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首页 » 儿童英文小说 » The Century of the Child » CHAPTER VII RELIGIOUS INSTRUCTION
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At the present moment the most demoralising factor in education is Christian religious instruction. What I mean by this is principally catechism, Scripture history, theology, and church history. Even earnest Christians have said, regarding the ordinary instruction in these subjects, that nothing shows better how deeply religion is rooted in man's nature than the fact that "religious education" is not able to destroy religion.

But beside this, I believe that even a more living, a more actual instruction in Christianity injures the child. Children should bring themselves by themselves to live in the patriarchal world of the Old Testament; indeed, in the world of the New Testament as well. This can be done best in the form of children's Bibles. These works will be treasured by children; they will find in them infinite material for nourishing the imagination and the emotions. But this can only be done by[Pg 285] allowing children to read the Bible undisturbed, without the need of pedagogical or dogmatic explanation. At home this book, like other children's books, should be only talked about and explained when the child requests it. It should never be treated as a school book or appear on the school desk. If the child gets impressions in this way from the Bible, freed from all other authority, apart from the subjective one of the impressions themselves, the myths of the Bible will no more contradict the rest of his instruction, than the Scandinavian story of creation or the Greek legends of the gods.

But the most dangerous of all educational mistakes in influencing humanity, is due to the fact, that children are now taught the Old Testament account of the world as absolute truth, although it wholly contradicts their physical and historical instruction. Besides children learn to regard the morality of the New Testament as absolutely binding, while its commands are everywhere seen to be transgressed by the child, the moment he takes his first step into life. Our whole industrial and capitalistic society rests on a contradiction of the Christian command to love one's neighbour as one's self. The capitalistic axiom is[Pg 286] that every man is nearest neighbour to himself.

The eyes of children are here and in similar cases, clear-sighted in their simplicity. At a tender age they are able to observe whether their surroundings are in living accord with Christian teaching. From a four-year-old child, with whom I was talking about Jesus' commandment to love one another, I received the reply, "If Jesus really said so, Papa is no Christian." Before long the child gets into conflict with his instructors and with the commands of Christianity. A small child in a Swedish city took the word of Jesus about charity to heart. Not only his playthings, but his clothes he gave to the poor; his parents cured, by corporal punishment, this practical type of Christianity. A teacher who was impressing on a small girl in a Finnish city the commandment to love one's enemies, received as an answer that this was impossible, for no one in Finland could love Bobrikoff.

I know the sophism used in both cases to overcome the invulnerable logic of the child; but I also know how these sophisms make hypocrisy so natural among Christians, that it is now unconscious. It would take a new Kirkegaard to shake up our consciences.[Pg 287] Everywhere Rousseau's words hold true, "The child gets high principles to direct him, but he is forced by his surroundings to act according to petty principles, every time he wishes to put the high ones into practice." He goes on to say people have innumerable "ifs" and "buts," by which the child has to learn that great principles are only words, that the reality of life is something quite different.

The dangerous thing is not that the ideal of Christianity is high; it comes from the fact that every ideal in its essence is unattainable. The nearer we get to it the more lofty it is. This is the characteristic of every ideal. But the demoralising feature in Christianity as an ideal is, that it is presented as absolute, while man as a social being is obliged to transgress it every day. Besides he is taught in his religious instruction, that as a fallen being he cannot in any case attain the ideal, although the only possibility of his living righteously in temporal things, and happily in the world to come, depends on his capacity for realising it.

