Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 79

Some Aspects of the Roman Catholic Attitude towards our State System or Education

page break

Some Aspects of the Roman Catholic Attitude towards our State System or Education.

My Friends,—

I cannot doubt that you are all aware of the fact that attacks are being made on our State system of education from various ecclesiastical coigns of vantage, and that there is, too, very considerable danger of our tamely acquiescing, under the influence of ecclesiastical combines, in the supersession of out free, secular, and compulsory system. Can we contemplate with equanimity the introduction into our State schools oí elements and influences making for sectarian friction and conflict?

The Archbishop of Wellington is credited in the local press with having expressed himself the other day thus:—

"An education which does not extend to the whole man is lopsided and insufficient. An education which extends only to this world is insufficient. Hence the Catholic Church sets much store by Christian education, in order that we may be taught to fulfil all our duties. There is only one true basis of sound education, and that is religion. Separate one from the other, and you destroy real education. If you eliminate God from education, our boasted civilisation will end in failure." Now, these are weighty sentences. In fact, I am honestly of opinion that 99 per cent, of non-Catholics would readily assent to the Archbishop's view. Few, if any, non-Catholics would dispute the propriety and necessity of conducting the secular and religious side of education contemporaneously. But is there a single sound reason for suggesting that such subjects as reading, writing, arithmetic, Latin, French, or any of the subjects ordinarily taught in our primary or secondary schools, cannot be taught soundly or efficiently unless sandwiched in between lessons specifically dealing with morality and Christian doctrine? If, in suggesting that education and religion should go coupled and inseparable, the Archbishop moans that the secular and religious elements of education ought to be taught at the same time, in the same place, and by the same individuals, his suggestion must appear little other than consummate nonsense to unbiassed minds. If, on the other hand, he means that the spiritual and purely intellec- page 13 tual side of the pupils' nature should be trained and developed contemporaneously, no one is likely to challenge his statement.

Now the fact that the State makes adequate and effective provision for imparting such secular knowledge, as almost all religious organisations approve of, and under conditions necessitating very considerable moral discipline, should be of the greatest service to all the Churches—Catholic as well as Protestant. All that remains for them to do is to supplement the State secular system to the extent of providing specific moral and religious teaching at their own expense and by teachers accredited by themselves. This specific moral and religious instruction can be most economically imparted by the various Churches arranging with the Education Department for the use of the State schools (for the purpose suggested) during non-school hours.

Our existing secular system is unfair to no Church—Catholic or Protestant. There is no suggestion that our State system provides for "the whole man." The State, presumably, as well as non-Catholics, are as conscious as Catholics themselves of the necessity of imparting definite moral and religious instruction to our youth, out it (the State) is abundantly satisfied that, considering the painful differences of opinion obtaining among us as to the nature and source of moral sanctions, it is its duty to observe benevolent neutrality in the matter of religion.

Of course, some Churches are like "spoilt children"; unless they get all they want they will take nothing. They must have "an atmosphere"—in fact, a hot-house—for their plants! Such people, naturally, suffer for their "cussedness" and spiritual exclusiveness. Politics and religion, it would seem, must always beget martyrs and superior persons. This is an age of enlightened give and take—compromise—in religion, as in other matters; and the religious body that fails to recognise this fact cannot possibly hold its own (not to speak of making headway) under the pressure of the social forces and intellectual influences at work in our age. We, non-Catholics, are sorry that our Catholic fellow subjects cannot see their way to take as full advantage of our State system as non-Catholics do. There is not, or at least ought not to be, anything taught in our State schools that could cause either injustice or offence to Catholics. No Church has ever been able to make adequate provision for imparting an efficient education to its own members, not to speak of making adequate provision for a national system. In fact, such a thing as efficiency in national education was unknown until the State superseded the Churches in controlling, directing, and organising education. If the State insisted, as it might reasonably insist, that any religious body declining to take advantage of the State system so far as the purely secular part of education page 14 is concerned, be required to provide a thoroughly efficient secular education for the children belonging to that denomination at schools run by themselves, and in every district where (say) some twenty children belonging to the denomination were to be found, could our Catholic friends, or any other religious body in the Dominion, make adequate provision for the purpose? If, again, our Catholic friends were required to train their teachers (as the State might reasonably insist) on modern and scientific lines, as also to remunerate them on the same scale as State teachers, could they carry on the work oí education efficiently even with a very considerable subsidy from the Government? I am satisfied that they could not. I am firmly convinced that the Catholic Church and not a few other Churches, too, are positively sweating their teachers and clergy in the name of religion, and using wealth acquired from exploited labour for doubtful political and ecclesiastical purposes. It is high time that eductional institutions run by Catholic and other Churches were subject to our Labour laws. I do not think it could possibly be regarded as unreasonable that this should be insisted on. We live in an age when it is absolutely unnecessary—aye, a positive scandal—that any part of education should be left to private charity or exploited labour. The days of charity and its handmaid mendicancy in religion and education are tapering to a close. It is beyond the pale of controversy that where Churches have attempted to control and organise education the great majority of the people have been very indifferently educated or hopelessly illiterate.

