Religion in Education
President William Louis Poteat, an Address
before the Southern Baptist Convention Baltimore, May, 1910
in Convention Teacher, later.
This first appearance of a report on general education in the regular program of the Convention is significant. The Convention is missionary by constitution and history. Such a report suggests a wider and deeper vision of the aim and method of Jesus. Are we beginning to see that the aim of Jesus contemplates the whole of human life, to renew and transfigure all its organs and activities? That the method of Jesus commands the whole of human life, calling into service all its organs and activities? We might have learned as much long ago. The authority and charter of our divine vocation unites missions and education in indissoluble bonds, and what God hath joined together let not conventions put asunder. For these years we have given aid and comfort to theological education, and that is well. An untrained leadership is an inefficient leadership, and ends in disaster. But to raise the general level of efficiency in the service of thekingdom can be hardly less important to the success of our adventure and
enterprise. Accordingly, the Convention is to be congratulated upon formally admitting now at length into the fellowship of its interests Christian education along side theological education.
The action is opportune. For just at the moment of a universal awakening to the absence or the inefficiency of religious and moral training, the denominational control of education is challenged by agencies of such prestige as compel attention and, in not a few minds, excite alarm.
AN INTERNATIONAL AWAKENING
The awakening to which I refer may in justice be called a moral renaissance. It has sprung out of a wide observation of the present moral condition of society the world over. In Paris, for example, there has been for the past ten years a steady increase of crime, necessitating the doubling of the apparatus of court trials to meet the excessive pressure of waiting cases. In our own city of Chicago a single year supplies an aggregate of 15,000 criminals under twenty years of age, and the crimes are marked by a bravado and excess of horror in keeping with the volcanic energy of youth. There is observable everywhere a grave moral depression - in society, in politics, in business; infidelity to trust in high
places, prostitution of public position to private ends. One of the set questions in the Australian census was, "What is your religion?" Many answered frankly, "I do not know." Others, with as much penetration as candor, replied: "Pounds, shillings, pence." The old David Crockett motto has been suitably revised for our time. It now reads, "Go right ahead, and square it afterward."
Hence, the organization of the Religions Education Association in February, 1903. Hence, the organization, in 1906, of an International Committee on Moral Training. Hence, the International Moral Education Congress, which held its first session in London in 1907, with representatives from eighteen different nations. Hence, the large place given in the programs of the National Education Association and local educational aad religious bodies to the consideration of moral and religious training in the schools. Hence, the large body of literature on the subject - more than six hundred treatises in the past half dozen years, not to speak of association proceedings and magazine articles.
The invariable conclusion of this wide inquiry and anxious reflection, is that the prevailing moral defection is to be laid on the doorstep of the home and the school. As regards the home, it is to be borne in mind
that family life has been profoundly effected by the economic revolution of recent years. A third of the population of our country is urban, and the city was made to make money in and to have fun in, not to grow children in. Most unfortunately the resulting modifications of the type of family life are unfavorable to religious training. The situation is even worse as regards the state school system, which is the sole dependence of the masses of the people. The state is everywhere dropping the function of religious instruction - in Great Britain, in Germany, more recently in France, in Russia, and in Italy. In America it has come to be accepted as axiomatic that training in religion is not a function of the state. There is universal disappointment at the results attained, and dissatisfaction with the principle itself. If, therefore, as is agreed on all hands, there is an urgent call for the reconstruction of education in accordance with the moral needs of society, the churches are manifestly the last recourse.
And yet the presence of the churches in the field of education is widely regarded as intrusion and impertinence. This attitude is in keeping with the dominant secularism of the period. One of the side results of the enorinous
increase of natural knowledge in the latter half of the last century was the general emancipation of thought, the new assertion of the individual, his independence and competency. This emancipation from religious authority joined forces with emancipation from political authority in the democratic movement, approaching in the same period its culmination, and created the secularist movement. Secularism may be defined as the exclusion of all the interests of the eternal world from all the affairs of this world. Expressions of it abound. An extreme type is seen in the Social Democratic movement of Germany, which of all conventional religious beliefs retains only the reverence for the person and teaching of Christ. There are certain benevolences clearly Christian in impulse which nevertheless prefer to have no affiliation with organized Christianity. It has been urged, indeed, that the greatest moral forces of civilization are working independently of the church. So wide and strong is the sweep of this secularist tendency that the institution of the church itself has not wholly escaped it, in some cases appearing to be in peril of lapsing into a mere lecture bureau, or medical clinic, or philanthropic agency.
