“They are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for good and evil.”
This is Charlotte’s second Principle.
Right out of the shoot she hits hard. No dancing around. She tackles education, parenting, and religion in one punch. Gotta like Charlotte.
This principle is important-very important. I know families who, after giving CM an initial look, rejected a CM Education due to this very principle.
Why does it get so sticky?
It’s sticky because it speaks into deep religious convictions. And your religious convictions, which are a philosophy, affect your actions- which, we know from Charlotte Mason or other sources.
You can avoid the stickiness of this Principle by hovering on the surface. To do that, one can use an historical context to lay aside any discomfort that might have sparked interpreting Principle 2. The historical context takes us back to Victorian England. In CM’s Victorian England there were two views of the child. On one hand, there was the rise of the child-angel. You may recall the vintage, over the top advertisements depicting chubby, rosy cheeked children in frilly dresses sometimes even posed as cherubs. This was the good, ever so good, child.
Charlotte mentions children coming from heaven, but does not over elevate their angelic qualities as some in her era did. Applying the historical line of thinking, it could be interpreted as Charlotte calming this angel-child notion.
Continuing in the historical context explanation of Principle 2, with the rise of the industrial revolution and economic hard times of Charlotte’s day, factories needed workers and families needed food, which was a perfect recipe for abusive child labor conditions. To justify hard child labor, children were often labeled as inferior and sub human. Thus, society could conclude they were evil and work them without regard to their well being. Works such as Oliver Twist come to mind. Eventually, the birth of child labor laws began to arise to counteract this abuse.
Charlotte talks in her Volumes about the hardships of children in her day, and is enthusiastic to bring real education to the lower classes and correct the wrongs done to children by starving them of learning. So using the historical context for Principle 2, it could be inferred that Charlotte is attempting to correct the notion that children were sub-human and evil.
This historical explanation carries us to a point, but really doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. I know it doesn’t, because I know folks who tried to use CM, used the historical ‘argument’ to reconcile Principle 2 in their mind, but it didn’t stick. Down the road the house of cards caved because they couldn’t reconcile it with their philosophy- their religious beliefs. The historical explanation doesn’t satisfy.
To get at the heart of the stickiness of Principle 2, we have to dive deeper Charlotte’s words “good” and “evil”. We dive into the realm of worldview, religion, issues of spirituality, and the heart.
Most parents don’t question Charlotte’s statement that children have “possibilities for doing evil”. By the time a child is 4 to 5 years of age this notion is pretty well proven. Although “evil” does sound pretty harsh. One might think Charlotte chose her words too strongly here. But when we call hitting your brother out of anger what it is- well, it is evil. It may not leave more than a physical bruise today, but allowed to continue and grow, it will leave deep marks in the life of the offender and serious fissures in the relationship between brothers. Ask any wife of a man,- a boy now grown and left to his unruly acting out, who doesn’t control his actions—yes, evil. Anything that destroys an individual or relationship is evil. The seed is evil, the germinated sprout is evil, the immature plant is evil, and the old fruit bearing tree is evil. No matter the stage, evil.
Ok so not so harsh. Boiled down truth.
Typically the hurdle with Principle 2 comes when reading the words “children are born with possibilities for good”. Some religious families don’t return to CM once they discover this phrase in Principle 2. This is due to the religious belief that all people are born sinners and have a condition that is completely corrupt. In religious literature and talk, these concepts are officially referred to as original sin and total depravity. In looser religious talk one would say we are all born sinners. The condition started when Adam and Eve ate the apple and it continues currently. Everyone born since Adam and Eve are born totally depraved. Depravity is the opposite of good, and therefore, the religious teaching holds that since we are depraved there can be no good in us.
This, then, leaves no room for Charlotte’s “good”. Some Christians are troubled by Charlotte’s “born with possibilities for good” view of the child because it seems as though she is creating a loophole for the idea that we are not completely sinful. Carrying that idea to fruition, if one is not completely born in sin, one has some good, then, further, one might have enough good to forgo the need for a Savior. And if the good is good enough, continuing logically further, reaching heaven based on your own good is attainable. To Christians, who rely on Jesus as Savior, this is a very big deal. Having good in us ultimately cancels out Jesus when it is boiled down.
