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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 78

Chapter III. — Religion, Morality and Education

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Chapter III.

Religion, Morality and Education.

The process of history is the differentiation of morality from religion, and th school from the church.

"From homogeneity to heterogeneity" is Herbert Spencer's expression of the progress of Nature. In other words, races, species, individuals, organs, functions, tissues specialise as they develop. Of nothing is this truer than, the phenomena of human life. In primitive peoples and conditions the State absorbs all functions. The chief is priest, legislator, administrator judge and general, as well as ruler, Church, state and school are all one. It is difficult to think of education as separate from religion, or religion as distinct from morality, or morality as beyond the limits of legality. And all of these phenomena have an inherent tendency to interpenetrate each other throughout the history of the race. Yet progress implies the gradual disentanglement of them, and separation of their spheres.

The slowest to differentiate are religion and morality. For most moral rules and principles originate in fear and conciliation of the supernatural. Not till commerce and the intercourse with alien cultures and worships have grown strong do the two begin to separate. Commercial wealth reveals and develops power and capacity outside of the charmed circle of the hereditary governors, and begins to secularise intelligence and education, whilst comparison with other religions sets reason to work on the native form. A new morality springs up in some points ahead of the old, supernaturalised principles, and men begin to feel that religion is not the only source or sanction of it. Criticism enters and works havoc with the influence of the priests end the old faith. The race or nation slowly secedes from the religion, and emotion and imagination reach out for other forms and modifications of it. But it is the innate conservatism of all religions that, forming in the beginning their strength, in the end is their ruin. They refuse and fail to adapt themselves to the growing spirit of man. And any changes they may adopt are thrust upon them from without, and only help to reveal their weakness and and adaptability. The spirit lives like a hermit crab in a new shell that is manifestly not its own.

But this means the decay of religion and of its influence, and unless, some equally spiritual organism Like literature assumes its role, the civilisation must decay too.

There can be but one end to this process. The civilisation and the enlightenment ignore the religion, and learn to do without it. At Erst they are astonished that the world does not fall into ruins around them, but dooms day seems as far away as ever, and timidity wears off. Every process of life, including the ethical, grows secularised, and, if there is no organism to take up the old spiritual functions that the religion performs, the moral fibre of the race or people is sure to degenerate. Disintegration of its inner system sets in, and it falls a victim to luxury and vice and crime. A new and healthier and more primitive race with strong faith and sword must replace it, and begin the process over again.

Such was the fate of the old empires, Babylon, Assyria, Egypt, Greece, Rome. But it is by no means inevitable if, before the strength of the race is sapped, some other organism than the religion assumes its ethical functions. A living literature that is independent enough to be critical of the life and civilisation, and to be wise, might form a substitute, and especially where, as in our day, it penetrates into every home and heart. It never affected more than the governing circles in the old civilisations, and it tended to become the pander to their weaknesses, if not to their vices. Printing made literature a possible alternative for the church. Steam, rapid transport, and the telegraph, giving rise to journalism as they did, made the substitution inevitable. Every man has his ear to the heart of the world, wherever the press is free, untrammelled by any condition but respect for self and neighbours, and there is a chance now that, as the partition between East and West crumbles, a worldembracing ethics may arise, instead of the racial or sectional morality that has dominated mankind.

The danger is that journalism may become the pander to the faults and vices of men. There are signs in America that, with its republicanism, its freedom and its unamalgamated hordes of immigrants, this is by no means imaginary. For, in order to gain and page 13 keep the larger circulation in a country that is yet but a witches' cauldron of all types from every people in Europe, some have appealed to the scum and the dregs; they stir the meaner passions and appeal to the lower morality of the masses. It is one of the most promising features of New Zealand civilisation that its journals adopt a high moral standard. Their teachings in politics and economics are naturally open to debate. There is not much that is debatable in their ethics.

Journalism has taken the place of the church; not in the Bible-in-schools. But in this profession lies the spiritual destiny of our nation.