Under our existing secular system our Catholic friends have no reasonable cause for complaint. They cannot possibly provide an adequate and efficient substitute for the State system for the children belonging to their own denomination throughout the Dominion. Why, then, should they not be grateful to the State for relieving them of the purely secular part of education, and provide (as they could do most economically and efficiently) for specific instruction in morality and religion, by taking advantage (as other religious denominations are beginning to do) of the State organisation. The State schools can be made available for the purpose, during non-school hours, at a merely nominal cost.

It is really amusing to find the learned Archbishop declaring that it is a matter of conscience with Catholics to object to our so-called secular system, while it is not a question of conscience with non-Catholics. Une would like to know what claim he can have to diagnose the non-Catholic conscience. Non-Catholics, while recognising the propriety of educating the whole man, spiritually as well as intellectually, have the commonsense to see that in the divided state of Christendom as to the sources of moral and religious sanctions, specific instruction in morality and religion had better be left to the page 15 parents and the Churches. This seems an eminently reasonable and fair arrangement, yet our Catholic friends keep crying: "No compromise. It is a matter of conscience with us." Catholics, and what are called Churchmen, often laugh at the tender thing known as "the Nonconformist conscience." To non-Catholics, I fear that what Catholics call conscience is but the acquired moral sense of theologically spoilt children.

I have no hesitation in stating that Catholics have for many years been accorded exceptionally favourable and considerate treatment in almost every part of the British Empire, and I think that it is high time that they showed a disposition to help our statesmen towards a solution of such problems as that of education, where judicious and reasonable compromise would be of exceptional value. However, Catholics, presumably, know their own business; but if they keep on in New Zealand and elsewhere demanding everything (in their own way) in education and religion, they will probably find that even British patience will soon be exhausted.

We have heard somewhat ominous threats of an impending political combine on the part of Catholics. Unfortunately, Catholics have never been able to benefit appreciably by their past experience. The most obvious lessons of history seem lost upon them. Presumably, they are calculating on some miraculous intervention of Providence to save the situation for then. One thing is, however, clear to every student of history and sociology, that when Catholics take to political intrigue a politico-religious Nemesis dogs them to their eventual doom. The Continent of Europe is teaching us how to deal with irreconcilables in politics and religion. The State is founded on a natural and rational ethic (the product and resultant of an ever widening and developing social and civic experience). When the interests of a religious cult go counter to the State ethic, sooner or later the religious cult conies to grief. When ecclesiastical bodies, Catholic or non-Catholic, take to ways that are dark in political manipulation, it may be necessary for the State, from a sense of self-preservation, to ask ecclesiastical intriguers, not merely to take up their beds, but to take up their schools and churches, and walk. The New Zealand Government cannot well conduct such intriguers over our frontiers, as had to be done elsewhere not long ago, yet I am confident that it could solve the problem without resorting to such expedients as the Noyades (Carlyle's Drownages) of the French Revolution. Perhaps it would meet the case if the Napoleon of the would-be ecclesiastico-political intriguers—our worthy fellow-citizen, Mr. Martin Kennedy—could be confined for a term of years to some such St. Helena as Soames Island!

One thing, at any rate, is beyond dispute—history witnesses to it at every turn—when ecclesiastical organisations meddle in politics or identify themselves with a political party page 16 their social and religious influence is seriously prejudiced, and their very existence in jeopardy.

The State has for a long time been seriously handicapped by injudicious interference on the part of the clergy and denominationalists in matters that he beyond their legitimate domain. Personally, I think the State should rate all ecclesiastical property in the same way as other property. There is no justification whatever for its exemption. The State accords the Churches various privileges and exemptions, and the Churches too often show their gratitude by ecclesiastical intrigue in politics. This sort of thing cannot go on indefinitely.

