« AnteriorContinua »
vague in its beliefs, ornate but meaningless in its services, with a ministry open to all and no tests for preachers. Such a religion as this would have a paramount attraction for the majority of Englishmen, and we may hereafter find equality rejected as standing in the way of this new Established Church. Canon Henson might then find fresh ground for satisfaction in the circumstance that the Ritualist or Evangelical minorities who still cling to their old faiths are too unpopular to get any share of ecclesiastical appointments, and too feeble to insist with any chance of success on the discredited principle
Pay all or pay none.' Taking the present and the future into account, there can be no question, I think, that if we are to have equality we must fight for it. It will not come of itself.
But is it worth fighting for? The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Gloucester tell us not only that it is not worth fighting for, but that it is not worth having even as a gift. To put forward a claim for absolute equality is to destroy all hope of any settlement,' to 'bang, bolt, and bar the door against a Conference.' It is to abandon the Church's control over religious teaching, and to give the parson no right of entry into Council schools. And an obstinate minority has chosen to court these disasters at a moment when there is a better chance than there has ever been of obtaining
access into every school in the land 'as well as some security as to the qualification of those who give religious teaching in the Council schools.' It is a serious thing to insist on equality in the face of such warnings as these; and if equality stood for nothing more than a cut-and-dried theory constructed with a single eye to logical consistency, I should be quite ready to let it go. But much more than this is at stake. I believe that if equality goes, whatever hold the Church of England has, or can hope to get, on the nation will go too. On those who have passed beyond childhood that hold is notoriously weak even now. We are asked to weaken it farther by giving up the children. Some weeks back a great deal was made of a supposed admission of the Bishop of Birmingham's—that parents, if left to themselves, would choose undenominational teaching for their children; and, as commonly happens, his correction has had far less circulation than the original error. What he really said was that parents, if left to themselves, would choose the established teaching whatever that might be. If Church of England teaching were offered them by the State in all elementary schools, they would in most cases choose that; if undenominational teaching be offered them by the State, they will choose that. This is the natural and reasonable thing for them to do. They have in the first instance a general notion that children should be taught some religion. They do not greatly feel the want of it for themselves, but they think it well that what gives other people, some even among their acquaintance, a good deal of satisfaction should at least be offered to their children. If they are further asked
what religion they would like their children taught, they will say, in most cases, the religion taught in the school—or, in the language of the children, ' teacher's religion.' If they say this now, when all forms of religious teaching have in theory a claim on the rates, they will say it only more firmly, and more as a matter of course, when 'teacher's religion ' becomes the one religion that the State pays for and probably the one religion that the State allows its servants to teach. When parents are not greatly drawn in any other direction, the direction suggested to them by the State will be the one they will follow, and the State cannot give a plainer suggestion than by establishing in every public elementary school a specific form of religious teaching. To counsel the abandonment of the claim to equality is to ask the Church to acquiesce in the withdrawal from her influence of the coming generations.
But what virtue is there in equality to prevent this disaster ? There is this. The influence of the State is no longer exerted in favour of any one form of religious teaching. The parent is left to his own unfettered choice between various forms. Either he will have no predisposition for one form over another, or he will have a predisposition founded on personal preference. In the first case all religions will start fair. Chance or zeal may give one or other an advantage as regards the degree of favour shown it by the parents, but this is inevitable in a world where accident and individual energy play so large a part. In the second case the determining consideration will be the parent's wish, and this is all that we need concern ourselves with. If that wish is for simple Bible teaching, no one has any right, no one ought to have any wish, to say it nay. This is my angwer to the very fair question asked by the Bishop of Gloucester in the Representative Church Council. There were many, he said, in the Council who earnestly desired to pay for all the religious teaching in elementary schools. There were others who had never concealed their desire for the system whereby the State paid for no religious education but gave opportunity for all. He would like to ask those who were anxious to see that system carried out whether, if the other alternative was offered to them and the State paid for all, they would accept it. Speaking for myself I certainly would. I am a firm believer in what is called by some the secular solution and by others State neutrality. I am convinced that the State never touches religion except to injure it. However good its intentions may be, the result is determined by forces which are not under its control. The occasional exceptions to this law are only exceptions in appearance. The State never does good to religion, but where a Church is established it may occasionally save it from doing harm to itself. But questions of this kind relate to expediency, not to principle. I desire to see the State altogether dissociated from the teaching of religion because I believe that religion would benefit by the change. If the contrary can be shown, if I can be convinced that a system of concurrent endowment would be good for religion, I know of no reason why I should reject it. On the other hand, that all religions should stand on the same footing, so far as the action of the State goes, is a matter not of expediency only, but of principle. As such it admits neither of concession nor of compromise. Provided, however, that equality is secured it is & secondary question in what way it is secured. No man has—to my thinking—any right to call himself an advocate of equality who is not prepared to go this length. He may prefer concurrent endowment, just as I prefer State neutrality. But if equality is to him a matter of principle he must stand by it at all costs and accept it in any shape. The concurrent endowment man must be ready to accept secularism, just as the secularist must be ready to accept concurrent endowment, supposing that he cannot get equality at any less price. Each is free to dislike the form of equality desired by the other, but each must be prepared to accept the alternative solution rather than put up with inequality. I quite agree with the Bishop of Southwark that the demand for equality is often stated in a very misleading way. What we ought to ask for is not equality between schools but equality between kinds of teaching. It does not mean that Churchmen are to keep Church schools to themselves and to have an equal share in the management of Council schools. It was this element of inconsistency that gave some recent speeches in the Representative Church Council a curious air of unreality. When the Bishop of Birmingham accepted the Dean of Canterbury's amendment, and substituted ‘so far as possible' for 'absolute,' I fancy & good many of the members hoped that equality so far as possible might stand for equality so far as it makes for Churchmen. I believe this hope to be altogether baseless. Equality, when weget it, will mean freedom to give various forms of religious teaching in the same school, whether at the cost of the State or at the cost of the denomination. The majority of Churchmen will I hope in the end be satisfied with this. Religion will mean the religious lesson. Churchmen who wish for more than this—who desire 'atmosphere ' as well as teachingmust be prepared to put their hands deeper into their pockets and contract out.