It is useless shutting our eyes to the fact that journalism has taken the place that the church used to have. We try to keep up the pretence that the weekly sermon And service have their old efficacy. We have only to watch how lightly they are taken by the men, and especially the young men, be know that it is only a pretence. A powerful rival, impounding the unoccupied six days, has slowly sapped their life. The daily paper is the preacher and priest for six-sevenths of the life of the community and colours the existence a dye that not all the Sundays of the year could wesh out. The editors of our local papers are the true bishops of the diocese. They oversee and select all the opinions and sentiments and facts that go to the making of our local life. Through their columns and most of all through their cable columns, the whole world is preaching a homily on its own history—a homily all the more telling for its brevity and concentration. We may skip the sermons—the editorials end articles; but the cables never fail to bite their lesson into the nature. And for the fringe of social life, that almost dabbles in the mire of immorality and crime, there is something pertinent and minatory in the police court columns. Every free community is getting more and more dependent on the newspaper for not only its intellectual, but its ethical, life. And journalism is ca the fair way to becoming the conscience and the religion of mankind.

Yet not an effort has been made to insure that its present high ethical standard shall be maintained, or to prevent it falling into the pander to popular vices when temptation offers. If [unclear: it] sinks into the mire, then farewell to all ethical progress in our community and our race, farewell to all our dreams of utopias free from poverty, war and crime. Were the clergy alive to the logic of their position, they would see that this now holds as truly the keys of heaven and hell in its hands as the church did in the middle ages. The spiritual future of the community is far more a question of the purity and morality of journalism than one of the Bible in schools.

Not dogmatic teaching in the schools, but high principle and noble character in the teachers will saturate the generations with the best that religion has ever taught. The merely commercial spirit must be dispossessed.

They have concentrated their efforts upon this as the irreducible minimum of their aims, the last relic of their old omnipotence in education. They do not even claim that the whole Bible should be read, or that the piece read should be commented on, or that the teacher who superintends its reading should believe the supernatural elements implied [unclear: in]. It would be better for them to face the truth; in selecting parts, they grant that other parts are more profitably omitted, and still more that reason has been admitted to choose between, elements. The higher criticism has played havoc in the domain of the supernatural. And the only common ground all denominations and commentators now have is the ethics of the New Testament, the sublime teaching of the Founder of Christianity, and His noble aim and character. If this were brought together in a short textbook, it is difficult to see what objection could be raised to its being introduced into the state schools. It is the debatable or doubtful or sectarian elements that doubtless stir the opposition to the proposal. But as an actual fact, the best of this teaching has entered into most of the literature that is selected for readingbooks and into the books that form the school library.

And most of us who took back upon our childhood and youth, will agree that it was not the dogmatic teaching that influenced us; it was the characters of our teachers, the atmosphere that breathed through our environment, and most of all the thoughts and character of a mother, that have remained the strongest and best part of our religion and morality. Personality, character, is the most potent medium of ethical principle, because it is least conscious and deliberate. In the general disintegration of theology that proceeds in Christendom, and amid the rapid secularisation of human power and influence, we still see individuals amongst the clergy who seem to have the old afflatus and dominance. In most cases it is because, not of their doctrines or their connection with the church, but of their character. They embody the high principles they teach. They are living representations of their theology. And their world takes its impress from them. If the church page 14 would ensure a long succession of such fine characters in its ranks, it would go far to reinstate its prestige and influence.

It is no loss true that if tho same could be achieved for the teaching profession we would need no dogmatio instruction in morality. We make no inquiry as to the high character or ideals of the entrants into the profession, we insist upon no test All we demand is the passing of an examination in intellectual acquirements, and some acquaintance with the scholastic art. The best natures and characters of a nation should be secured for this, its pivot profession, not the greatest in intellect, imagination or action, but the greatest spiritually, the finest embodiments of its highest moral ideals the men and women who could mould the spirit of posterity by their presence, by the mere act of living. If this were Achieved, the community need have no fear of its moral future. For the prospective mothers would go out from the schools inspired with the Vest ideals that their time is capable of. And journalism, with the other professions, would never depart from the path of rectitude and ethical progress.