But the illustration of the tendency which more practically concerns us here is the new doctrine of the state, according to which the
state is itself the social spirit, taking expression not only in the mechanism of government, but also in the institutions of religion and education. The state is the largest social category representing the whole round of life. Hence, the state is the only fit agency for the education of all the people. All other education is individualistic, divisive, narrow. The state, accordingly, takes over all grades of education. In 1816 the farmers of Indiana put into their constitution the requirement that the legislature, so soon as it became possible, must provide a system of schools from the grammar grades all the way through the university, free of tuition, and open to all. That legislation was the birth of the state system of education, which is now more or less completely represented in every state of the Union except six, and there are signs of its extension into these. The development of the system in the past few years has been most rapid. While the increase of students for the last ten years in a typical group of endowed and denominational colleges has been forty-seven per cent, in the same number of state colleges it has been 102 per cent. It is not unlikely that in the next ten years these state institutions will double their resources and prestige.
To the challenge of the state has been added recently the challenge of a great and noble benefaction.
In 1905 Mr. Carnegie established a foundation to strengthen and dignify the profession of teaching by making it possible for colleges on its accepted list to pay their professors retiring allowances. The right of a benefactor to determine the purpose which his gift shall serve is freely recognized, and Mr. Carnegie designed to aid the thoroughly worthy cause of education, rather than religion. And yet useful and honorable as the Carnegie Foundation is, it does make in practical operation a serious discrimination against the colleges which are founded and controlled by religious denominations. For the two conditions of eligibility to the benefits of the Foundation are: that the institution must be of strictly college grade as defined by the trustees of the Foundation, and that it must not be controlled by a religious denomination. Under this latter condition sixty-five per cent of the colleges and college teachers of the country are excluded. The learned President of the Foundation, moreover, in an elaborate argument, seeks to justify the exclusion, and practically rules out all denominational colleges, while formally allowing them the restricted and somewhat discreditable function of a wheel in the machinery of propagandism.
Now, what answer will the constituency of this Convention make to the challenge of the
denomination's rights in the field of education? It must reassert in this secularizing and mechanicalized time the supremacy of soul over sense, of life over living. It must proclaim anew the superlative worth of personality. It must insist that the aim of education is not learning, but character; and that there is no purifying of the deep springs of character, no reconstruction of the ideals which determine character, apart from religion. In short, religion is the principal thing for the individual and for society and the state itself. For religion in the origin and bond of all social aggregates. Religion is the mother of nations and the conservator of nations. The organizing force of the national life is not democracy; it is not community of economic interest, or fellowship in the creed of science. The organizing force of the national life is the power of the eternal world pressing close and palpitatingly upon the life of this world, subordinating individual interest to the common good. It is not an external repression, but an inward impulsion; not policemen, but God. The Indian statesman said: "It is Christ who rules British India, not the British government."
Nor is this all that is to be said of religion as the principle of social cohesion and organization. It is today transcending national boundaries and exerting its power in international
relations. Community of religious sentiments and ideals is even now leveling the barriers which separate nation from nation, as the range of these common sentiments and ideals widens, and there is growing up under our eyes, co-extensively with the spread of Christianity, the society of mankind. In the progressive nations of the world Jesus Christ is already recognized as Judge and King.
Accordingly, the largest social category is not the state, in which many human interests and activities find no expression. There is religion itself, for example. At least in modern conception, religion is no state function. Except in some Platonic republic, the state cannot invade the intimacies and sanctities of the family. Voluntary personal association and voluntary contract are clearly outside the province of the state, often overleaping state boundaries and forming a network of international social and economic relations. What, then, is the largest social category? It is the kingdom of God, which supplies to every feature of the social structure the vital principle of its organization, comprehends all life, individual and national, under the authority of its law, and sets the goal of all human endeavor in the universality of its sway.
Not only so. It must be admitted that the elements which combine to form modem culture
itself had their origin in religion. The arts and sciences sprang out of religion. Medicine, the mother science, began with the priest. Astronomy was first cultivated to ascertain what the gods had to say about the destiny of men. Architecture had its birth in the piety which would fain provide fitting abodes for the gods; and painting and sculpture adorned what architecture had provided. The first music and poetry celebrated the praises of the gods. The first philosophy was theological. Moreover, morality itself was born of religion, as it is now dependent upon religion. A primitive man did not say to his fellow: "I will not strike you, if you will not strike me." They agreed, rather, not to strike one another before the altar. Men did not decide to be courageous. They fought for the shrine, and discovered that they were courageous. Men did not resolve upon cleanliness. They purified themselves for worship, and found that they were clean. Men did not determine to be honest. They respected the divine allotment of property, and grew to be honest. Men cherished the thought of heaven, and by degrees the thought of heaven began to get itself translated into the terms of actual human life.
