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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 77

The Bible in Schools: A Criticism of the proposed Textbook

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The Bible in Schools:

Wellington N.Z.: Printed at the Evening Post Office. Willis Street.

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Wellington State Schools' Defence League.

Executive for 1904-5.


  • J. R. Blair.


  • Rev. W. A. Evans.
  • W. T. Grundy.

Hon. Secretary

  • S. Arnold Atkinson.

Hon. Treasurer

  • D. McLaren.


  • Mrs. A. R. Atkinson.
  • Hon. F. H. Fraser, M.L.C.,
  • Dr. J. G. Findlay,
  • A. Lindsay,
  • A. R. Atkinson,
  • John Gammell,
  • John Hutcheson,
  • Rey. J. Crewes, Geo. Macmorran,
  • W. H. Hampton.

This Pamphlet is the first of a series of publications which the League proposes to issue in defence of popular education and religious liberty against the clerical propaganda by which they are now imperilled.

The nature of these publications and the extent of their circulation must, however, depend in a large measure on the financial support which the League can secure, and it is hoped that in time the organisation may cover the whole colony.

Suggestions, criticisms, and contributions for these purposes will be thankfully received by the Hon. Sec., 27 Featherston Street, Wellington,

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The Bible-in-Schools' Text-Book.

The Executive of the Wellington State Schools' Defence League has issued the following manifesto:—

The reason why the Bible has been Excluded from the curriculum of our pub-schools is not that the people of New Zealand, or any appreciable proportion of them, believe the Bible to be a bad book but because, while recognising it and revering it as the best of books, a majority of them consider that religion is a matter of which the State cannot undertake the teaching without violating the rights of conscience of many of its members, and that to attempt to teach the Bible or any portion of it in the State Schools would read our educational system with sectarian strife, from which its disintegration in the form; of denominationalism would be the only escape.

The Promised Text-Book.

Admitting the force, or, at any rate, the plausibility, of this contention, the apponents of the secular system have laid stress upon the literary, historical, and ethical value of Biblical instruction, and have also urged that it is not religion of which they desire the teaching in our State schools. They insist that a selection could be made which would not open the floodgates of theological strife, would create no bickering or bitterness, would put no strain upon the conscience of any man. Fortunately the matter is no longer left to hypothetical discussion, for the text-book which embodies the solution of the problem has been produced, and enables us to take an accurate measurement of the pretensions which have been made on its behalf. The book extends to some 400 foolscap folio pages, and is therefore naturally deemed too large and costly for general circulation but the "Specimen Lessons and List of Contents" which have been published in pamphlet form give us samples of the lessons and notes, and references to all the scriptural parages selected. It is claimed for the notes that "there is no attempt in these to inculcate any theological or dogmatic belief. They are of a purely explanatory nature. In fact, the object of the reform which is being so strenuously advocated, is the introduction not of religious teaching into the schools, but of that basis upon which all religious and all ethical teaching may be raised." The claim thus made for the notes is fully borne out by the samples submitted. Meagre, dry, and utterly inadequate they certainly are, but they err by omission only, and secular or sectarian bigotry will search them in vain for any theological disquisition.

Promise and Performance.

On the other hand, the suggestion that the lessons selected have no specifically religious character, but merely embody the necessary basis of "all religious and all ethical teaching," is absolutely un-warranted, and can only be explained by entire ignorance either of the contents of the book itself, or of the doubts and difficulties and differences with which the minds of good citizens and good Christians have long been agitated. A book which was brought forward to allay the misgivings and, it may be, to disarm the prejudices of a generation habituated to a secular system, and for which so much has been said in anticipation on these very lines, might naturally have been expected to present the appearance of a compromise, to make some concessions to the critical spirit of the day, to sacrifice much that is infinitely precious to the devout in order that what was left might excite no antagonism and serve as common ground for all. Except for the narrow range to which the notes are confined we are unable to discover the slightest trace of any such disposition on the part of the compilers of the book, nor can we see that if they had been editing a manual for their Sunday-schools instead of one which every taxpayer is to page 4 Support, every teacher in the State schools to teach, and every child to learn, any different principle of selection would have been followed.

Clerical Limitations.

