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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 42

The Bible in Schools Read at the Ordinary Meeting of the Otago Schoolmasters' Association, 7th September, 1872

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The Bible in Schools.

By J. B. Park.

Dunedin: Coulls & Culling, Printers and Stationers, Rattray Street. 1879.

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When the following Paper was read before the Otago Schoolmasters' Association, the Bible was a school book, although as such it was much objected to by a portion of the newspaper press and the secularist party. Now, however, that it has been banished from our public schools, many people are beginning to feel alarmed for the consequences to their children. The present short address is therefore published in the hope that it may, in some slight measure, help to call public attention to the all-important necessity of having the Bible reinstated in its proper place—the public schools of the Colony.

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The Bible in Schools.

It has often appeared to me that there are many topics connected with every-day life, regarding which great variety of opinion exists, that, if fairly and clearly stated, might lose many of their seemingly antagonistic elements. But the love of opposition natural to many of us, on the one hand, and a morbid unwillingness, on the other, to trouble ourselves with any subject about which people are likely to disagree, hinder judicious inquiry, and thus produce a large amount of mischief from misunderstanding alone. It may seem the easiest way to step over a sleeping dog, although it may not always be the safest. We may be willing for the sake of peace, or friendship if you will, to ignore those subjects on which we are known to disagree, and thus step over our sleeping dog, forgetting that the most trivial circumstance may awaken him at any time, to the utter confusion of our self-complacency, and, perhaps, the lasting destruction of our friendly intercourse.

The Bible in schools, or, as the question is perhaps better known by the phrase, the religious difficulty, is clearly one of those unsettled subjects; and many people, for the sake of peace, or probably they imagine, for the good of education, would rather say nothing about it, but just let things remain as they are. But again and again, in spite of this feeling, will circumstances occur that bring the difficulty before them; and consider it they must, and settle it they must, if a truly national and satisfactory system of elementary education is to be established. Let us, then, face this difficulty, and try to discover whether it be, as some think, insurmountable unless it is swept away altogether, or, as others assert, merely imaginary. I propose, then, to consider the question under the throe following heads:—1. Some of the objections made by secular educationists to the use of the Bible in schools. 2. Some of the objections made by Roman Catholics. 3. A few made by those who, for the want of a better name, may be termed the temporising objectors; and, as I proceed, will endeavour to answer these objections by showing that what these parties consider the religious difficulty in the matter of elementary education, should be no difficulty at all, but rather a help and one of the safest and best that poor, short-sighted, and erring man ever trusted in.

1. The term secular, as applied to the affairs of every day life, is understood to have reference only to the present world, and comprehends whatever pertains to the support of life and the preservation of health, in short, the temporal prosperity of men or states. The secular educationist, then, according to this definition, is one who, to be consistent, must ignore our spiritual relationship to a divine being in the school education of the young. He may have the page 2 most profound interest in the welfare and happiness of man as a social being, but can hare no concern that this education should recognise that more enduring happiness which is inculcated in the Bible. He is doubtless anxious that all men should be good and peaceable citizens; but he believes they can be made such, and kept, such, without educating the religious nature of the child in school. It is possible that this opinion of the secularists may have sprung from the great anxiety manifested by some religious sects to teach the peculiar phases of their respective faiths to children; and—failing to see the wide difference between dogmatic spiritual teaching and religious education—the secular educationists view, with something of justifiable repugnance, the bitter animosities which a predilection for this teaching has engendered. Now, if the interesting historical and invaluable moral lessons contained in Scripture cannot be taught to children without communicating at the same time the many shades of doctrinal belief that religious sects have wormed out of the sacred volume, then I hold, with the secularist, that the Bible ought not to be taught in schools. But I strongly demur to this view of the case. Bible teaching in schools is not necessarily sectarian teaching in the ordinary acceptation of that term, whatever the secularist may assert. I do not mean to say that the unscrupulous teacher may not try to twist many of the statements in Scripture regarding moral obligations and religious duty to support a bigoted faith or a vain superstition, but that is no reason surely why the Bible should be discarded from schools. The teacher who would inculcate such doctrines from the Bible, could inculcate them equally well without it, and would do so oven from the multiplication table. It is not, therefore, the Bible that the secularist ought to be afraid of more than any other book in the hands of such a man—it is the man himself. It strikes me that if secularists would manifest the same anxiety to prevent incompetent men from becoming schoolmasters that they exhibit in their efforts to banish the Bible from the school, they would do considerably more good to the cause of education than they are at present doing; and it would doubtless be beneficial to all parties, and highly advantageous to this cause, if they could make the office of schoolmaster an honourable office—not in name only, but in reality.