The church used to monopolise the education of Europe, and, as Long as it did so, whilst at the same time taking into its bosom most of the wise minds and noble characters, it could not lose its omnipotence. When education spread into other spheres and at last became general, her spell was lost; ability, and character, and wisdom sought other channels. The transition came unfortunately, but inevitably, with the development of commercial and industrial wealth that has culminated in our day. And secular education has been saturated with the commercial spirit and guided by commercial ideals. 'Hie spiritual side has been neglected. A revolt against the sordid aims and moulds is apparent in the rapid spread of socialistic opinions in our day. Socialism, however unpractical and unscientific in the means it proposes, is a distinct warning that this evil spirit has to be dispossessed. Material progress does not necessarily imply spiritual progress. Money-making is not the final salvation of man. We shall have to hark back on the path of civilisation. That is the lesson of the forest-fire of socialism. But we need not destroy society as it is and reconstruct in order to gain its purpose. What is needed is to change the ideals from commereial and material to spiritual, and that can be done through education. Our secular system was cradled in the nascence of the modern era of commerce, its golden age, when discovery and advance of rapid transport and the concentration of power seemed to promise the millennium of peace over the world, and omnipotence for man's spirit over nature. The promise has not been fulfilled, and we are suffering the collapse of our dream. Though it is not the last from which mankind will have the agony of awakening, we shall have to reconstruct our education on other than commercial lines and material aims; we shall have to recognise the pertinence and modernity of the old question, "What shall it profit a man it he gain the whole world and lose his own soul And the chief way to give true recognition to the dominance of spirit over matter in the destiny of man, amid the disintegration of belief in the supernatural, is to flood our school system with the finest character and wisest minds that the community can produce, and to take care that the mothers of our homes have the truest spirituality and the greatest reverence for all that is noble in nature and human nature.

So must the commercial spirit be dispossessed in that modern heir of the church, journalism.

But as has been indicated, there is another portal of the national spirit that has to be guarded even more carefully, and that is the modern heir of the church, journalism. If it falls into the hands of men ethically behind the best of their time and community, if it is inspired by nothing but sordid commercial aims, if it has gross or impure or low ideals, all our educational efforts will avail nothing for the spiritual progress of our country. Were the churches alive to the destiny of our racial spirit they would [unclear: perusade] even more hotly for the spiritual welfare of this their modern supplanter. Perhaps it would be wiser if the crusade did not take the form of ecclesiastical invasions. "A mission to unregenerate journalists" would sound well, but it is to he feared it would end in the death of the missionary. He would have to be a realisation of the impossible dream of perpetual motion. For the journalist is like a grasshopper, always on the jump; there is a restless fever in his blood, he is "to one thing constant never "; he is like the beast of prey, unwholesomely nocturnal in his habits; there is a boomerang-like recoil in most of the patent efforts to reform him; he is and must be impeccable in all he save and does, and impeccability is past all missionary effort; he is cheerful in his omniscience and his sine, and he is ruthless in his page 15 fun; he is like a hedgehog, all bristles, and like a mosquito, never where you expect to hit him. Where will you find a more unlikely subject for a mission, unless perhaps an Irish comedian good-naturedly drunk?

Other methods will have to be adopted Journalists will have to be caught young, if anything is to be done with them. The most striking proof of the recent origin of their occupation is that it is the only one of the professions that is absolutely unorganised, and has no guarded approach to it. The church, medicine and law have taken the utmost precautions that no charlatan, and no novice shall enter them. A long course of education, careful examination and testing, and a period of probation, guard the entrance to them, whilst rigid legislation for conduct and etiquette prevent any wolf that has by accident crept into the fold from running riot there. Even teaching and accountancy have been to come extent organised; the state in the one case and the profession in the other safeguards the efficiency of these who enter it. Journalism has no protection of this sort, not even the old guild law of apprenticeship, or the modern trades union that watches over the interests of trades. It is an absolute freelance, or bohemian, amongst the occupations, like unskilled labour. There is no preparation demanded from the novice, and there is no restriction placed upon his career thereafter, whether it be a rise or a fall. Like beginners in swimming, the journalist has to learn his profession by journalising by plunging into the sea of daily literature.