Though approved by the Bible-in-Schools Conference held in Wellington in 1903 as "suitable for use in the schools of the colony," and as such urged upon the Government and the country, the text-book is not the work of that Conference or of any of its members or constituents. The book is practically that recommended for Victoria by the Royal Commission which was appointed in 1900 to suggest a scheme of religious instruction for the State schools of that colony. The exclusively clerical personnel of the Victorian Commission raised a very strong presumption of its unfitness for the delicate duty with which it was entrusted. Ministers of religion can, of course, be found who are able to realise and tolerate points of view which they do not share, and to make allowance accordingly for the essential distinction between the State school and the Sunday-school, but if there were any such upon the Victorian Commission they failed to make their influence felt upon its decision, and if there were any such among those who in New Zealand undertook the revision of the Victorian manual, they also must have been overborne by their colleagues. There are 408 lessons in the Victorian selection; all but six of these are included in the text-book proposed for this colony, and not a single new one has been added, unless the repetition in the Senior Course of the Ten Commandments, which the Victorian Commissioners had included in the Junior only, can he properly so termed. Two of the omissions only are of an important character. The most difficult of the New Testament miracles are those of the cursing of the fig-tree and the healing of the Gadarene demoniac, which stand in a class apart as involving the destruction of innocent life. The Victorian Commissioners included the former while rejecting the latter, but the New Zealand editors have given their only indication of an accommodating spirit by omitting the former also. In both cases, however, the difficulties of children, rather than those of parents or teachers, may reasonably be regarded as the determining element.

A Striking Omission.

The other remarkable omission is that of the special lesson on "Drunkenness, a sin against God and our fellow-men, and a wrong and insult to ourselves," based on I. Kings, xx., 1-12, 16-21; Prow xxiii., 19-21, 29-35, and Isaiah, xxviii., 1-7. No dogmatic or critical difficulties were raised by this lesson, and it is presumably from its relation to another burning question of the day, which it is not for this League to discuss, that the one lesson proposed by the Victorian Commission for the specific teaching, not of total abstinence, but of temperance, has been deemed unsuitable for the State school of New Zealand. With these exceptions the alterations are confined to a few amendments of the text, mostly from the Revised Version, and a few additions to or excisions from the notes. Slight as these changes are, they constitute on the whole decided improvements, and the same may be said of the omission of various allusions to subjects which are best kept from the attention of children In the same spirit such a verse as Gen. xi. 27, might well have been omitted from the Junior Lessons, and the story of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts viii., 26-40) from the Senior Lessons. In the latter case a reference to the Revised Version would also have shown the editons that verse 37, which contains the only doctrinal statement in the lesson, is omitted by the best authorities. The net result, however, of all the alteration proposed is that the book remains substantially what the Victorian Commissioners made it.

"Devotional" Not Religious.

Not the least astonishing feature in a text-book of which we are repeatedly told that it is not intended to be the instrument of religious teaching is that lesson after lesson belies this profession in the plainest possible way by its heading. The hymns and prayers with which the Victorian Commissioners supplemented their Scripture lessons have been wisely rejected, but the titles which the Commissioners selected for what they frankly designed to be religious lessons are retained unaltered by editors who deny the essentially religious character of the book. Five of the first six of the Junior Supplementary lessons are entitled as follows:—1. "Religion the first thing: not by the way." 2. "The immortal hope of the Kingdom of God: we are not dust and ashes." 4. "The Kingdom of God can come only through sacrifice: A divine law of life." 5. "Religion is joy, not gloom." 6. "Treachery and cowardice in the Kingdom of God." Other titles in the same section are "Religion and Morals," and "The Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of the Holy Spirit." The marginal analysis of almost every lesson tells the same story. "Narrative," "Duty," and page 5 "Devotion," are the three parts into which the lessons are nominally divided, and under the last heading the most in-mate and sacred outpourings of psalmist, prophet, and apostle are included. Sophisticated minds will certainly not require us to argue whether such sub-lime passages can be anything better than gibberish to children who are not made to know and feel their religious meaning, nor whether those who have aptly prefixed the word "Devotion" to hundreds of these passages can be heard to say that they are not devotional. But the so-called "Narrative" sections tell almost exactly the same tale.

The Meaning of Genesis I.—III.