But, if I mistake not, many secular educationists object to Bible teaching in schools because they are sceptical in regard to the book itself. Its historical statements regarding the creation of the world and God's dealings with the Jewish people, they characterise as fabulous, and have a very hazy conception of the Divine government as it is therein recorded. Now, I do not wish to say one word on the authenticity of the Bible—I merely take it as I find it; any other lino of procedure would be entirely out of place in such a paper as this. It seems to me, then, that the opposition of the secularist to the Bible as a school book on the grounds of its questionable authenticity, is one of the flimsiest that could possibly be made. I believe it is hardly possible to study the sacred records conscientiously without discovering that grand and glorious truth which, like a golden ray, shines through the whole of them, and that is, "Be ye holy, for I am holy." From Genesis to Revelations it can be traced with a clearness and brilliancy that all the multifarious descriptions of sieges, battles, crimes, sufferings, wickedness, and death, never obliterates. This Divine idea of perectibility, so incessantly and continuously pressed on human atten- page 3 tion, is beyond all doubt vitally important to erring humanity, and, moreover, is a marvellous feature, characteristic of the Bible alone. It stamps the sacred records with an individuality that can be claimed for no other book in the world, and gives them a value as a guide for human conduct beyond all price. I say nothing here of the sacred mysteries of the Christian religion. The Divine idea I speak of may lead up to these, or it may not. But that is another question, and belongs to the exegetical teacher, the clergyman. If, therefore, this striving after human perfectibility is so clearly inculcated in the Bible, by line upon line, precept upon precept, surely it is very shortsighted policy, to say the least of it, to deprive our children of its teaching at all times and in all places; and what time is better than early youth, when the mind is so plastic for the reception of good or evil, and what place more suitable than the school-room?

We hear a great deal in the present day of what are termed advanced views and liberal opinions regarding man and man's destiny. Old beliefs have grown musty in the estimation of all those who hold these opinions, and advocate these views; and your secular educationist who talks sneeringly of the extreme mustiness of ancient faiths, particularly if these are inculcated in the Bible, is almost certain to be one such. Now I do not suppose that antiquity alone gives authority to any belief, but surely we must also admit that the fact of its being old cannot make it less trustworthy, if there is no other reason for doubting its authenticity. Truth is eternal; millions of ages cannot make it false; and if the experiences of many centuries have confirmed the fact that man cannot, and docs not, live by bread alone, I hold that it is inexpressible folly to teach our children that they can, or that they ever were intended to do so by the Creator. I do not wish it to be understood for a moment that I believe many secular educationists deny this great fact, or that they are essentially sceptical in matters of religion; they are perhaps only sceptical of the utility of educating the religious nature of children in the schoolroom. But on what, it may be asked, does this scepticism rest? It cannot be on the assumption that the religion of the Bible is erroneous, for this can only be assumed by the infidel. Neither can it rest on the assumption that a knowledge of the all-wise Creator, and man's relationship to him, is a subject unfit for the youthful mind, because this would be opposite to all experience; for youth is allowed to be the fittest time for receiving good instruction. In short, it seems to me that many secular educationists, except those who disbelieve the Bible, either oppose Bible teaching in schools from a fear of its being made the vehicle of communicating religious dogmas or sectarian differences to the young, or from some latent notion that secular knowledge is of more importance in the education of youth than religious training.

Now, I have endeavoured to show that the former of these objections is imaginary, by pointing out how the Bible could be excluded from schools, and yet the difficulty remain. As to the latter objection, which I consider much more serious, I would remark that I fear we of the present day, are running so fast after knowledge, or, perhaps, I should say novelty, that the old landmarks of truth are apt to be trodden under foot in our hurry to discover something new. It is a dangerous race, I fear, and can only end, if pursued at such a reckless pace, in disappointment and confusion. This extraordinary page 4 desire for knowledge is eminently characteristic of the present century. At no previous period of our history has this desire been so widespread among all classes of society; and if our religious education is not keeping pace with it, the fear I have expressed is far from being groundless. I am perfectly willing to admit that many secularists may grant this; but then they maintain that the clergyman and Sunday-school teachers are the only legitimate religious instructors; and the church and the Sunday-school the proper places for imparting religious instruction. Now this, I believe, is correct, so far; but if our clergy limit their religious teaching to the exposition of isolated doctrinal texts of Scripture, and if Sunday-school teachers have not had special training or peculiar aptitude for the work, coupled with an extensive acquaintance with sacred as well as profane history, our children will receive but a meagre religious education at their hands.

