Topical CM Series

Charlotte Mason's ideas are too important not to be understood and implemented in the 21st century, but her Victorian style of writing sometimes prevents parents from attempting to read her books. This is an imperfect attempt to make Charlotte's words accessible to modern parents. You may read these, print them out, share them freely--but they are copyrighted to me, so please don't post or publish them without asking.
~L. N. Laurio

The Charlotte Mason Series in Modern English Arranged Topically

Religious Doubt

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 41-42

How to Fortify Children Against Doubt

How do we fortify our children against the doubts that fill the air? That's a worrisome question. We have three options. We can teach them in the same old way that we ourselves were taught and let them take their chances when it's their time. Or we can try to deal with each of the difficult issues and doubts that have come up and that they're likely to face in the future by offering them Christian dogma and 'proofs.' Or we can give them such a clear hold on vital truth, and such a thorough perspective of current issues that they'll land on the safe side of whatever controversies they come up against. They'll recognize truth in whatever new light it's presented in, and they'll be safeguarded against mortal error.

Of The Three Options, the First is Unfair

The first option (teach them in the same old way that we ourselves were taught and let them take their chances) is unfair to our youth. When the attack comes, they'll find themselves at a disadvantage. They'll have no response. Their confidence will be shaken, and they'll conclude that none of the truth they learned is useful as a defense. If it was, wouldn't they have been taught how to use it? They'll resent being proved wrong and being on the weaker, losing side--at least, that's how it looks to them--and being behind the times. So they'll go over to the side of the most aggressive current thinkers without a struggle.

'Evidence' is Not Proof

Now let's suppose that they've been fortified with 'Christian evidence' and defended with a wall of solid, dogmatic teaching. Religion without definite authoritative teaching degenerates into sentiment, but dogma for the sake of dogma offers no defense against the assaults of unbelief. As far as 'evidences,' the proverb, 'He who excuses himself accuses himself' [he who is most vocal about his innocence is often the most guilty] might be applied to the whole list of Christian apologists. Whatever truth we live by needs to be self-evidenced, requiring neither proof nor disproof. Children should learn Bible history with whatever light modern research can shed. But they shouldn't be taught to assume that evidences such as inscriptions on Assyrian monuments are proofs that the Bible is correct. They help to illustrate the Biblical record, but they're only supplementary proofs, nothing more or less.

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 44-45

Knowledge is Progressive

But isn't all of this too much for children? Not at all. Every walk should excite their enthusiasm for the things of Nature, and their reverence for the scientists who study them. But every opportunity should be taken to note the progressive advances of science, and the fact that today's teaching might be tomorrow's error because new light might lead to new conclusions regarding even the facts we already know. 'Until recently, geologists used to think that; now they think this, but they may discover reasons to think something else in the future.' Children should understand that knowledge is progressive, and that the next discovery might totally change what was thought before. We're still waiting for the last word, and we'll probably be waiting for a long, long time. Science itself is a 'revelation,' although we can't always interpret what we find out. Science is a great opportunity for spiritual awareness. A person who recognizes these things can rejoice in all truth and wait for final certainty.

Children Should Learn Some Laws of Thought

There's another way that we can try to provide children with the stability of mind that comes from knowing about themselves. They should understand the laws of thought that direct their own minds while they're still young enough that it seems like they've always known it. Let them realize that, once an idea takes possession of them, it will pursue its own course. It will establish its own path in the physical tissue of the brain and draw its own chain of ideas behind it. One of the most common reasons that young people abandon what they've been taught is because thoughtful youths are shocked when they come to notice their own thoughts. They read a book or listen to a lecture, and experience what they think is 'free thought.' With fearful joy, they discover their own thoughts taking off independently from what they've heard or read, and going on and on to arrive at startling new conclusions along the same lines.

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 96-97

Scripture is Being Discredited

The fact is, our religious life has already suffered, and sooner or later, the character of our country will suffer, because hostile critics are trying to discredit the Bible. We correctly regard the Bible as the entirety of our sacred texts. The only thing we have to teach is what's in the Bible. But we don't go to the Bible with the same confidence anymore. Our religion is fading into an emotional sentiment that's not easy to pass on to the next generation. So we wait until our children are old enough to feel those sentiments for themselves. In the meantime, we give them enough aesthetic culture to develop a need in their soul that will lead them to worship. The whole foundation of liberal religious thought is miserably shaky. No wonder so many of us hesitate to expose it to the challenge of a definite, searching young mind. We're comfortable in the flimsy house of faith we've built. It vaguely resembles the strong old home that our souls used to live in, and we cling to it with a fond attachment that the younger generation might not understand.

'Miracles Don't Happen'

So then, if our house of faith is flimsy, are we homeless? In one area we are. We're exposed and unsheltered in the area of the assumption that a brilliant novelist has stated very blatantly: 'Miracles don't happen.' The educated mind is more essentially logical than we think. If you remove the cornerstone of miracles, the whole arch of Christianity crumbles around our heads. The showy respect for the Person of Jesus, when separated from the miracles that have been deemed as mythical, turns out to be nothing more than a false sentiment for a concept made up in our own minds. Once miracles are eliminated, the whole fabric of Christianity unravels. Not only that, but what do we do with the old revelation of God as 'the Lord, a God full of compassion and gracious'? Do we say, No, we'll keep this; it's no miracle? Do we keep Christ's excellent Sermon on the Mount and allow it to claim our allegiance for Christ? No, we don't. Within that one Sermon, we learn to pray, to consider the lilies of the field, the birds of the air, and to remember that the very hairs of our head are numbered. This embodies the doctrine of personal dealing, God's specific providence, which is the very essence of miracles. If 'miracles don't happen,' then it's foolish and presumptuous to pray and expect some faint disturbance of the course of events that are fixed in place by natural law. An educated mind is severely logical, although a deliberate effort can prevent us from following our conclusions to the bitter end. Without miracles, what's left? A God who can't possibly have personal dealings with you or me. After all, such dealings would be a miracle. What's left is a world of events so determined and certain that prayer becomes blasphemous. How can we dare approach the Highest with requests that would be impossible for Him to grant, if the nature of the world is so fixed?

