Original sin. In a nutshell, we were all born evil - or so the thinking goes. "No, not evil," a Christian home educator explained to me the other day, "But with the propensity for evil."
Nope. I just don't get it. As a parent I can confidently attest that babies and children are not evil. Not ever. Propensity for evil? That depends on your definition of 'evil', and I'm not just wriggling out of that. I don't really believe evil exists in its traditional devil-inspired form.
I think it's all about power.
Evil comes from the wish or need to have power over other people, in my opinion. This is usually born out of fear of what might happen if this power over other people wasn't secured.
The opposite of evil also comes about from a position of strength, but this is an integral, self-supporting strength, not the inferior strength that comes from exercising power over others.
Children love to get attention from their parents and this is how they're often perceived to be naughty, or evil. Our baby (11 months old) knows that she's not allowed to play with the wires behind the computer, so she goes there deliberately whenever she wants us to say: "No no no!" pick her up and generally make a fuss of her to distract her. She does this when she's bored, when we're all busy with other things. When she needs some attention. I call it intelligence, not badness. She's found, through trial and error, an effective way of making sure we provide for her needs. It would perhaps be equally intelligent on our part to somehow block the wires off so she can't get to them and no doubt we'll get around to that eventually, but then she'll have to find some other way of diverting our energy onto her when she needs it.
She gets plenty of spontaneous energy, attention and affection from us anyway, which helps. We're happy people and we love her very much, so why wouldn't we play with her, sing to her and lavish her with hugs?
It's interesting that when a weaker party attempts to exert power in a situation, this is described in negative terms but when the stronger party attempts to use its power, this is described as benign. The older, bigger, more powerful party "knows best" and should be allowed to be in charge. This is equally applicable for parents as it is for school teachers, churchmen, policemen and politicians. Anyone in a position of having power over other people. If their position is established and verified by society, their exertion of power over others is supposedly a good thing.
So we use terms like 'good' and 'evil' to maintain the pecking order. Children, at the bottom of this, are seen as being in need of 'correction' by adults. And yet so often it's the correcting that causes the problems, not the children themselves. Our baby only goes for the computer wires because we make such a big fuss of saying no when she does. If we just ignored the fact she was in danger - which I'm not quite brave (or foolhardy) enough to do - she'd probably stop bothering with the wires altogether.
Most cases of parental enmity leading to childhood 'naughtiness' that I see actually emanate from outside pressures. You have to do your homework, get clean, go to bed early, because of school. You have to be respectful and obedient to give the best impression to onlookers. This is how I was raised. If it hadn't been for the school, the church, the neighbours and other judgmental institutions, my parents wouldn't have perceived themselves as being under pressure to make sure we complied with society's expectations and our childhood might have been very different. Might have been, but probably wouldn't because our parents fully subscribed to the view that we needed saving from our inherently evil natures. I don't suppose they ever stopped to question whether that was actually true.
But it's not in a child's interests to make an enemy of its parents and it's not in a parent's interests to make an enemy of its child. Both sides end up losing and the whole family is weakened by such positions. Hmmm. Now then. In whose interests is it for that to happen?