And yet it is, as has been shown, by far the most important profession now for public morality and intelligence. It has as much to do with the spiritual well being of a community as the mediaeval church used to have. With it must stand or fall the spirit of the race or the nation it teaches and leads. Medicine and law are insignificant in their importance compared with it. But the seizure of this commanding position has been so rapid and striking because of the swift development of cheap printing, quick transport and telegraphy that we have yet had no time to reflect on the strange situation. Wherever there is freedom of the press journalism has become autocrat of the human spirit, all the more powerful for its anonymity, ubiquity and undefined personality.

It is time that the modern state, if not the journalists themselves, realised the uniqueness of the position and the dangers that attend it. Should the profession fall into the hands of the subcriminal or vicious, or even conscienceless section of our communities, where would our morality, our civilisation, be? It may be answered that the public would cease to ppatronise the journals that were so conducted. It must be remembered that the daily paper is no longer a luxury of modern life, but as much a necessity as daily bread; we must have the news of our locality and its markets and happenings, if not those of the world, on our breakfast table; else we should fall back in all the features of life hundreds of years; every nation would again become a series of isolated localities. And it must be remembered that the conscienceless are subtle in their methods; they never act by open brigandage, but by slow and insidious poisons.

A training college for journalists it needed to guard the portal of the profession, as well as to supply young men and women fit to work at its many and difficult arts.

If we would save our modern civilisations from the ruin that overtakes every human institution as soon as it has lost its formative and dominating spirit, we shall have to organise the new heir of the spiritual omnipotence of the church. Journalism has the destiny of modern man in the hollow of its hand, as the church used to have, and as the teaching profession, if properly selected and trained, should still have. So potent an occupation should not be left to the drift of circumstance as it has been. Journalists tumble into the profession in most countries, as in New Zealand, without any special call or preparation for it. Every newspaper is its own college and laboratory; and it must have innumerable failures to reject; whilst its successes are liable to be drawn off its staff to others at any moment. The pinch is as apparent as in domestic service; for not every youth who thinks he can write is fit to journalise. Most proprietors rather accept the ills they have than fly to others they know not of. It would pay them handsomely to establish a journalists' training college, where all the experimentation and rejection and grading could be done for them before they ever admit new members to their staff. And during this long period of New Zealand's prosperity, these must be prospering too; whilst not a few must be growing wealthy enough to act generously for the public organisation and endowment of the profession.

But its success and purity concern so intimately the spiritual as well as the material future of our country, that it would be no further out of the range page 16 of the state to see such an institution established, than to organise the teaching profession. Nor should the test for entrance into it be merely intellectual; there should be a test of high moral character as well, as there is assumed to be into most churches.

It may be objected that the Arts course in the University would suffice; but it is far too heterogenous, and far too insistent on one or two subjects like Latin and mathematics to serve the purpose of such a specialised profession hero could be no room for two subjects so indirectly related to its work, any more than there could be for Sanskrit, or anatomy, or the steam engine, or conveyancing. The subject that is most concerned with the career of the journalist is his own language, English not literature, or philology, but composition, the manipulation of expression. This should be the beginning and the end of the courae. Not one, but four or five expert teachers, would be needed for it.

