Greta Thunberg: History’s Warning about Secular Child Saints

Child polemicists have almost always had the dubious distinction of being indicators of movements that have gone to seed. As formerly stable paradigms of thinking and doing reach exhaustion, new leaders tend to embrace extremism in order to keep true believers in the fold. Sometimes childish and unstable rantings are regarded as signs of exceptional and unassailable devotion to truth.

The child army whose passionate support fueled the Bonfire of Vanities, the fiery conclusion to Giroloma Savonarola’s campaign to purify corrupt fifteenth century Florence, is but one example of the use of children to promote a supposedly righteous cause.

Savonarola organized tough street kids that were regarded as the dangerous refuse of Florentine society into a group of holy terrors.  They marched through the city singing hymns while raiding homes for filthy lucre, ill-gotten gains and spiritualy contaminated objects such as wigs, cosmetics, jewelry, obscene books and decadent art.

Everything the kids collected was thrown onto a sixty-foot-high pyre and cremated for the glory of God and the purification of Florence. Adults joined in the frenzy.  It was even rumored that the artist Botticelli threw his own paintings into the fire.

But after seeing the bonfire devour their wealth, the people of the city began to repent of their repentance and turned on the reformer.  Savonarola lost favor and shortly thereafter was burned at the stake, his vanity turned to ashes by a bonfire.

But as history reveals, the impulse to use children to whip up religious and ideological reform has always been strong. The irrational impulses that drove the Children’s Crusade and inspired Savonarola’s ragazzi army were the same impulses affecting the teenage girls who prophesied during the Salem Witch trials.  The children’s ecstatic and hysterical sensibilities temporarily overrode any rule of law. Innocent people died.

Childish zeal, often whipped up by callous adults for their own purposes, continues to be utilized by those adults whose ideological goals are seen as furthered by frenzy stoked by fear and anger. Once again, it is adults who are using children to promote their agenda.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion the hapless Greta Thunberg is being used to further the causes of global climate change, whose proponents continually warn about the potential demise of the planet.  It certainly appears she has been stoked into polemical excesses. 

Sadly, it appears she has Aspergers, and is high on the autism spectrum. Such a diagnosis is not dehumanizing and should evoke sympathy and understanding.  But it does tend to diminish her reliability as a spokesperson for an environmentalist cause.  It diminishes considerably her supposedly innate authority to give inerrant spiritual and scientific guidance to the nations represented within the UN.  It also gives pause in seeing her as a sybil who can give an inspired and authoritative word capable of leading the world toward the realization of the environmentalist equivalent of the Peaceable Kingdom.

On the contrary, the fact Thunberg regards her placement on the autistic spectrum as giving her super powers is rather chilling. Her description of herself as possessing prescience and power the rest of the human race does not indicates she sees herself as a secular prophetess possessing visionary acuity similar to that of St. Joan of Arc.  Such beliefs, divorced from pragmatism and driven solely by passion, should cause anyone some hesitation in taking her polemics at face value. People who feel their special vision should be believed merely because of their extreme passion do not always prove to be the best world leaders.

Perhaps more recollections of similarly impassioned child leaders and secular children’s armies will help to put this unfortunate, vulnerable and exploited child and her devotees into proper focus.

The now deposed 16-year-old Saint Werner of Oberwesel, sainted during the thirteenth century, is a case example of what happens when a child is considered a symbol for a cause. His death, which happened on Maundy Thursday in 1287, was blamed on the Jews.  They were accused of hanging him up by the feet in order to get him to regurgitate a Eucharist wafer.  When world of his death spread, pogroms destroyed Jewish communities.  Revenge was taken for what the inflamed mobs saw as a ritualistic murder. A Cult of Werner dedicated to the memory of the youthful saint arose among the deceived faithful. The sect’s observances were only struck from the church calendar in 1963.   

Fast forward to the secular equivalent of St. Werner: Horst Wessel, by all accounts a particularly vicious youth, was killed -- supposedly by Communists -- in 1930. He was made into a martyr for the Nazi movement by Joseph Goebbels, and the Horst Wessel song became the hymn of the Third Reich.  Hundreds of thousands of Hitler Youth paraded to the tune as enthusiastically as children of the twelfth century Children’s Crusade, who stoked to spiritual fervor by twelve-year-old Stephen of Cloyes and a ten-year-old German boy named Nicholas, allegedly marched to the Crusaders’ hymn, “Fairest Lord Jesus.”

Stephen of Cloyes (source)

Short years after the demise of the third Reich, Mao Tse-Tung’s Red Guards, inspired by the examples of Germany’s Hitler Youth movement and Russia’s Little Octobrist youth group, became one of the most vicious and destructive movements in modern history.  The entire movement was comprised of mere children who, like Miss Thunberg, were wired by ideological tenets to become angry, passionate and destructive forces against Westernization of Chinese society.  Having absorbed Mao’s precepts as written in his little Red Book, Chinese communism’s substitute for the Sermon on the Mount, the reductionist tenets the youth imbibed gave them a fanatical certainty.  The government used their fanaticism as a sword to wield against anyone perceived to resist Mao’s communist cause.

The result was that mere foolish children were given reign in universities, hospitals and local communes to humiliate or to eliminate whomever they wished. The nation fell into chaos.

There is nothing in current day secular cults that is not derived from religious practices and cults of the past.  While the childish leaders may not invoke the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, they do invoke the gods of their sects and passionately believe in anger and fear as the chief motivating forces of change.

As William Butler Yeats noted decades ago, those who are the worst  are “full of passionate intensity.” Those who like Greta Thunberg and her followers, sermonize about second comings and apocalypses tend to loose “mere anarchy upon the world and drown innocence.”

The conclusion is that genuine concerns for the environment are not best represented by an environmental cult with apocalyptic views promoted by an emotionally unstable child leader utilizing fear, anxiety and anger rather than science and reason. 

Such leaders do not persuade anyone that theirs is a movement that will benefit the planet, much less save it.

Fay Voshell holds a M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary, which awarded her the prize for excellence in systematic theology.  Her thoughts have appeared in many online magazines, among them American Thinker, CBN, LifeSiteNews, The Christian Post, RealClearPolitics, Russian Insider and National Review. She may be reached at

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