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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 42

The Bible in the Schools

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The Bible in the Schools.

At a meeting of the Caversham School Committee held on Monday evening, the 5th instant, when the circular from the Bible-in-Schools Association came up for discussion' the Chairman of the Committee (Mr. Rutherford) spoke as follows:—

The circular from the Bible-in-Schools Association asks this Committee to aid in having a book introduced to the children under our charge. We have not hitherto had brought before us what books the pupils shall be taught from. It seems as if it were not within the range of our functions to have anything to say on the matter. The statute under which we exist enacts that the instructions given in our schools shall be secular, and this Committee, as part of the machinery created by the Act, might be expected to examine the books used, so as to guard against any breach of this enactment. Hut the circular before us does not ask us to do this, which, possibly is our duty; but it asks us to join those who are dissatisfied with the present law—who wish to have the secular leaching supplemented by the introduction of the sacred Book of a sect—and desire to have the law altered in accordance with their wishes.

Should we assist this movement? It is very clear to me we should not As a community we can, if we are just, only teach the children of all that about which the parents of all are agreed. By the secular system we can appproximately do this. In giving children reading, writing, and arithmetic, you supply them with tools which open to them the thoughts and discoveries of their fellows, and this will be admitted to be a good thins. As a community, we are not agreed that the Bible is either true or useful, and to have it read or taught by the public servant in the public buildings, and at the public expense, is so plainly unjust that those who advocate it are very far from being illuminated by a divine morality. Where did the Bible Association get their notions of justice? If from the book they seek to force on our public schools, it seems to me we are better without it. But we are told that the Bible is a well of English undefiled. Our business, I think, is to teach the young to read the English of to-day, and leave this antique well to be drawn from by those who have leisure and taste for such specialities. Children, they say, should be taught the history of God's chosen people; how he guided them, protected, and fought for them. To suppose that the Father of all has favorites—is, like weak man, partial—seems to me not to be true. I meet people every day who are selfish enough to wish to be such favorites, and weak enough to believe that they are. This seems to me awful presumption. Yet it is the outcome of the history which we are asked to teach our children. The Bible history of the Jews, abounding as it does with unnatural occurrences, will distract and confuse a child, and make it incapable of critically separating the true from the false in any history it may afterwards read. If a little science is taught in our schools—a little astronomy, a little geology—of what use is it to make the little pupil read the story of the Creation in Genesis? He cannot understand how there can be days of creation when astronomy tells him that day is a local and moving occurrence to the earth. Is the teacher expected to explain that days are epochs, or that the whole story is a poetic vision? If the teacher is to be allowed this latitude, where is he to stop? May he tell his pupils that the Flood, the building of Babel, the plagues of Egypt, the wandering in the wilderness, the slaughtering of the Canaanites, the seeing of all the surface of the globe from the top of a mountain, are all poetic visions? I think our children can have plenty to occupy them without our seeking to cram them with such poetic visions. I think if we are to teach science the Bible should be kept out of our schools. Our children require moral training, but I cannot find a consistent system of morality in the Bible, and would not send them there for it. The writers of the book were not altogether devoid of a sense of right and wrong, but many of them seem to have a very dim perception of it. That the first man and woman disobeyed God, and that God degraded the race and cursed the earth, is a moral absurdity, which only a very dull moral sense can accept. Parallel to this is the so-called plan by which it is alleged that it was necessary for God to have innocent blood shed before He could pardon the guilty. Then there is everlasting punishment. No thought, no hope of reclamation here. We are far from being so good as we should be, but we are far in advance of this, for we punish with an eye to reform, not our of pure, senseless vindictiveness. I do not find that those who believe the Bible, and profess to be guided by it, are better members of the community than those who cast it aside. We know that at the time of the Reformation almost the only parties who had access to the Bible were the Catholic priests. Did it make them better than the rest of the community? I think not. If it had, we might have had no Reformation. I remember the confusing effect the story of Jacob had on me when a boy. The Bible is now in every house in the land, and I often wonder how much of the deceit which abounds amongst us is fortified and keeps its place by that story, how many of our traders justify to themselves the sharp tricks they practise by the peeled rods in the gutters.

This is the most important part of the subject. I have nut touched it. If parents are selfish, are afraid, believe, and tremble, and will persist in thrusting their wicked teachings upon their children, I respect personal liberty too much to seek to prevent them, but let us not tempt the Legisla are to introduce the Book containing them into our public schools.

One other point, and I have done. In childhood there is little knowledge. The infant is unable to test the truth or falsehood of what it is told, and is ready to credit the greatest absurdities. The Catholic Church knows this, and insists on planting all its dogmas side by side with the multiplication table. The Bible-in-Schools-Association ask us to assist them in having our unthinking youth taught their Book. Why this anxiety to have these things thrust on those who are notoriously incapable of judging their qualities? Experience has taught them that if youth is allowed to escape there is small probability of maturity accepting. But the practice all over the world is not tolet the young attain to maturity before their minds are loaded with some theological 'ism; and the religion of almost every human being is fixed for life by the country he happens to be born in. We can feel for the young of the Hindoo—of the Mahometan—even of the Catholic—and think it a great wrong to train youth in these false systems; but this circular asks us to be equally unjust. I ask you to support the present system. And, as each is responsible for his belief, allow each to grow up and choose for himself.