The fatal defect of the program of merely moral training in the schools lies in the fact that learning what is right is not doing what is right;
knowledge of duty does not supply the inspirational moral motive. To insure the righteous life, the imagination needs to be captured by the fascination of a supreme standard of excellence, the deepest emotions need to be enthralled in a new personal allegiance. In other words, what is required to insure the righteous life is religion. Religion not only prescribes the moral code, but supplies the enthusiasm and devotion which guarantee its observance. Beligion performs a double function: it defines our duty and gives us heart to do it. For us there can be no education without religion. To use Mr. Chesterton's figure, you might as well undertake to pack your grip and leave out the grip.
But all this may be admitted. The objection is lodged not against religion in education, but against the denominational type of religion in education. But I answer, there is no other type of religion. Like all vital activities, religion must take outward embodiment. In the glow of the early experience Christianity was, indeed, inchoate and structureless, but when it gathered itself together and moved out upon the conquest of evil, it organized itself; organized itself about different conceptions of the religious experience and aim; and these organizations are the Christian denominations.
Now, it may be inquired whether this inevitable
tendency to formal organization about different thought centers has defeated the aim of Christianity for the world. Quite the contrary is true. Like different individuals with peculiar personal traits, gifts, occupations and affiliations, the different denominations make their particular contribution to the saving of the world, and take their particular place in world movements, without any necessary duplication of plant and labor, and without any necessary antagonism. Duplication and antagonism there have been, but they have been due to blunders and perversions; they are not inherent in the segregation of Christendom into smaller bodies organized on the basis of particular interpretations of the Christian experience and the Christian mission. These individual organizations, in the nature of the case, are able to develop and apply, to a degree impossible in a more general relationship, the enthusiasm and energy of the men and women who find in them a congenial Christian atmosphere. And, on the other hand, any danger of the disintegration of the universal Christian body is forestalled by the unifying Christian spirit and impulse which pervade all its special organs.
The conclusion is unavoidable and manifest. Religion is not an Intruder in the field of education.
It has created that field. It is at home there, and is not to be dislodged. And the only religion in the world today effective as a social force is organized religion - that is, religion of the denominational type. Accordingly, religious work in education cannot be left wholly to the hazard of individual impulse or the limitations of public provisions, if its results are to be large and legitimate and abiding. It must be organized. The organization has actually, if not inevitably, taken effect on the basis of community of beliefs and aims. It is ill-judged and unfair to charge or to assume that association on such a basis involves of necessity in secondary or college education, the ignorance, intolerance and rancor of a narrow partisanship.
On the other hand, we cannot now deny or resist the state's privilege to provide a system of education from the primary grades to the graduate school. We do not antagonize that system. We pay our proportion of the cost of its maintenance with reasonable cheerfulness. We give to our friends who have practical tasks in that system the hand of fellowship in the common struggle with ignorance. Heaven knows we have no energy or stores to dissipate in fighting one another. We gladly recognize, moreover, the Christian work which is still done, however incidentally, in state-supported institutions, and the beauty and contagion of
individual Christian example which not infrequently shines in them. At the same time we are prepared to maintain firmly our right as a body of Christians to realize in a system of schools our conception of Christian education, without governmental restrictions or handicaps. We are prepared to insist that the state in its educational policy shall recognize the free public service which the denominational schools render the commonwealth.
Whatever educational theories others may hold, we are not meditating the surrender of ours. With unclouded self-respect and with no apologies to any group of gentlemen who, in the exercise of their cordially recognized privilege, happen to hold other opinions, we believe that the best contribution to the citizenship of the state will continue to come out of schools which, in addition to the best educational standards, maintain - not permissively or incidentally, but primarily and by original design - the warm and generous atmosphere of positive Christian teaching and guidance. The salvation and perpetuity of the civic order is dependent on the religion of the family and the denominational school. The complete secularization of education means in the end national disorder, disintegration and decay. For, in the state as in the individual,
Still doth the soul from its lone fastness high
Upon our life a ruling effluence send;
And when it fails, fight as we will, we die,
And while it lasts we cannot wholly end.
Wake Forest College, N. C.
[From The Baptist Message, SSB/SBC, 1911, p. 54-68. This book was provided by Steve Lecrone, Burton, OH. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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