It is not for me to say whether or not our clergy are keeping pace with this increasing desire for knowledge, and giving tokens of it in their pulpit or class ministrations, and thereby fitting the willing members of their flock to become Sunday-school teachers. I can only say, taking things as they appear, it is far from being Certain that the ordinary method of supplying the demand for Sunday-school teachers is likely to produce satisfactory results. If a disregard for Biblical instruction be the normal condition of a large section of the community, as it would appear to be, from the repeated warnings we are receiving against the march of infidelity, might not the inquiry be made how much of this could be traced to the imperfect religious education of the young, either in weekday or Sunday-schools? One thing is pretty certain, and that is—if any subject; whether religious or otherwise, continue to be slighted or decried for any length of time, it must correspondingly suffer in public estimation, therefore, I am inclined to believe that this continual cry against the Bible being taught in schools is doing material injury to the religious education of the young. I do not suppose it is considered of much importance now, either here or in the homo country, whether or not a teacher be well read in sacred history, and have an intelligent acquaintance with his Bible, to get his certificate of competency. Such being the case, how can we expect that much prominence will be given to Biblical instruction in schools?

Perhaps the strongest objection of the secularists to Bible teaching in our public schools is founded on the generally formed opinion that the State has nothing to do with religion. Because, they argue, if State aid be given to disseminate any one phase of faith, it would be unjust not to extend aid to all. Now, it is on this point that I join issue with the secularists. I hold that it is as much the duty of the State to foster religious teaching, by which I mean that divine morality inculcated in the Bible, and not sectarian dogmas, as it is its duty to punish crime. And for secularists to back their opposition with the assertion that the State has nothing to do with the Bible, I consider a weak point in their argument. Does not the law demand that a witness must first take an oath on the Bible before giving evidence in a Court of Justice? Now how would the law treat such a witness, or what would common sense say of him, if he refused to take an oath in this manner because he happened to be an infidel; or, if a Socinian, he page 5 should fancy he would be thereby acquiescing in the doctrines of the Trinity: or, if a Roman Catholic, he would be agreeing to the doctrinos of Protestantism: or, in shoft, when a witness kisses the Book token of the sacredness of his oath, does he mean to swallow every doctrine that every sect in Christendom has dug out of it? It does seem to me a strange thing in a British community, the laws of which, both civil and political, are supposed to be founded on the profound principles of moral rectitude inculcated in Scripture, for some men so persistently to object to Bible teaching in schools; and when we consider for a moment that the foundation of Britain's greatness can in a large measure be traced to the spread of the Bible, the strangeness of this opposition is much increased. If we shut out the Bible from our elementary schools on the plea of its being a sectarian book, to be consistent we must also banish it from our halls of justice, swear our witnesses on their honour, and teach our children morality from the bastard code of social expediency.

But not to be misunderstood, let me distinctly state that I am as much opposed to sectarian teaching, in the sense that ordinary secularists understand it, as they possibly can be. But that striving after perfectibility insisted upon with such Divine unction in Scripture, is as far removed from sectarianism as the sublime teaching contained in the sermon on the Mount is removed from the ranting of some half-crazed street preacher. If we secularize our public schools, we may satisfy those who are too advanced in their opinions to be trammelled by the restraints of this holy teaching, this striving after perfectibility, as inculcated in the sacred volume; but what shall we lose? With many other advantages, we shall lose this one—the Divine prestige, so to speak, which the Bible, faithfully taught in every school, gives to the teacher and to his work.