One should deal with the mechanics and engineering of the English phrase, sentence and paragraph; he should teach the correction of bad English in all its forms, and the various methods of rectifying it; the student should not leave his hands before he is able to feel at a glance what is faulty in any piece of composition placed before him, to diagnose the source of the fault, and apply the remedy. A second should deal with the various styles of expression, the plain and matter of fact, the figurative, the ornate, the rhetorical, the poetic, and teach practically, as in a laboratory, the various appropriate uses and correct applications; he should lead the student through a course of analyses of distinctive passages from the great authors so as to find the chemical blend that makes them distinctive and great; he should make him capable of reproducing similar results by a series of practical syntheses of the elements, and by criticism and comparison he should teach him to mimic or echo any style, not only with serious purpose, but in caricature. A third should occupy himself wholly in teaching the art of abstracting and reducing and expanding. He should deal with the logic of ideas and parts, their perspective and relative importance, and the arts of emphasis; the student should learn to judge at a glance the number of words in everything he writes, and the space it will occupy in various types; he should be able to put any piece of information or reasoning or eloquence into a form of any length without sacrificing the salient points; he should learn not only the parte of abbreviation and expansion, but the art of brevity and its importance; he should know how to draw the eye of the reader, not merely by mechanical methods such as striking head-lines and different types, but by the art of perspective, of drawing into the foreground the interesting facts and observations or thoughts or phrases. A fourth should concern himself with the art of observing and reporting, not only its mere mechanics, like shorthand verbatim, and legible longhand notes, but the more esoteric art of glancing at an incident or scene and catching accurately its salient features; he should teach the art of hitting the nail on the head with an expression, and that of picturesque expansion of notes, and the still more difficult art of picturesque abbreviation; the student in the laboratory of this teacher should learn to avoid everything laboured, and to think, observe and express naturally, easily and vividly. He should pick up the art of the cross-questioner and interviewer, a skill that implies insight into human nature quick perception of the striking features of a theme, tact and courtesy, A fifth should deal with the more thoughtful types of composition; he should teach the art of thinking philosophically and interestingly on any subject it sight, and expressing his thoughts, briefly or expansively, without a trace of obscurity or padding j in short, he should super intend a laboratory for the art of writing leading articles, leaderettes, and longer magazine articles.

There should also be a lecturer on science who should give in a few courses not the technical treatment of any science but a philosophical outline of all sciences, their principles and methods; but geography, anthropogeography and racial anthropology should have each a teacher to itself, A similar course or series of courses should be given on the arts, their general principles and features, with constant practical work in the criticism of pictures and picture exhibitions, concerts and dramatic performances. A lecturer on literature should be a sine qua non; but he should deal with all the literaltures of Europe, sketching the great books and showing their places in the history of thought, A still more important feature should be the department of history, dealing with all its great movements, political, social, constitutional and economical, and all its great events and personalities. As subsidiary to this there should be a course dealing with the fundamental principles of economics, and another on the aims, methods, and forms of politics and civics.

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A lecturer on statistics should treat the art of classifying and manipulating figures, and deducing from them accurate interesting results. Another essential feature of the course should be a working knowledge of two modern language not for the purposes of conversation but for fluent translation without a dictionary. The mast essential portion of the subsidiary course is the last, use of libraries and books. There is no such wastage of modern time and talent as the inchoate, unguided character of modern libraries. If you wish to ensure that a student throw away his time turn, him into a library without a guide. And for the journalist it is an absolute necessity that he should be able to use a library on the spur of the moment, knowing at once what volumes to turn to, and what part of the volumes. No library should be without such a lecture and adviser. But in the journalists college he should teach the art of getting at the heart of a book and finding its interesting oases in a few minutes. This would be invaluable, not only for the duty of reviewing and answering correspondence, but for finding light on the thousand and one topics that thrust themselves on the journalist's attention in the cables from day to day.

Such a Course would be by no means unworthy of a diploma or a degree. The young man or woman who had gone through it and stood its tests, intellectual and moral, successfully might well be accepted as a graduate in journalism; there should be no difficulty in finding a career. Nor would it fail to relieve the newspaper proprietor in this much-newspapered country of his chief difficulties in the choice of a staff. Still better, it would organise and guard the portals of a profession, that is the most important for the spiritual destiny of our country.