The Junior Lessons in the Old Testament begin in the New Zealand version with Genesis i. 1, and the first three lessons cover all the essential parts of the first three chapters of that book, which the Victorian Commissioners had perhaps more wisely reserved for a late stage in the Senior Course. The creation of the world and the human race in six days the creation of woman out of a rib of man, Eve's conversation with the serpent and her deception by him, the consequent fall of man and the loss of Paradise—such are the subjects which are to form the child's first introduction to religion. What is the meaning intended to be conveyed by the chapters from which these extracts are taken? and what meaning will the lessons convey to the mind of a child? The first of these questions cannot be answered in a way that every man or even every Christian can agree to accept; to the second one answer and only one is possible. The earliest interpreters of the first chapter of Genesis saw no occasion to look beyond the plain literal signification of the words, viz., that the world and all that therein is were made in six consecutive days. The Rabbis fixed with comfortable precision the very day of the week and the month when the process began: the Christian chronology which still figures in the margin of our Bibles marks the year as B.C. 4004; and both these schools of interpretation accepted without question the historical and scientific accuracy of the whole narrative. When the advance of geology and other sciences spread the belief that the creation of the world must be reckoned not by thousands but by millions of years, the literal interpretation of the creation story naturally lost ground to theories which either put the narrative entirely aside as a myth or a lyric poem, or reconciled it with the teachings of science by the hypothesis that the six days of the creation were not days of twenty-four hours, but geological periods of immense and uncertain duration.

The Literalists a Minority?

All these four views—the literal, the figurative or allegorical, the lyrical, and the mythical—have still their adherents, and a man may hold any of them according to his lights without prejudice to his character or his Christianity. The literal school is now in a minority within the Church itself according to so high an authority as the Dean of Westminster "It is quite true," says Dr. Armitage Robinson, in his recent lectures on "The Inspiration of the Bible" (Times, Dec. 11, 1904), "that astronomy and geology and biology and anthropology have each in turn revealed to us facts which are plainly inconsistent with the literal interpretation of the earlier Chapters of Genesis, and that a recognition of this inconsistency has led the majority of intelligent Christians to fall back" on the allegorical interpretation which was so boldly proclaimed by Origen of Alexandria in the third century." And, addressing the Church of England Sunday School Institute, the same authority applied the same method to other parts of the same book. "The second chapter of Genesis no longer means to us that God moulded clay into a human figure and breathed upon it, or that He took a rib from Adam and made Eve. These and many other stories, like that of the talking serpent or the talking ass, we do not take, or, at any rate, most of us—I do not—as literal statements of historical facts, but as imagery which clothes certain spiritual truths." (Times, Oct 17, 1904.) The views thus boldly proclaimed by the Dean of Westminster may or may not be as general in his own church as he declares, but his expression of them has certainly caused much pain to many of its members.

The Text-Book Takes the Literal View.

Neither on this, however, nor on any other question of theology or exegesis is this League able to take a side. Every extreme of dogmatism and rationalism finds common ground in opposing from divergent standpoints the endowment and enforcement of dogmatic teaching in the State Schools, and a League which stands for the public tolerance of all creeds and the public preference of none, whether in a State School or a State Church, is not concerned to fight for any of the conflicting interpretations of Genesis i.—iii., but merely to insist that there is this conflict, that the ques- page 6 tions involved rouse the deepest and intensest emotions of human nature, and that a State which has no theory of interpretation and no religion of its own has no right to give its sanction to one particular theory and to disqualify or penalise those who conscientiously hold another. The retort will probably be made that if the lesson is taught without comment, the State will be preserving its neutrality, since the bare teaching of the text will give no preference to one method of interpretation over the others; but a moment's reflection will reveal the fallacious nature of this contention. To teach the lesson without comment—and the text-book does not contain a single note on these chapters—will be to teach it according to its literal meaning; a child who learns the first lesson in the volume without contradictory or explanatory gloss will believe that the world was made in six days of twenty-four hours each. Later scientific knowledge, acquired perhaps in the physical geography lessons at the same school, may teach him something different; and it is obvious that if the foundation laid in his first religious lesson should be cut away, the whole of the superstructure may be seriously imperilled also.

No Agreement Possible.

It is surely for the advocates of the text-book to face the position frankly, and to tell us whether under the conditions proposed by them the danger is not inevitable, and whether the result will, in their opinion, be conducive to the cause of religion. They should also let us know whether they themselves accept the literal interpretation of the creation story. If they do, are they not dissociating themselves from what the Dean of Westminster declares to be the views of "the majority of intelligent Christians," and asking State sanction for those of the Jess thoughtful minority? If they do not, why do they desire to compel the teaching of a meaning in which they do not themselves believe, and at the cost of hundreds and thousands of taxpayers who share their disbelief? And, assuming that the narrowest or the broadest interpretation, or even some judicious via media, were adopted by the State or local educational authorities, would not the large number of earnest dissidents from the prescribed view display their resentment in a manner that must have the reverse of a pacific effect upon our educational system? Or is it to be supposed that all the teachings of history as to the intensity and gravity of religious differences, especially when intermixed with questions of temporal administration, will be falsified in this case? All these questions must be squarely faced and candidly disposed of before the ease for a change is established, and to continue to ignore them will imply more discretion than candour on the part of our opponents.

