Religious Education in Public Schools.
Printed at the Evening Star Job Printing Works Dunedin: Bond Street, Dunedin.MDCCCXCVI
The Bible in Schools.
The Duty of the State.
|1.||Is the State better fitted than other agencies to do the work suggested ?|
|2.||Will the assumption by the State of this particular work jeopardise the success of its work in fields of equal or greater importance ?|
In either of these cases State interference is inadvisable, simply because it will not ultimately tend towards that good life which is the State's ultimate aim. Applying these two tests to the proposed undertaking of
Religious Education by the State,
we have first to observe that those who raise the cry that the education given in our public schools is "godless" are the very persons and organisations most to blame for the defect. The same clause in the Education Act which says that "the teaching shall be entirely of a secular character" also provides that "the school buildings may be used on days and at hours other than those used for public school purposes upon such terms as the committee may from time to time prescribe." There is nothing to prevent the Christian churches from availing themselves of this provision; and in Napier, Masterton, Taranaki, Nelson, and no doubt in many other places Christian ministers and lay helpers have obtained the sanction of the school committees and used the school buildings on week days for instructing the children in religion. I can see nothing, except the
Apathy of the Churches,
|1.||That it is impossible to detain some of the children and keep their attention after school hours, when their companions are let loose to play. To which the answer is that it is not a law of nature nor even statute law that the attempt should be made after hours. In Nelson a morning hour has been allowed and made use of for years. It is surely a smaller thing to follow this example than to turn the whole educational system upside down in the effort to get other people to do your work.|
|2.||It is also said that not all ministers are qualified to teach children. No; nor are all schoolmasters qualified to teach religion—which is the alternative proposal. But if the clergy would really work as they should work for the children whom their Master loved, instead of looking round for excuses for putting their own special work on to other people, there are few of them who could not soon show themselves as efficient in teaching children as they now are in preaching to adults. Excluding the Roman Catholics, who stand aloof altogether, there are about 700 Christian ministers in the colony page 3 as against 1,330 public schools, so that 50 per cent. of the schools could each be provided with a clerical teacher of religion; and if in every case the minister was doing ill he could, his congregation would surely see that the work did not fail for lack of helpers. When we think of the baptism of fire and blood which the church underwent in the early days of the Gospel, is it not a melancholy ad shameful spectacle to see it in these days deliberately rejecting the opportunities which are given it of taking charge of its own children, and appealing to a secular power to undertake the sacred work for that by that very appeal it confesses well unworthy ? Assuming however that, whether from apathy or whether from necessity, the church continues to neglect its trust, what is to be done ?|
The Bible in Itself no Panacea.
The remedy usually prescribed is that the Bible shall be read or taught in the schools by the ordinary staff as part of the regular work, and to this we are to look for the cure the hardness, irreverence, and other anamiable failings of colonial children. If the proper parts of the Bible could be properly taught I grant that great results might reasonably be expected, but to suppose that promiscuous teaching of the Bible unqualified teachers is going to do good and not harm seems to me a great delusion. The notion that the mere presence of the Book in our schools is going to drive away immorality and irreverence, is camphor drives moths from a wardrobe, arises from that fetish-worship of the Book which has done incalculable harm in the past, and has not yet run its course. To teach the Bible is not necessarily to teach religion. Carlyle has finely said that
the Mind grows not like a vegetable (by having its roots Uttered with etymological compost), but like a spirit, by mysterious contact of Spirit: Thought kindling itself at the fire of living thought.
As for the Bible, which children are usually employed in to exercise and improve their talent in reading, I think the promiscuous reading of it, though by chapters as they lie in order, is so far from being of advantage to children, either for the perfecting their reading or principling their religion, that perhaps a worse could not be found. For what pleasure or encouragement can it be to a child to exercise himself in reading those parts of a book where he understands nothing ? . . . . . . And what an odd jumble of thoughts must a child have in his head—if he have any at all, such as he should have—concerning religion, who in his tender age reads all the parts of the Bible indifferently, as the Word of God, without any other distinction ! I am apt to think that this, in some men, has been the reason why they never had clear and distinct thoughts of it all their lifetime.