2. Let me offer a few remarks on some of the objections which Roman Catholics make to the Bible being used in school. If we examine for a moment the spirit of Roman Catholicism, as it is developed in history, and as we know it at the present day in those countries where the Church of Rome is most powerful, we will find that this great religious system has always been, and still is, opposed to a popular and liberal system of elementary education. It will not do for the priesthood to deny this. Facts are against them. They may ring in our cars the oft-repeated boast that the only repositories of learning in the dark ages were the monasteries, and the only students the priests. The fact has long been admitted, and the world is grateful to the Church for keeping alive the torch of knowledge in Europe, amidst universal darkness. But it is to be feared that if the outer world had not stepped in, so to speak, this torch would have been burning but dimly there still, and nowhere else. Since the Reformation, education has made considerably more progress than it did previous to that event. Now, whether this was owing to the Bible being placed in the hands of the people in a language they spoke and understood, I will not stop to enquire; but this we know, the Church exerted all her influence to prevent it, and, so far as I know, is as much opposed to her people having the sacred records for private use without priestly comment and interpretation, as ever she was. It is quite opposed to the teaching of the Church for its members to search the Scriptures for themselves as did the ancient Bereans. Her priesthood dogmatically assert that they cannot understand them page 6 without priestly interpretation. Human intelligence—that intelligence implanted in the soul of man by his Creator to study his works, both natural and revealed—when brought to bear upon the study of scripture, they characterise as sinful. Independent thought on, and rational enquiry into, the religion of the Bible, the laity of the Reman Catholic Church are therefore bound to leave to the priests. Hence their opposition to the use of the Bible in the public school. Even the Roman Catholic schoolmaster would seem to be prohibited from the use of the Douay Bible. He may teach his pupils the catechisms and formularies of the Church, but the sacred record is a sealed book in his school. It is rather curious that secular educationists and the Roman Catholic priesthood should be equally opposed to Bible teaching in Schools. Both seem to believe that religion and religious dogmas are identical. The former would banish the Bible from our schools, because they either disbelieve the creeds that have been wormed out of it, or else, confounding these creeds with the eternal principles of religious truth, maintain that such subjects are entirely beyond the pale of human legislation; while the latter object to its use from a fear of its being made the vehicle of disseminating doctrines repugnant to their church, and consequently accuse the religious educationist of proselytising. It is this fear that seems to have awakened the Catholic hierarchy all over the civilized world to a determined crusade against Protestant schools. But, not thinking it politic to urge anything against popular education, they tenaciously grasp the religious difficulty, which to them is Protestant teaching, and flaunting it in the face of every scheme for the general education of the people, raise the cry of Protestant tyranny and oppression. Of all the churches in the world that ought to bury these two words in oblivion, the Roman Catholic Church is surely the one. But let that pass. We have just now to deal with their objections to Bible-teaching in schools, and not to any cry they may raise for purposes best known to themselves; and thanks to the utterances of a portion of the priesthood, we know pretty well what these objections are. According to the teaching of the Church of Rome, an intimate acquaintance with the religious doctrines of that church is of infinitely more importance to man, in every sense, than knowledge of the most ennobling tendencies.

But Roman Catholics differ materially from secularists in their opposition to Bible teaching. The education the latter are in favour of, the former designate a godless education, and are therefore most decidedly opposed to the secularising of public schools. But be it remembered, although they are against secular education, they are decidly opposed to the religious education I am advocating, and, consequently, denounce in the strongest possible terms Bible teaching in our schools. They maintain that such teaching can never receive the sanction of the Catholic Church, and therefore the children of the members of that Church must not on any account attend what they designate Protestant schools. No compromises will satisfy them. Conscience clauses they treat with withering scorn; and seeming to be filled with the one great fear of these schools being nurseries of proselytism, they demand schools of their own, or at least a share of State support to maintain them. In all this, it seems to me, that Roman Catholics are perfectly consistent with what they profess. But if they believe that the true method of educating the religious nature of the young, consists in cramming their page 7 minds with creeds, confessions, and formularies, then I hold that such work is no part of the duty of a schoolmaster, therefore I cannot consistently support them in their demands; and it does not appear to me unjust to oppose them. The work of the schoolmaster should be hampered with no such teaching. Creeds and formularies are all very well in their own place, but their jarring sounds should never be heard, nor their bitter distinctions ever be taught, in that sacred arena where tender human souls are gathered together to learn, with their other lessons, that holy injunction, "Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God." This Divine command overrides all creeds, all distinctions of sects, and is the true entrance to that highway along which all must pass who yearn after the beautiful, the elevating, the Divine. If we once ignore the profound meaning which is embodied in this command—a command around which all the minor facts and details of human action must circulate—we lose ourselves in idle disputations and profitless enquiry. Are we not all agreed, Roman Catholic as well as Protestant, that purity of life and conduct, truth, justice, magnanimity of soul, and every moral virtue, are essential to the formation of a proper human character? Can we not therefore agree that these can be taught in school without the aid of creeds or formularies, under the encouraging influence of Divine recognition alone? It does seem to me a mistaken notion that we can educate successfully the intellect of a child at one time, and the moral or religious nature at another. The two are so indissolubly connected, and, according to all experience, meant to be so by the Creator, that their true development can only be accomplished together. While the one is receiving aid from the other, both are benefitted, and that consciousness of relationship of the creature to the Creator is never for a moment disturbed.