What is it, then, that makes equality, which is in itself so simple and obvious a right, an object of such general hostility ? With some * Liberal' Churchmen the explanation is that they dislike a particular variety of religious teaching which they think likely to flourish under equality. Under equality the battle will be to the zealous : the kingdom of the school will be like the kingdom of heaven, at least in this, that the violent will take it by force: and Ritualists are credited with a great deal of this force-with more, probably, than they really possess. I am not at all sure that this opinion is well founded. I am inclined to think that if the schools were really thrown open we might see some unexpected developments of religious enthusiasm, and that Churchmen might find their most formidable rivals not in the undenominationalists but in the Salvation Army. However this may be, it is not the business of the State to preach point de zèle, or to stand ready to throw the weight of its influence on the side of the most indifferent party. Others, again, start from the assumption—an assumption I am not concerned to disputethat secularism is likely to prove in the end the only practicable form of equality, and then go on to ask what will become of the residuum-of the children whose parents have had the opportunity of choosing between various forms of religious teaching and have let that opportunity go unused ? When the decision is left to the parent, what is to happen when the parent will not decide ? I believe that this class, if indeed it deserves to be called a class, will be a very small one.
I believe that most parents will wish then, as they wish now, that their children shall be taught some religion; that when they find that, in order to secure this, they must put their wishes into word or writing, voice or pen will not be wanting; that even where they are wanting, the wish of the child will often supply the missing motive. Children are gregarious and, as Mr. Birrell has told us, have no desire to form part of a minority. So far as they have any share in deciding the question they will in most cases go with their companions. That Nonconformists should shrink from the secular solution does not surprise me. They have not the machinery which the Church can call into play for the purpose of teaching their children, and this will in the first instance give the Church an advantage. What is really wonderful is that the very men who are likely to benefit by the acceptance of equality as the foundation of our educational system should be its most consistent and alarmed opponents. With some of them no doubt the explanation is to be found in a genuine love of undenominationalism. It is the kind of religion they like best. But they have no more right to ask Parliament to legislate with special reference to their tastes than a Ritualist or a Roman Catholic or a Jew has. By what provision of the British constitution is undenominationalism secured in the possession of a privilege which is accorded to no other religion ?
A second form that this objection takes is at first sight more serious. The parent, it is said, would not send his children to school at nine in the morning when he was free to keep them at work at home, or draw wages for them outside, for half an hour longer. I believe, on the contrary, that in the larger number of cases habit and the wish of the children to do what other children are doing would be a sufficient check on this tendency. If this restraint was found inadequate, the true supplement to it would lie in a further restriction of child-labour. The difficulty would be completely met, as regards parents, by making it illegal to employ children of school age after 8.30 A.M. As regards children, I observe that the natural distaste for school which is so generally attributed to them, where the thing taught them is religion, is only operative on week-days. We hear nothing of it where Sunday-schools are concerned. It is no part of my present purpose, however, to dwell on this special difficulty. It belongs not to equality in general, but to a particular method of securing equality. If the religious lesson were given by the teachers of all religions alike within school hours, children would come to them just as they do now.
I know quite well that to the majority of Englishmen all this talk about equality is only much ado about nothing. I recognise in many of the speeches on the other side an honest effort to treat the demand respectfully. If those who make them were perfectly frank they would probably say something of this sort : We should be quite ready to concede your contention if we were living in a world governed by pure theory. As things are, it seems to us quite out of place. The educational controversy has to be settled somehow.
The present plan of supporting all forms of religious teaching out of the rates has proved unworkable. The Government now propose to support only one form—that of simple Bible teaching. This is not an unfair plan, because the only fault alleged against this teaching is that it is imperfect. If it only goes a little way, the road it travels is still one common to all forms of Christianity. Consequently no one is asked to pay for the teaching of a religion which he thinks untrue. Any demand in the direction of further denominational teaching we are ready to meet, provided that the teaching is paid for by those who believe in it. What can be fairer than a plan which makes all pay for so much of Christianity as all accept, and leaves each denomination to pay for what it wants in addition?' This line of argument only wants one thing to be quite convincing—a closer agreement with facts. That it is true of the majority of Englishmen I am quite willing to admit. They are undenominationalists to a man. But it takes no account of minorities, and it is to the disregard of minorities that well-nigh every religious catastrophe may be traced. I say nothing about Jews, because Jewish parents have always shown a praiseworthy recognition of the importance of religious instruction outside the elementary school, while inside that school certain negative concessions have, I believe, been always made to their scruples. Added to this, it seems easier to most of us to deal fairly by another religion than by another variety of our own religion. But when we come to Christians we are at once confronted by the Roman Catholic body. They will not hear of simple Bible teaching as the foundation of their religion. It seems to be generally assumed, however, that some way of satisfying them will be discovered ; and I am quite of this opinion. They have two things in their favour which count for much in politics—they are all of one mind, and they know what that