Who Shall Teach, and what be Taught?
There are, then, two requisites for the success of this undertaking: first, that the teachers shall be well qualified, in creed and in spirit as well as in mind, for the work; and second, that only appropriate parts of the Book shall be taught. The first can only be attained by a system of religious tests, under which the teacher must come up to a prescribed standard, not of mere learning, but of faith and dogma. As we recognise this to be an impossibility I need not discuss it; but I must consider the alternative which is suggested—viz., that the ordinary teachers, appointed in the ordinary way, by the ordinary tests, shall do the teaching, but, subject to a double conscience clause—i.e., that any teacher who objects to giving these lessons need not do so, and any parent who objects may withdraw his child. This concession in the first place seriously mars the completeness of the proposed scheme, and at the same time admits the raison d'être of our secular system—namely, that religion stands on a totally different footing from all other subjects of education, and must receive a different treatment. If the present system is "godless," how are our reformers to justify the individual option in godlessness on the part of parent and teacher which their scheme allows? They are really not so thoroughly on the side of the angels as we are asked to believe.
But the individual option on the part of the teacher to decline to teach is a very small part of the difficulty. The element of local option will constitute
The Real Crux.
We will suppose that in a particular school district the householders are unanimously in favour of the Bible, or a particular part or view of the Bible being taught, but the master of the school declines to teach it. Do our clerical friends seriously suppose that the matter will rest there ? Why, if there is anything in this cry of theirs about the godlessness of our system—and I have conceded that there is a good deal—if the omission of religious teaching from a public school is the omission of the most vital part of education, then surely they will be entitled—nay, they will be bound—to do their best to turn "that man out; and his life, which is already sufficiently harassed by his school committee, will be made a burden till he goes. The fighting will be fairer and better worth watching where the householders are not unanimous. Suppose a school committee on which the religious and the irreligious, or the religious page 4 Tweedledums and the religious Tweedledees, are pretty evenly divided; and imagine their adjudicating upon some nice and subtle heresy with which a teacher stands charged by an indignant parent! Do you suppose the hypothesis fantastical ? It is absolutely inevitable if religious teaching is to be subject to the discretion of the teacher, and he is to be subject to the discretion of an elective committee. The State will impose no religious test, but the committees will, and would not be human if they did not. I put this question to anybody who dissents: If you had children attending a school where the master refused to teach the Bible or taught it improperly, and you could not remove your children elsewhere, would you not endeavour to remove the master? If not, why all this clamour about a "godless" education, to which it seems you would rather subject your children than exert yourself to remove the cause of it ?
It seems to me that our secular educational systemand our sacred religion must both suffer grievously by the change—the educational system because conscientious teachers will often lose their places or be engaged in exhausting squabbles with their committees, and pliant teachers will enjoy a preference; religion, because it will be made the subject of constant controversy in utterly unqualified tribunals, which will afford a certain amount of pleasure to all who enjoy a good fight, but unmixed pleasure only to religion's worst enemies.
The State must not Interfere.
Although, therefore, I cannot accept the general proposition that religious teaching is outside the province of the State, I am, nevertheless, of opinion that for the State to undertake the duty in the manner proposed would only injure the interests which it exists to promote.
The Irish National Scripture Text Book.
The second branch of my subject—the consideration of the proper parts of Scripture to be taught in schools—may for the present be narrowed down to an examination of the one scheme which is now seriously put forward. We are asked to authorise a particular text book of extracts from the Scriptures. We are told that the feuds of Christendom (which have always been a greater obstacle to the spread of Christianity than the attacks of its enemies) have at last been composed so far as this particular matter is concerned; and that Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists, and others agree in recommending a selection known as the Irish National Scripture Text Book, which may be put into the hands of teachers without the fear of stirring the fires of controversy.
History of the Text Book.