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 243

If a person refuses even a hint of doubtful thoughts about his mother or father, or his child or spouse, can he do any less for God, who is more than any of those, and who is the Lord of his very heart? Every time a question intrudes to cast doubt on God's truth, that person will remember that 'loyalty forbids' such thoughts.

A Safeguard Against 'Honest Doubt'

What about when others you respect ask questions and tell you about their 'honest doubt'?

Now that you know where their doubt originated, you can take it for what it's worth. It began with a suggestion, and once that suggestion was entertained in that person's mind, it was naturally compelled to reach its logical conclusion to the bitter end. Jesus, who didn't need anyone to tell Him about people, since He knew what was inside them, said, 'Be careful that you don't enter into temptation.'

Volume 3, School Education, pg 138-39

Questions on People's Minds

But there are questions on everyone's minds about the authenticity of Scripture and things like that. We're all pretty much at the mercy of words. So-called 'higher criticism' finds a lot to criticize and question about the verbal accuracy of Scripture passages, which gives us a vague idea that God's authority itself is in doubt. Part of the PNEU's work is to encourage and strengthen parents by comforting them with a sense that God's authority is behind theirs, always supporting them in their role as authority over their families. Another notion people are talking about is against the principle of authority itself, favoring greater respect for individual personality and the right of each individual to develop and evolve according to his own unique character. But the truth is, authority isn't adverse to individual development unless it's a morally wrong kind of development.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 155-157

Science: The Approved Teaching of Our Day

I think that the PNEU has the leaven that can leaven the whole lump of dough. Let's determine to work with a purpose and passion. Let's restore to the world that great scheme of unity in life that produced such great men and great works in the past, and let's enrich that with current knowledge. We don't need to be afraid that the kinds of ideas that will help education will oppose science. Many of us feel, for good reason, that science is the new teaching that's being emphasized in our age. That makes some people very happy. They see it as a sign that moral and religious struggles are about to be eliminated from life, and then life, for better or worse, will run along an easy inevitable path. Others are confused and are desperately looking for a middle ground where science and religion can be reconciled. Still others take refuge by rejecting the theory of evolution and all that goes with it. They hope to cling to religion by interpreting it more and more narrowly. Whichever group we fall into, we probably err by not having enough faith.

First of all, let's be convinced that, for a believer, science and religion can't possibly be at odds. Once we're assured of this, we might be able to see scientific evolution as a process of revelation that's brought about in every case as far as I know by a process described by Coleridge: 'Ideas about nature were given to men who were selected by a divine power even higher than nature herself. These ideas suddenly unfold in a prophetic kind of succession, these systematic views were destined to produce the most important revolutions in the state of man.' Huxley says that biology is useful because it 'helps to give the right ideas in this world. After all, this world is absolutely governed by ideas--and very often, by the wildest and most hypothetical ideas.' He goes on, 'people who refuse to go beyond the fact rarely get as far as the fact. Anyone who knows the history of science knows that almost every advance has been made by the anticipation of nature--in other words, by the invention of hypothesis.' Surely men of science will find the unifying principle they seek that Coleridge spoke of. If they did, then they would be able to distinguish themselves, not just as the proclaimers of truth that they're ready to take a stand for, but as servants of God who prepared themselves to receive revelation from God, who is the Truth.

Evolution is the Master-thought of the Age

Few of us can forget the mental image that Carlyle described of the Tiers etat [French commonality; the French nobles refused to treat their concerns seriously and this was a cause of the French Revolution of 1789] waiting for organization. 'Wise as serpents, harmless as doves. What a spectacle for France! Six hundred inhuman people who are needed to bring it back to life and save it, sit on their long benches, desperately wishing for life.' Coleridge wrote just as accurately about botany, although not as vividly. He said that botany, as it existed in his day, was waiting for a unifying idea that would organize it. He wrote, 'What is Botany right now? Not much more than an enormous collection of names, a huge catalog, meticulously arranged. Every year and every month, more names are added in various categories, and each has its own filing method and reference system. It's the innocent diversion, healthy hobby and impressive collection of amateurs. Botany still doesn't have the kind of energy and devotion that true philosophers would give it.' Our generation has been given the key word to interpret life, both animal and plant, but we don't know what to do with it.

For Ages, People Have Looked for a Unifying Principle

The human mind finds a great deal of rest and satisfaction in the concept of evolution. But we shouldn't forget that, for three thousand years, thinkers have been busy trying to explain the world with a single principle that would also explain Reason and the human soul. Herakleitos and the men of his time thought that they had found the answer when they said that 'the true Being is forever changing.' They thought that 'the universal change and evolving of things' explained it perfectly. Demokritos and the men of his age thought they had solved the riddle when they said, 'nothing exists except atoms moving around in space.' Many times since then, with each world-changing discovery, science has declared, 'I've solved the mystery!' when it's found a principle that seems to explain all things and eliminate the existence of personality.


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Paraphrased by L. N. Laurio; Please direct comments or questions to AmblesideOnline.