Well, as I have already said, the present secular education system is unfair to no one—Catholic or Protestant. But were our Government foolish enough to permit what are known as Bible-lessons to be conducted in our public schools during ordinary school hours, the position would be completely changed. The Catholics would have a real grievance. Their claim to a subsidy or capitation for the secular part of their work—if efficiently done—would under such altered circumstances be eminently reasonable. It would be a gross injustice to deny them their claim. If, however, Catholics are foolish enough to help a Protestant combine to get its way in the matter of Bible-reading, etc., in schools, it is not at all likely that this combine will be generous enough to concede what may be regarded as the reasonable claims of Catholics as to capitation or a subsidy. The Catholics have recently fallen between two stools in Australia, and they have since then been shouting themselves hoarse in a demand for justice. If our Catholic friends here come by the same fate—as they seem likely to do—we non-Catholics, who are Secularists purely from expediency, and from a consciousness, under existing circumstances of the necessity for compromise, may well pity them, while conceding that they heartily deserve their fate, inasmuch as they seem to be deliberately engineering a grievance.

I do not think that I do the Archbishop of Wellington an injustice when I infer from his address that he is of opinion that religion and education are absolutely separated in, and God eliminated from, our national system of education. Is this really so? Three-fourths of all rational religion is concerned with morality. To say that the moral discipline in vogue in our State schools is not of the very essence of a truly catholic or universal ethic and religion, but indicates a very antediluvian conception of both ethics and religion. Is there any reasonable warrant for suggesting that God, or the name of God, is eliminated from our national education? I have no hesitation in saying that there is none whatever. The Israelites could be profoundly religious, and yet not give articulate expression to the name of their God. We have Jesus' words: "Not every page 17 one that saith unto me Lord, Lord, shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven." If it is desirable that our young people should receive more definite instruction in the phenomena of morality and religion than is provided in the home and the secular class-room, the individual churches can make ample provision for this laudable purpose without dragging the State or its teachers into what is inevitably a sectarian arena. "There must," as Sir Henry Campbell Bannerman would put it, "be no statutory foothold for sectarian privilege in our public school system." I am confident that our Government will never allow themselves or us to be dragged at the chariot wheels of sectarians.

It was never contemplated by the State that our national system of education should relieve parents or churches of all responsibility in connection with education. The State recognises that it is the duty of parents and the Churches to cooperate with the State in equipping our youth for the work of life, and disciplining them into making the most and best of their lives from the points of view of education and religion as well as of social service.

No doubt we have to exercise great charity and forbearance in dealing with the Catholic conscience. We know that every human conscience is very largely the product of training and education. Catholics are taught from infancy to regara the moral law as imposed from without, and not, directly or indirectly, by their own moral judgment. The Church is for them the custodian of a special revelation, in which even what is called "The Bible" is but an item or incident. "Reluctant obedience," as Professor Herrmann, of Marburg, puts it, "passes for morality with Rome; but we (Protestants) call it sin." Morality to our Catholic friends is but another name for obedience to law in a theocracy. The older Protestants regarded the moral law as derived directly from the Bible, Catholics regard the moral law as only indirectly (through a specially commissioned priesthood) derived from the Bible. I need scarcely say that no professor or accredited authority on moral philosophy in any free university in the world to-day considers that the Bible, or any Church, has anything whatever to do with the ultimate basis or sanctions of morality. Right is right and good is good in the very nature of things, and not by virtue of any revelation or Bible or Church. Experience alone determines in its personal, family, civic, and social implications, what morality really is, and so leads to the codification of moral and other law. The great leaders in the world of thought to-day—the moving spirits in what we may call the New Protestantism—are abundantly satisfied that, while the moral law is derived from the nature of things, and so is rightly called the Law of God, it must yet assert itself from within the individual consciousness. In other words, our page 18 own moral sense must recognise its value and validity, and our moral judgment pronounce it good and true. While, however, Catholics and Protestants of the old school, keep educating our youth into accepting a supernaturalistic basis for morality, we are bound to have great and painful differences of opinion as to what constitutes religion and morality, and also as to how to deal most effectively with the moral and religious training of the young.

We must, therefore, exercise great patience and forbearance in dealing with the Churches and their attitudes in this connection, conscious as we are that modern science and modern knowledge are slowly but surely making against their point of view. Many of our Churches (Protestant as well as Catholic) have yet to learn that there can be no virtue in believing what is incredible or self-contradictory; as, also, that in religion and morality nothing can be of real value to us unless it appeals directly to our intelligence and moral judgment.

Our difficulties in regard to what is of value in religion and morality arise mainly from the fact that our clergy (Catholic and Protestant) have their heads stuffed from infancy with primitive ideas as to religion and morality, and long before they can have acquired minds of their own (as we say) they commit themselves to various irrational ideas in theology; and even take solemn vows to devote their whole life to the promulgation of these irrational ideas. Jesus had not the presumption to take to teaching or preaching until He knew His own and His Father's mind, and acquired adult experience. If no man was allowed to take holy orders until he was thirty years of age (the age when Jesus began His ministry), we would very soon have a rational theology, and with it a system of education rational in its secular and religious implications.

decorative feature