What is this book ? and how far does it justify these pretensions? Some precise information as to its origin and history might have been expected from the promoters of the present movement, but there is wisdom in their reticence. My only authority on the point is some meagre references in Archbishop Whately's life. Shortly after his appointment to the See of Dublin in 1831, and largely through his exertions, the book was compiled by an anonymous editor, and introduced into the Irish schools by the National Education Board, of which Whately was a member. Dr Murray, the then Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, approved of the book, but his successor, Cardinal Cullen, withdrew his consent, with the result that the Board prohibited the book in 1853, and Whately resigned his seat. As to the amount of good or evil wrought by the book during those twenty years I can get no information, nor can I ascertain that it has ever been introduced again. I am told, however, that it has been established for some forty years in New South Wales. The critics who have ascribed the vices of young New Zealand to the absence of the Bible from our schools may legitimately find the triumph of the Irish Text Book in the superior "sweetness and light" of the Sydney larrikin.
A Scrutiny of the Book Desirable.
The reticence observed as to the contents of the book is equally prudent, but far less excusable. I will undertake to say that not I per cent. of the petitioners for the book have the slightest knowledge on the subject. At the meeting in the Opera-house on February 27, which was addressed by two bishops and various ministers, this vital point was not even touched, and under these circumstances it is farcical to regard the resolution in its favour, against which only eight persons had the courage to vote, as of the slightest value or significance. Of the speakers one at least had never seen the book, and knew no more of what it contained than those to whom he was arguing on its behalf. The public will require more light than this blind leader of the blind before they accept his conclusions.
Its Character and Contents.
The book professes to include those passages of Scripture "appearing to be most level to the understandings of children and youth at school, and also the best fitted to be read under the direction of teachers not necessarily qualified, and certainly not recognised, as teachers of religion. No passage has either been introduced or omitted under the influence of any peculiar view of Christianity, doctrinal or practical." The last sentence of this extract from the preface is enough to show the absurdity of the notion that the aim or result of the selection has been such as to exclude any occasion for sectarian controversy in the exposition of it.
The work makes no pretence to com- page 5 pleteness; indeed, it is avowedly a fragment. It was published at intervals (no dates are given), in four parts. The first covers the Book of Genesis, with some illustrative passages from the Psalms and other parts of the Bible; the second deals with Exodus and Numbers and portions of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, illustrated in the same way. The other two are from the New Testament, one including most of Luke's Gospel, the other the greater part of the Acts. Each lesson is followed by a list of questions to be put and words to be explained to the pupils. A mere glance at the latter is enough to confirm the statement of the preface, that no exclusions have been made on doctrinal grounds. Here are some of the words best fitted to be expounded by one "not necessarily qualified, and certainly not recognised, as a teacher of religion" : Redeemed, remission, propitiation, justification, ministry, revelation, resurrection, conversion, elect. What is a lay and unqualified teacher to make of these? And, let him do as he may, what glorious opportunities of heresy-hunting he is bound to afford to a school committee with a taste for sport ! If it were possible to regard the matter seriously, one could only say that it seems a shocking insult to pupils and teachers, to the Bible, and to common sense, that ignorant and, it may be, sceptical laymen should be asked to expound these sacred mysteries.
That the work is but a fragment I have already mentioned. The whole of the indisputably historical part of the Old Testament, which includes so much of the picturesquely beautiful incidents and characters best suited for the delight and instruction of childhood, and in the New Testament practically the whole of the Gospels, except that of Luke, are absolutely excluded. It was not from design that these exclusions were made; apparently the editor did not receive sufficient encouragement to proceed. But we are asked to make the accident which cut him short the determining element in our choice of Scriptural passages to teach our children sixty years afterwards.