But here is where I’d like to offer a shift in thought. One can agree with original sin and total depravity, the “evil” in us, and one can also agree with Charlotte’s “possibilities for good.”
They can go together.
In Principle 2 Charlotte places a key phrase at the beginning of the principle, a phrase that we skip over as we spy the upcoming controversy of good and evil at the end of her principle. The phrase is “not born either” – “not born either [this or that]”. She is saying it is “not” one or the other. It can be both, even though they are opposing qualities.
Yes, humans can have opposing qualities, can they not?
We can be just and unjust, kind to some and murderous to others, forgiving today and vindictive tomorrow, humble here oozing with pride there, gracious on Sunday gossiping on Monday. Even in a day, the opposing components of our humanness can play out.
Sometimes in over zealousness, our religious beliefs focus on the ‘we are only sinners’ camp. This doesn’t leave room for the opposing quality that we do, in fact, possess – the good within us. Probably the fight or flight reaction to the statement ‘we have good within us’ comes as a push back against thinking one can enter into heaven due to some goodness within a person. But neither Charlotte (nor I) am talking here about salvation or justification. Charlotte, throughout her writings, particularly her Saviour of the World, leaves no question that we need a Savior. If one is inherently good, or if goodness can be found in them, why would a Savior be needed? The very title of her book claims the world is in need of a Savior.
We don’t need to push back. Often a push back, reaction comes from an underlying stance of fear. Total depravity means, not that we are permanently stained black in evil. It means, rather, that everything is tainted by sin. And indeed, it is.
But to say there is nothing good in us is to ignore the first picture we have of man. Before original sin, before it all got tainted, there was this. I rarely hear it mentioned in religious sermons and books. Maybe I’m looking in the wrong places… But at Creation. Go back to the Garden. God created the world, plants, animals, and man. And how was man created? Yes, from dust. But how? How did man look, not on the outside… not the physical body, but the inside. What were we modeled after, where did our inner soul come from, where did the deep, spiritual longings originate? Where did personality come from, our free will and ability to make choices, our reason, our will? What distinguished us from the animals God had just created?
Genesis 1:27. “created in God’s image.”
I don’t know exactly what that means. Maybe that we reflect God. Maybe we have components that we share with God. I don’t know- other than, it sounds good to me.
Hum. We heard that word earlier.
When He looked at his work, he said it was “good”.
Did we lose that “good” when Adam and Eve were thrown out of the garden? Did God strip it from them as they were driven out? They endured burdens and consequences. But I don’t read that their original being – how they were originally created, disappeared.
We still retain it.
Being Image Bearers of a Holy God is part of who we are. And this is “good”.
Being flesh consumed beings is also who we are. And this is “evil”.
We are both. One is not more important than the other. But before sin marred our flesh, first we were ‘good’ Image Bearers.
Be aware of balancing the “evil” with the “good”. Give your children the honor and benefit that is their right as an Image Bearer of the Heavenly Father. And know that your children will have struggles with doing wrong. It is not one OR the other, good OR evil that they possess. In Charlotte’s words it is “not either”, it is both. It is possible that we can do “good” and “evil”, both, in the same human being. This applies to child or adult, because we are all persons. This is part of being human.
We do not have to be afraid that Charlotte is leading us down a path that denies original sin. She admits to original sin in our humanness, and she also admits to the good we have that was given to us at Creation by our Father as he created us in His likeness, that part of us that is good and brings out the capacity of doing good.
In his life, Jesus demonstrated the “good” that we are capable of modelling. Jesus’ life also demonstrates the “evil” that assaults us. His life, of course, didn’t fall to the temptation of the “bad”. This too is a model for us. It is possible for us to do “evil”. Parents are responsible to bring to their children, either in actuality or through books and other mediums, the consequences of pursuing the “bad”. It is also our responsibility to give them possibilities for doing “good” – to teach, model, and fill their minds with the “good”.
5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. 8 So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
9 But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. 10 And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.
12 Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.