The Position of the Teachkhs.

The effect upon the teachers of the introduction of such lessons into the curriculum deserves to be more particularly considered. A conscientious teacher who, like the Dean of Westminster, is unable to accept the stories of the creation, of the making of woman from the rib of man, and of her deception by the serpent, according to their literal meaning, will refuse to teach as the truth what he believes to be false; and he must make way for a successor who is less critical, or perhaps less scrupulous in expressing the results of his criticism. We are, of course, aware that a conscience clause is proposed which will give a teacher a theoretical protection in such a case; but though this provision would enable him to plead conscientious objection as a sufficient excuse for declining to give the lesson, there would be absolutely nothing to prevent the Education Board, the School Committee, and the parents from securing the removal of any teacher availing himself of the privilege, and therefore the practical operation of the clause would be as a religious test, and nothing else. Are we going to add the interpretation of Scripture to the duties of School Committees and Education Boards, and heresy hunts to their diversions? Unless the local element in our educational administration, which is a main source of its strength, is to be superseded altogether, and the Minister of Education installed as the supreme administrative and exegetical authority, the standard of interpretation will necessarily vary with the denominational or critical bias of each district or neighbourhood, and no statutory restrictions can possibly prevent the local authorities and the majorities which elect or control them from in directly using their wide powers in enforcing their particular views. Lip-service is, of course, all that they can exact, for religious tests can never touch opinion, but only the expression of it; and valuable indeed will be the religious teaching of those who teach with the lips only, and, disbelieving, conform for the sake of a livelihood! Yet those who are constrained to do so will be but following the counsel of the accredited agent of the Bible-in-schools party, who urges that the unbelieving may teach as a venal journalist writes in a purely "professional" page 7 way. The remedy for the immorality and irreligion of the secular system is that men shall go into the schools and speak what to them are "lies, in the name of the Lord." We assert with confidence that there is nothing in the present "godless" system so utterly repugnant to religion and morality' as this aslonnding advice.

The New Testament Problem.

In the selection of passages from the New Testament there was at least as much need for care and compromise as in the Old Testament lessons. Within the Church itself the voice of criticism has not spoken so freely in the one case as in the other. It is true that at the last Congress of the Church of England in the Old Country a paper was read urging that the synoptic gospels had not entirely escaped from legendary influences, and the writer's conclusions would apply to a good many of the lessons in the text-book. It is also true that a Canon of the same Church has recently edited a biblical dictionary in which some of the fundamental positions of traditional Christianity are rudely assailed. But these exceptions serve but to emphasise the rule that the critical spirit of the Church does not work with the same freedom upon the New Testament as upon the Old. On the other hand, the nearer one approaches to the inner mysteries of the Christian faith, the more clearly is the line drawn between those within and those without the pale, the more vital do differences become, the keener the feelings they arouse, and the greater the dinger to the public peace of anything which stimulates or extends their operation. Yet even from the New Testament it would have been easy to select lessons which would have provided the highest ethical and not far from the highest spiritual teaching without directly raising questions that are peremptorily and essentially controversial. The parables, for instance, and the Sermon on the Mount contain abundant material of this description, transcending neither the intelligence of childhood nor the limits of what is common to all ethical systems and all good men; and such material may be admissible into a secular curriculum when men have ceased to wrangle about the authority of the Book and the personality of the Teacher.

The Element of Miracle.

But the confines of the common ground representing "that basis upon which all religious and all ethical teaching may be raised' are far exceeded by the majority of the New Testament lessons; and the selection evinces no attempt to avoid occasions of controversy, no desire to compromise with the difficulties which to many thoughtful and perfectly reverent minds constitute real stumbling-blocks in the gospel story. The miraculous and supernatural elements in these narratives are given exactly the same prominence which they would properly receive in a Sunday-school where parents, teachers, and managing authority had all settled these problems in one and the same way. The Junior New Testament Lessons are taken almost exclusively from the Gospel of St. Mark, and lesson after lesson appears in which the subject matter is miracle, and miracle not merely as an incident but as the pith and substance of the whole lesson. All but five of the miracles recorded by the second evangelist are thus included, and of these five one takes its place among the Intermediate Lessons, and the two already mentioned, those of the Gadarene swine and the barren fig tree, can alone have been sacrificed to a possible regard for the difficulties of children, parents, or teachers. More than three dozen of the lessons in the whole book are occupied solely with miracle, and as samples we may mention that the feeding of the five thousand and the stilling of the tempest are to be found among the Junior Lessons, whilst the Senior course includes the turning of water into wine and the raising of Lazarus. Some of the miraculous circumstances attending the birth of Jesus are fully recorded, but not the Virgin birth itself—an omission which has brought upon those responsible the charges of "Unitarian bias," but is quite clearly to be justified by the unsuitable-ness of the subject matter for children on physiological grounds alone. On the other hand, the narratives of the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the ascension are set out in full in three different versions, the Gospels of Mark, Luke, and John being drawn upon for the Junior, Intermediate and Senior Lessons respectively.