Next, as to the nature of the selections made. I will take the opening parts of the Old Testament and New Testament respectively as samples of its two chief defects in point of matter. The book was put together at a time when Biblical criticism was hardly born, the 'Principles of Geology ' was only partially written, and a quarter of a century had still to run before the publication of the 'Origin of Species'; and so it was only natural that the first lesson, which consists of Genesis i., should bear the heading 'The Creation : B.C. 4004.' What are we to say of the proposal to teach our children that the world was created in exactly six days, exactly 6,000 years ago? Not one in a thousand adult Christians believes it. Probably not a single speaker at the Opera-house meeting believed it, yet each of these was there to advocate that the falsehood should be imprinted on the tender minds of our children—for the good of their souls ! Something was said at the meeting about the reverence due to childhood and to the sacred writings, but I can imagine no greater outrage upon both, no surer method of inspiring a child with a contempt for the Bible and for truth than by incorporating in his first lesson in religion—his first introduction to what you ask him to believe to be the word of God—a falsehood which has not even the sorry justification of the "lie medicinal," and which is perhaps exposed by the first primer in natural science put into his hands. Theologians have been a puzzle to me all my life, and when I see men of undoubted earnestness, piety, and honour taking up such an attitude as this, I prefer to marvel at them as theologians; I despair of characterising them as men.
- Tell me the first tiling that God said.
- What did God first do on the third day ?
- What next ?
- What did God do on the fourth day ?
- For what purpose were these lights created ?
- What did God create on the fifth day?
After taking the language of Scripture and catechising it in this matter-of-fact fashion, it is surely impossible to hold that a figurative interpretation is still admissible for the word which the catechist himself speaks of as a "day." Rather than perplex and distort the mind of a child with such juggling sophistry I would have him taught in a straightforward manner, as part of his first religious lesson, that there is no difference between black and white.
If, however, any advocate of the text-book is hardy enough to maintain that it does not preclude a liberal interpretation of the word "day," will he kindly tell us what that interpretation is to be ? If he and his friends will be good enough to turn their attention to that question, they will be so busy fighting one another that our threatened educational system will enjoy a very long reprieve. page 6 And it is surely fairer and [fitter that the question should be settled outside the schools by a tribunal of experts than that it should be reserved for the rough-and-tumble conflicts of harassed school teachers and lynx-eyed school committees.
Uncritical Standpoint of the Text-Book.
It would take too long to follow the editor through the rest of his selections from the Old Testament, and it is unnecessary, as his attitude may readily be inferred from the initial sample. No parts of the Bible have been so modified by modern criticism as the Pentateuch, but of course no trace of it appears in a manual compiled sixty years ago. All the old impossible stories—the creation of Eve out of Adam's rib, the deluge and the ark, the tower of Babel, Jacob's wrestling with the angel, and the rest—all these appear without modification or comment; and with them are incorporated the crude, anthropomorphic ideas of God entertained by a primitive people. To the editor of the text-book these stories are as real as the facts of the Gospel history; and the Lord who is induced not to renew the curse upon the earth by the sweet savor of Noah's sacrifice is put before the children as the same object of worship with the God of the New Testament. Twelve solid pages are devoted to the plagues of Egypt, about 13 per cent, of the space given to the whole of the Gospel story—a fine example of critical and ethical perspective; and they are of course treated as unvarnished history, just as Genesis i. is unvarnished science. The story of Balaam's as also figures as an essential part of the religious equipment of every child. I asked a school teacher the other day how many teachers in New Zealand believed that Balaam's ass spoke. He said "Not one in twenty." The nineteen, then, are either to teach as sacred truth what they regard as grotesque fable or else to refuse to teach what by sanctioning this text-book we shall have declared to be a necessary part of education. They must either lie or resign; some will do one, some the other; and those who lie will fare best, so far as this world's goods are concerned, and those who don't will speedily have their places filled by those who do. It is obvious what a highly desirable class of religious teachers this process of selection will ultimately provide us with.
Unfit for the Young.
