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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 24a

The Bishop of Melbourne's Theory of Education

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The Bishop of Melbourne's Theory of Education.


In the current general Election it is right that the question of Education should occupy a paramount position, and that whatever misconceptions surround it should be investigated and discussed with all possible discrimination and care. I wish through your intervention to point out a most important and extraordinary fallacy which seems to be almost universally prevalent; for it pervades every line of the letter lately addressed to the Argus by the Bishop of Melbourne, and is entirely overlooked by all his critics both favorable and adverse. It is broadly stated in the beginning of his letter as the basis of his theory.

His lordship corrects the Honorable the Chief Secretary thus:—" What I said was, 'education "' without religion I will not say is altogether in-"'jurious, but it may be said to be dangerous. It "' is our duty to combine religious education with "' secular instruction.' And again, 'All would "' agree that mere instruction without moral "' training is, to say the least of it, a very imper-"'feet education; and every Christian man would "' feel that moral training must be based upon page 2 "'religious education. An individual may be a "' moral man without religion, but no community "' can be a moral community without religion.' "

Now I think, and confidently assert, that education is most valuable in so far as it is moral; that is, calculated to improve in the highest degree the manners of men as social beings. For morals means manners. But religion and religious instruction are a totally different thing. The latter are to improve and perfect man's relations with his God; the former, his relations with society. As the ends are widely different, so are the means distinct; and the more "the question is examined, the more does the distinction appear obvious and radical. If we take the Scriptures as authoritative, we shall discover that no religious progress can be made without special divine influence; man is wholly powerless himself to secure that influence of the spirit which "bloweth where it listeth." I believe it to be a growing opinion, that legislative—if not all human interference with religious development, is but a presumptuous and futile—nay, profane—attempt to usurp the divine function; and I think that this opinion, has so far a foundation in fact, as it expresses the complete inadequacy of human powers and institutions to achieve spiritual progress. But it is on all hands conceded that moral training for social conduct is a legitimate field for legislative action, though opinions are divided as to the manner in Which it should be applied. And the reason of this uncertainty is just what I wish to show.

Notwithstanding the general agreement as to the fitness of legislation to promote social morality, we page 3 have been so accustomed to hear our spiritual teachers claim, unopposed, both fields of operation as their own peculiar province, that it is now difficult to realise the fact of their real and marked separation. I may, however, succeed in placing the matter in such a new light that the distinction should become plain to everyone who reads these words. Let us imagine, for the nonce, all human institutions for the maintenance of morality at once and completely abolished—our laws, courts, magistrates, police, gaols, and penal establishments suddenly annihilated.—What would result? Would all the elaborate machinery and strenuous efforts of our religious establishments prove of the slightest efficacy in restraining the immorally disposed from indulging their propensities at the expense of their neighbours? Would our property or our lives be safe for a single day? No—not for an hour. But now let us put the converse proposition. Suppose on the contrary, our human moral government intact, but our religious institutions suddenly and entirely obliterated;—that every priest, bible, church and religious idea were to vanish from the earth. Will anyone contend for a moment that our social moral machinery for the repression of crime would be in the least degree less efficacious than before in protecting our lives and property? I am satisfied that very few would contest the point for a moment. In fact, the existence and maintenance of social checks upon immorality, prove the general practical disbelief in the efficacy of any others—even though divine. I think these considerations ample to prove the wide distinction between morals and religion,—a distinction too often entirely page 4 ignored. They prove that morality is based—not upon religion—but upon man's social nature and necessities; and the vagueness and want of precision of current moral teaching, naturally arise from the fact that objects and means so totally dissimilar, are thus improperly confused and confounded together. In fact, it would not be difficult to show that this same confusion of ideas has too frequently produced direct antagonism—if indeed that be not the normal and necessary condition. Had sound moral knowledge had the place of religious enthusiasm in the cases of the judges of Socrates and Jesus, the world would at least have been saved from the commission of atrocious crime, if it might not eventually have benefitted more: and in that of Calvin,—his fame would not have been tarnished by the murder, in a paroxysm of piety, of the innocent Servetus. But that very religious fervour which formerly prompted our ancestors to incremate each other for being conscientious—to subordinate real and natural, to imaginary supernatural duty—is precisely that which now interposes the principal obstacle to the establishment hero of an effective moral (or secular) system of education.

I beg leave, however, solemnly to warn my fellow-colonists that our population is formed of such heterogeneous materials, and the rising generation has so largely wanted good moral examples and associations, that the danger hereafter to social order is imminent, and it is, I believe, of far greater importance than is generally imagined, to establish hero without delay, an extensive system of compulsory education of a superior description at any cost page 5 whatever. My own opinion is that our educational system should be sedulously extended and remodelled, until we are thus enabled to lessen our expenditure on police and gaols. For prevention is better than cure.

The confusion of ideas as to the different means and objects of morality and of religion is Curiously exemplified in the passage which I quoted from the letter of his lordship. First he asserts that education without religion may be called dangerous, (though he omits to explain how,) and that it is our duty to combine religious education with secular instruction. Next, he says (what I endorse) that mere instruction without moral training is an imperfect education. Then he says plainly, (as if the sequence of the sentences proved a logical sequence!) that moral training must be based upon religious education, which I think I have sufficiently disproved. But lastly, he expresses a genuine paradox, in which the fallacy of his argument is concentrated. He says (truly enough) an individual may be a moral man without religion; but, he adds, a community cannot be a moral community without religion. I ask—if any man in a community can be moral without religion (as he admits), why may not every man in the community be moral also? and if all the men in a community are moral (as the Bishop cannot with his premisses consistently deny), how can such a community be other than moral? The long standing and persistence of that confusion of ideas which I have endeavored to expose, could alone have induced a man like his lordship to write such nonsense.

I have alluded to the nature as well as the scope page 6 of the education which I think it is urgently necessary to establish, meaning that it should J comprehend the "moral training" which his lord-ship admits to be necessary to perfect education; and this demands some exposition. The suppression of the broad distinction between moral and religious needs and objects is so general, that I grieve to say that I know of no school in Melbourne much superior to the streets for acquiring moral training. People are left to acquire it as best they can, and too many learn it for the first time in the Police Court when fined 40s. and taken away. But all too late. No other of our public institutions, so far as I am aware, is calculated to impart the important moral knowledge why we should not lie, steal, cheat, or murder. Prom the common school to the University, the knowledge that is imparted may confer power for good—or for evil; but the most important knowledge—how to use it, is only taught too late at the Police Court and the gaol. I do not forget that this is assumed to be partly taught to children as religious instruction; but the lesson for that very reason fails to produce conviction or practical result; the true reasons why immoral acts should be avoided, being unconsciously suppressed or subordinated to fictitious ones. The causes and effects of human actions constitute the materials of the most important moral knowledge that can be learned; yet it is not attempted to be taught, unless, as I have said, so confused and falsified, that it cannot possibly be understood. I know also that this knowledge is so imperfectly apprehended, that the teachers would have to learn it first, for that which they possess is of a totally page 7 different description. So much greater is the necessity for an immediate reform. Without this knowledge—what are the chances that the orator will not prove a liar, the locksmith a burglar, the penman a forger, and the chemist a poisoner?

I bid my fellow-colonists to look to it. I believe that I have herein indicated the main fallacies in connection with the subject of public education, which confuse and mislead the popular judgment and paralyze rational legislation; and having done what I conceive to be my social duty in this respect, I have the honor to remain, Sir, yours respectfully,

Hokor. Melbourne, 4th February, 1871.
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