A New Inquisition.

Now, although the attempt to force a text-book containing such matters as these into the curriculum of our State schools must, if it is persisted in, make the most sacred articles of the Christian creed a legitimate subject for political controversy, we do not feel called upon to discuss any of the deep dogmatic problems which are raised by the text-book. The State Schools Defence League cannot speak with one voice upon this page 8 subject, since all sorts of conflicting views are represented in its membership. In this respect the League faithfully reflects the variety of opinion prevailing in the whole community, and it is this variety which makes the attempt to enforce uniformity in the State schools intolerable and impossible. In the creed of a voluntary church miracle may have its proper place, but it has none in the compulsory school curriculum of a secular State. And it is remarkable indeed that the State should be asked to declare for rigid uniformity by a Church whose tendency is lately in the opposite direction. Formerly the Church regarded the acceptance of all miracles, including the absolute inerrancy of the record which enshrines them, as an indispensable article of faith, but the position has been much modified in recent years. There has been no formal amendment of the creeds; miracle still stands in the very forefront; yet inside the Church itself there is a growing tendency to treat the miraculous element as less essential, or at least to distinguish between its essential and its non-essential parts. Many accordingly of the subsidiary miracles which are included in this text-book are for one reason or another rejected by many devout and learned men who remain nevertheless within the Church; and the astounding and almost incredible demand is now made of this free democracy that it shall prescribe a more rigid standard of orthodoxy for its school teachers than many branches of the Christian Church enforce upon their own members. Doubts which find expression in the pulpits and Church Congresses of the Old Country and do not disqualify those harbouring them from the highest ecclesiastical positions are to be held by a State which has no religion of its own to qualify its school teachers for the black list, and to expose them at the hands of unskilled and perhaps bigoted tribunals to harassment, persecution, and dismissal. It is surely safe to say that the State will never undertake such a work either directly or by deputy.

Hopelessly Impossible.

Whence comes it that while narrowing their formal demands, disavowing the desire for specific religious teaching, and professing an anxiety to avoid controversy, the clerical party has nevertheless put forward a manual to which this spirit is a stranger? The explanation must be that the broad minds, the tolerant and scholarly spirits, and the worldly good sense of the men who have shaped the party's recent declarations of policy have had very little to do with the shaping of this book. In the ten years for which the agitation has lasted, the party has never yet found time to devote any independent thought to the compilation of the text-book which is at once to revolutionise our educational system and to give the mind of childhood its first introduction to the highest of all knowledge. They have made two attempts to fill the gap, and in each case it is a ready-made and an imported article that has been relied upon for the purpose. In 1896 they borrowed from New South Wales the barbarous and antiquated Irish Scripture Text-book, which after a brief struggle the indignant public opinion of this colony consigned to the dust-heap: and the book which they have now accepted almost as blindly from Victoria must go the same way. Each is a hopelessly impracticable attempt to solve an absolutely insoluble problem.

J. R. Blair

, President Wellington State Schools' Defence League.

P.S.—After drafting this manifesto, we thought it as well to verify our references by examining the full text of the book under consideration, and to that end we applied to a prominent member of the Bible-in-schools Executive for the loan of a copy. The request was courteously coil plied with after its object had been disclosed and discussed, but a day or two later the remarkable declaration was made from the pulpit of St. John's that the party was not absolutely committed to the text-book. The Evening Post expresses its astonishment at the moment selected for this qualified disavowal of a book which had for some two years served as the strategic point of the" clerical propaganda, and was not then even under fire but the editor would have been less perplexed if he had known that the order to fire had been given, and that the advocates of the text-book had been informed of it. If our modest request for a loan of the book was powerful enough to induce this partial and personal disavowal, we may without presumption hope that the present publication may be the means of rendering this repudiation definite, complete, and official.

Reduced rates to organisations for maintenance of present system of free, compulsory, and secular education. Postage extra. Orders may be sent, to the Hon. Secretary, S.S.D.L., 27, Featherston-street, Wellington.