To the selections from the New Testament less exception can be taken. It was impossible to go far wrong here, and the general standpoint with regard to it has varied less from that of the editor than in the case of the earlier books. There is still much included to which I should strongly object, but without raising these deep matters of religious controversy—though all these questions will have to be faced and fought out, not at church synods or conferences, but in Parliament and on political platforms, before this scheme can possibly be enacted—without raising any such questions for the present, I have no hesitation it saying that the lesson with which the New Testament selections open—the first chapter of Luke—is for children the very worst introduction to the Gospel story, and, indeed, one of the worst chapters in the Bible that could possibly have been chosen. It deals with the miraculous annunciations of the births of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ; and various physiological facts in connection with their antenatal history are set out with more than the accustomed plainness and detail of Scripture (see especially verses 41 to44). We English are often accused of cant in unduly blinking these mysteries, but, so far as the Bible is concerned, we fall into an opposite species of cant, our reverence for it leading us to suppose—or at least to act as if we supposed—that all its contents must be suitable for reading to a mixed assembly or for the study of the young. Anybody who has had the slightest experience of life in a large school must know that to numbers of boys the Bible affords their first taste—I will not say of impure literature, but at least of literature which fosters impure thoughts; and it seems to me beyond the possibility of a doubt that this and similar passages in the text-book are
Enough to Damn it Utterly
as a manual tor the young. Though the references in Luke i. are perhaps the worst of the kind, there must be a score of others in the extracts from Genesis alone. Not every grossness is mechanically repeated. Thus, the story of Noah's drunkenness and the curse upon Canaan is omitted altogether, but quite enough of that of Joseph and Potiphar's wife is given to do the mischief; and allusion after allusion of a kind which, if appearing in a book printed today, we should pronounce indecent, is reproduced without modification. Immeasurably more harm must be done by the thoughts which these passages will suggest to the young than the mechanical inculcation of the better parts of the book by unqualified teachers can possibly compensate for.
The notes supplied by the compiler are of a varied character. Sometimes they are perfectly safe and harmless, as when we are told that quails are "a kind of bird or fowl less than a pigeon"; sometimes they are utterly beyond the pupils' comprehension, and useless even for the teacher's exposition; often they endeavour to hold the balance between Protestant and Catholic interpretation, but on the infant mind can only have the effect of suggesting and emphasising differences of which it had better know nothing—e.g., in Luke iii, 3, as to "repentance" versus "penance"; sometimes they are absolutely immoral, as when the account of how Jacob cheated Laban out of his sheep is suppressed, and a note substituted ascribing the fruits of this supreme act of knavery to "the favour of God upon Jacob." A note of considerable length on the word "concubine" cannot be called page 7 Immoral in its essence, the aim being to gloze the matter over, but its effect can only be to advertise what a competent editor would have studiously suppressed altogether from a text book-for the young.
Its Literary Vandalism.
God, in the beginning, created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was unformed and empty, and darkness was upon the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God moved over the waters. And God said : Let light he, and there was light.
No less than four wanton and bungling alterations in these three beautiful verses—not a single change, be it noted, being made in the sense. The order of the opening words is changed from that in the original in utter defiance of the most elementary canons of scholarship and taste; the familiar cadence of the last verse shamelessly shattered; and the poetry of "without form and void" degraded into the flat newspaper prose of "unformed and empty." Time will not permit me to pursue the investigation in detail. I will ask you to compare the whole of this 1st chapter or the text of the Ten Commandments in the two versions if you wish to realise the extent of the ravages which this sacrilegious vandal has wrought on one of the noblest monuments in the English language. Here are a few other samples : "Shall not the judge of all the earth do right !"becomes" He that judgeth all the earth will not pronounce this judgment." pslam xxxix., 6, in the Authorised Version reads "Surely man walketh in a vain show," which is both poetical and accurate; the Douay has "Surely man passeth as an image," which is poetical, but, I believe, not so accurate; the text-book has "Surely man walketh about in an image," which is both prosy and nonsensical, and to children must be grotesquely misleading. It is put in the margin of both Authorised Version and Revised Version because, though apparently the literal rendering of the Hebrew, it is not English. In Exodus xxxv., 26, "All the women whose heart stirred them up in wisdom spun goats' hair," the vulgar word "stirred" is refined into "animated." Both Abraham and Jacob are made to "expire," instead of "giving up the ghost"; but perhaps we should be thankful that they were not genteel enough to "decease" or "demise."
