From the last two principles, we see that we have a will, a capacity to make choices about the ideas we accept or reject, and that we also have reason, which justifies the ideas we accept. This brings us to Charlotte Mason’s nineteenth principle: The main responsibility that we have as persons is to accept or reject ideas. If our reason follows the ideas we accept, it is absolutely essential that we weigh the initial ideas very carefully and accept only what is true and good.
Our Chief Duty as Persons
What is the duty of a mother? We often think about our responsibilities in relation to our families. Practically, that might include planning and preparing meals or doing laundry. We also have a responsibility to address our children’s emotional needs and to help them understand their feelings. Pastoring and leading our children toward the Lord is also a responsibility that we feel very deeply.
These are good things, but they are secondary responsibilities to the duty we have, not as mothers, but as human beings. This responsibility will color everything else we do. It will inform how we view our duties as mothers, as wives, as church members, as citizens. This duty is to accept and reject ideas.
We are constantly coming in touch with ideas. Even if we never pick up a book, we encounter them in our culture, in our churches, in the media we consume. The atmosphere of our lives will constantly bring ideas our way. The question is, then, what shall we do with them? Do we get swept up in our culture or do we put our wills to work, prayerfully reflecting and searching for the truth, seeking God’s opinion rather than man’s?
While it might happen that we intentionally accept an idea that is contrary to God’s word, I think the greater risk for us is to not realize that we need to make conscious choices about the ideas we encounter. When we’ve accepted an idea – even if we don’t realize it – our reason sets to work, providing justifications and arguments to support our original point. Our reason needs a balancing force, a preventative measure, so that we avoid going down the wrong road.
Out of our ideas flows our character.
As I mention in a previous post, our thinking matters. We are told to meditate on what is true, good, and worthy. We are transformed by the renewing of our minds. Our thoughts and beliefs, whether we develop them intentionally or passively, matter, because our reason takes our theories and brings them into action. The ideas we accept inform our choices about what we do, how we speak, how we spend our time. Our ideas bear fruit and make our character known.
This is not to say that we can never change our minds. As I mentioned in that same post, God sanctifies us. He reveals our disordered affections and our false thinking. In Him we have hope for redemption. But it is crucial that we are willing to go back to the drawing board with these ideas, to recognize that our reason may lead us astray at times, and to consider afresh when God convicts us of wrong thinking.
Education gives us principles to guide our thinking.
How do we evaluate an idea? How do we reflect on it in order to accept or reject it, particularly when we cannot rely too much on our own understanding? This very issue is the reason why education is so important. We read broadly, take in many ideas, and fill our minds with stories (both fiction and nonfiction) because this is where we obtain what Charlotte Mason calls ‘principles of conduct’.
Through the contemplation of living ideas, we reflect on virtue in practice. We put ourselves in the shoes of other people, we view the ramifications of temptation and sin, we learn to love what is good and beautiful. We develop a taste for what is right, we learn to love what is right, and that is what helps us to accept right ideas and reject bad ones.
It’s essential that we understand that we can, and should, add to our direct life-experience with the vicarious experiences we live through literature and history. When we meet ideas with a broad range of experience under our belts (both direct through living our own lives and indirect experience through reading and contemplation), we can take a wider, more objective view of what is before us. We are wiser, more informed individuals.
We often hear the phrase, ‘Right thinking leads to right action’. But there is also a precursor to this idea that I think we should heed: right loving leads to right thinking. The aim of education is to expose us to all of the ideas so that we may love what is true. This, much more than reason, is what will help us accept ideas that are good and true and reject all else. Indeed, it’s only when we love what we ought, that our reason truly can serve us.
The Result of Right Loving
Let’s revisit the country of Mansoul. In Charlotte Mason’s allegory, Mansoul flourishes when the government is in order. The country is better cultivated and managed. There is order rather than chaos. The citizens are at peace and enjoy prosperity. When we engage our will to do our duty, and our choices are informed by a wealth of living, noble ideas, our capacity for right living increases. We are better able to do our duty in all our capacities. We are better able to serve God.