3. Besides those to whom I have already referred, who object to Bible teaching in school, it remains for me to say a few words about another class—a sort of negative class, whom I have designated the temporising objectors. And here I may remark, that there seems to be a considerable number of people in this world of ours, who are so harmless, objectively, and well meaning, subjectively, that they may be said to have hardly any decided opinion on any subject whatever. They are always ready to acquiesce in your opinions, and would on no account contradict you. But no sooner do they encounter any one who differ from you, than they agree with him. In fact, their mind may not inaptly be compared to a weather-cock, ever ready to shift with the slightest breath of others' opinions to the calm side of things. Their faith, if they have any, hangs on them like a loose garment, and makes one think it cannot be very firmly held. Such people are animated, no doubt, with the best intentions, but being deficient in moral courage, they cannot withstand a plausible argument in favour of what their intelligence may tell them is wrong. Moreover, the only impression that seems to take any hold of them is the desire to please. It is an amiable desire, no doubt, but its realization may often be too dearly purchased. Now, it is this class of people whom I have attempted to delineate, that I term the temporising objectors. They are liberal to a fault, if I may be allowed the expression, and would rather submit to an evil, than annoy themselves with a difficulty, or raise their voice, or use their influence to get it removed. Such people, however, can hardly be said to be active objectors to Bible teaching in schools, in fact they are, I page 8 believe—being well-meaning—rather in favour of such teaching, provided that nobody is offended by it. But then they say "if we cannot have a national system of education with the Bible, without offending the prejudices of others, let us by all means discard it from the public schools." The utter worthlessness of such an argument seems to me, at least, to contain its own refutation. To use the Bible as a school book for the purpose of training the youthful mind to strive after whatever things are true, honest, just, pure, and lovely, is either right or wrong. If right, then no arguments, however plausible, and no opposition, however long maintained, can make it wrong. But if some will persist that to use it for this purpose is wrong; inasmuch as our so doing would be unjust to those who oppose it, then we are forced to this conclusion, namely, that the very highest authority among godfearing men for inculcating whatever is commendable in human thought or action, is a blunder, and we are all wrong together. Or to put the question in plain terms, it appears to me to resolve itself into this:—Do we or do we not, acknowledge our responsibility to a higher authority than that of mere human law in the education of the young? If we do, then the Bible, which is the only recognized interpretation among Christian nations of this higher authority, must be law to us. But if we do not acknowledge any higher authority, then all our pretensions to that holy and pure morality inculcated in the Bible, are mere efforts of deceiving and being deceived. But, as the poet expresses it, "Things are not always what they seem." So it appears to me that the present crusade of the secular educationists against Bible teaching in schools covers a great deal more than appears on the surface of it. I can easily understand that man's objections, however little I may value them, when he asserts that he disbelieves the Bible as a Divine revelation. But what can be urged in favour of that man's consistency, who, receiving it as a Divine revelation, yet objects to its being taught in schools? Let me, in one word, bring the whole question at issue to the bar of unprejudiced common sense, and what is the finding? Simply this—If we believe that the teaching of the Bible embodies the divinely sanctioned and appointed law of the Creator for man's guidance in this world, always having regard to a higher and holier state of existence, then we cannot consistently circumscribe this teaching in any way; but, if we do not, we must drop the name of Christian, and substitute that of unbeliever, sceptic, infidel, or any other name that is diametrically opposed to a belief in this teaching. In fine, therefore, if we could remove the Roman Catholic element from the controversy, that of the temporisers would all but disappear, and the opposition be restricted to the secularist proper, who founds it on the assumption that the Bible is not a Divine revelation. So that the whole question, when stripped of all subterfuge, seems to me simply a contest between those who reverence the high moral teaching of the Bible, and those who do not, or care very little about the matter. But I must bring my remarks to a close. Before doing so, however, I would raise my voice against this cry for secularising our elementary schools. It appears to me a beginning to the secularising of the human mind, the first step in the dragging down to the level of earth all that the Creator has implanted in man to elevate him above the brute creation; and, in one word, a beginning to the rending asunder of that eternal relationship of the creature to the Creator, which can only be truly maintained by the proper education and development of man's moral and spiritual nature.

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Note.—These letters were not written (as has been stated), and are not now published in their present form, with a view to disseminate objections to the Bible. Their object is to endeavor to state plainly and candidly—I might very well have said bluntly—a few of the many difficulties and perplexities that intrude themselves into and around the ordinary layman's mind, in these days, when he thinks at all on such matters as are glanced at here. The papers were written, necessarily, in haste, and at intervals snatched from night—without study, method, or design. Some competent person, or parson, notwithstanding may overlook these defects, and think it worth while to clear up the incomprehensible mysteries, incongruously touched on in these few pages if this can be done. If so, the writer will be as glad as anyone.

H. R. Rae.