It would be easy to multiply instances, but those already given are surely enough to show the competency of the compiler to improve upon the Authorised Version. From what I have previously said it will be inferred that I am no believer in the literal and mechanical inspiration of either the original writers or the translators of the Scriptures, but I cannot help saying that, so far as the beauty of literary form goes, Tyndale and his successors who made for us our English Bible, seem to me to have had as great a measure of inspiration as is given to mortal man. The highest and most touching tribute ever paid to it, so far as I know, is that of Father Faber, who, after leaving the English Church, looked back, like
Some exile mindful how the past was glad,
from "the uncouthness of the Roman versions" upon the beauties of the one he had given up, and said of it:—"It lives on the ear like a music that can never be forgotten, like the sound of church bells which the convert scarcely knows how he can forego. Its felicities seem often to be almost things, rather than words." I call it nothing but foul sacrilege to mutilate a thing of beauty of which one who has learned to regard it as the stronghold of heresy is still forced to speak in terms of yearning regret and almost idolatrous admiration, and no respect for spiritual principalities and powers shall restrain me from denouncing all those reverend and right reverend gentlemen who are conspiring to foist this deformity upon us, as parties to the crime.
The Confusion of Two Texts.
It was urged at the Opera-house meeting, with what at the time I thought some plausibility, that even though our school teachers were not qualified to teach religion they could at least impart such a verbal knowledge of the Bible on the week days as the church could spiritualise on Sundays. Luther's opinion was that "whoso layeth a good foundation and is a substantial Textman—that is, he that is well grounded in the Text, the same hath whereupon he surely may keep footing and runneth not lightly into error"; but the mockery here would be that the more faithfully the luckless pupil had learned this mutilated version, the greater the certainty of error in passage after passage. The verbal knowledge acquired during the week will be of a different text from that in use on the Sunday, the child's mind will be distracted between the two; instead even of accurate learning page 8 by rote, slovenly and slipshod habits will be fostered, and he will inevitably be encouraged to regard the letter of the Scripture as a thing to be played fast and loose with—a result which I should have supposed the supporters of the present agitation would have been the last to desire.
To sum up : the proposal to introduce this text-book is
An Anachronism and an Outrage
not to be entertained or tolerated for a moment. Compiled sixty years ago, before the dawn of the modern Biblical criticism, which a religious paper recently termed the greatest event in the history of the church since the Reformation; teeming with statements which that criticism and natural science between them have utterly exploded, and many of which the most competent champions in this agitation have no faith in themselves; avowedly incomplete and fragmentary; teeming with allusions which in contemporary literature we should stigmatise as indecencies, and which, above all things, should be kept from the imagination of childhood; teeming with indecencies of the editor's own manufacture in the shape of wanton and senseless outrages upon the beauty and majesty of our incomparable English Bible—this uncritical and unscholarly book, this antiquated deformity which dropped unfinished from the hands of a clumsy and profane botcher two generations ago—this is what we, a community with some pretensions to enlightenment, are asked, without adding or subtracting a line or a letter—as though we had received it from a second Sinai—to authorise and establish for the moulding of our children's education upon the deepest and most sacred of subjects.
What is the meaning of this preposterous request? It means
A Confession of Despair
on the part of those who prefer it. It means that they recognise the impossibility of coming to a deliberate and reasoned agreement upon the parts of Scripture to be publicly taught and a mode of teaching them which should satisfy the requirements of the contending sects in harmony with modern scholarship and science. And so, blinking the whole difficulty and accepting in blind faith this odious little manual, they ask us to accept it in the same way, and without calculating the consequences to put it like a dynamic cartridge to the foundations of our educational system and trust to Providence to pick up the pieces. We are not quite to foolish, and I am satisfied that by the time we have enlightened the patrons of the textbook as to the true character of their protege they will have the good sense to admit that we are right. "Take any shape but that!'
The Evening Star Job Printing Works, Bond Street, Dunedin.