe that we possess the secret of life, that we know how to make the world peaceful, secure, just and orderly, but as Christians we are not entitled, even in the name of God, to impose our solu tion on others. Once beliefs are imposed they are worthless. God asks for a free response, a free choice.
Every enthusiast is tempted to insist on people accepting what he believes is good for them. and he may meet with some success in forcing his views by bringing some kind of pressure to bear. But the end does not justify the means. Even within the Church it is not uncommon to find various kinds of blackmail, slander, innuendo, social ostracism, interference with careers, and so forth being used by high-minded people to make others conform to certain kinds of belief or behaviour.
Such methods are never, never justified, and least of all when they seem to be successful. In the very moment of success they make a mockery of the Gospel the enthusiast is trying to uphold. Perhaps this is the lesson that the believer is slowest to learn: that like the parent with his child, and God with man, he must allow other people, however fearful he is for their safety, the freedom to be wrong, and the freedom to be hurt.