In this net of unsolvable contradictions, generation after generation has seen its ideal of belief obscured. Gradually each new generation has learned not to take its new ideal seriously. As to the cowardly or braggart[Pg 288] concessions to the idiocies of fashion, and the follies by which people are ruined in order to live according to their position, among other psychological grounds for man's lack of steadiness must be placed, as its ultimate cause, the following: The child, along with religion, has breathed in the conviction that opinions are one thing, actions another. This experience goes through the whole of life, even in the case of those who have lost the conviction that the Christian religion is absolute. The free-thinker is married, has his children baptised, and allows them to be confirmed, without considering whether he is forced to it by his own wish, or the wish of doing like other people. The republican sings the royal hymn, sends loyal salutations by telegraph, accepts decorations,—but I must break off, otherwise I should have to enumerate all the small acts of insincerity to one's self, of which the daily life of most people consists, and which are defended under the name of non-essentials; I could never get to the end. This is not the way the Christian martyrs thought who might have freed themselves from death by casting a few grains of incense on the emperor's altar. Two grains of incense,—what an unimportant matter, thinks the modern man, and with quiet[Pg 289] conscience he daily sacrifices to many gods in whom he does not believe.

How illogical Protestantism is too, and yet for so long it possessed a spiritually educative power, while its dualism was unsuspected, while one with full sincerity gave to holiday and work day its due share. But now that a new Protestantism is come to life within the fold of Protestantism, this method of speaking in two voices is deeply demoralising.

Piece by piece has been torn down that system of teaching which the Catholic church built up, so wonderfully adapted to the psychological needs of the majority of people. It formed its fundamental creeds, just as they still remain, on the deepest experiences of mankind. But Protestantism is ever looking back from the results of its own handiwork.

In home, in the school, in the high school, during military service, in office work, everywhere passive dependence is insisted on under the name of discipline, discretion, faithfulness to duty. And like all the fine words, by which the living souls of men are turned into the slaves of discipline, these terms exalt esprit de corps, and pass over really serious faults. Discipline means subordinating one's self to every crude force. Only when all Protestants[Pg 290] really become actual Protestants, and refuse to receive the greatest good of life, their religion, through authority, will they begin even in social and political questions to attain an independent opinion of their own. As teachers and leaders, they will secure for school children, and for students, for officers and for officials, the freedom in word and deed that is the right of the citizen and the man. Men and women, who in their private life are strictly honourable, have learnt, in general questions, to put their thoughts, their acts, under the command of a leader, and above all they have learnt to do this in the name of religious belief.

The courage to construct one's own opinion in everything that makes the essential worth of life, but chiefly in one's religious belief, the power to express it, the will of making some sacrifice for it, all these give man a new share of civilisation and culture. As long as education and social life do not consciously forward this kind of courage, power, and will, the world will remain as it is, a parade ground of stupidity, crudeness, force, and selfishness, no matter whether radicals or conservatives, the democratic or aristocratic elements, have the upper hand.[Pg 291]

The most demoralising of all principles of belief was the discouraging teaching that human nature was fallen and incapable of reaching holiness by its own effort—the teaching that one could only come through grace and forgiveness of sins into a proper relation with temporal and eternal things. For those below the ordinary level, this position of grace produced spiritual stagnation, not to speak of the business people, who daily allowed the blood of Jesus to wipe out their day's debit in the score of morality. Only those who were naturally superior increased in holiness on being convinced that they were children of God in Christ. Mankind, on the whole, showed the deep demoralisation of a double morality. This dualism commenced as soon as the first Christians ceased to expect the return of Jesus,—an expectation which brought their life into real unity with his teaching. But this double morality has for nineteen hundred years retained man's soul and the social order in practical heathenism. Although some pure and great spirits really received aid from Christianity in their longings for infinity, and although in the Middle Ages many strong hearts tried seriously to realise its teaching, yet the majority of mankind lived[Pg 292] and lives still in wavering irresolution. This is the result of having no place to anchor to while the citizens of antiquity had an ethic, which could be translated into reality and could turn them into sincere, steadfast personalities.

Since nineteen hundred years have proved that there is no possibility, in a humanly constructed society, of living according to the teaching of Jesus, as a practical, infallible rule of holiness, man can escape this immoral duplicity only in one way: the way already travelled over by many separate individuals, who with Prometheus cry out, "Hast thou not, thyself, completed all, O holy glowing heart!" In other words, these individuals have become convinced that Christianity is the product of humanity. Just as little as any other product of humanity does it exhaust absolute and eternal truth.

When men cease to teach their children belief in an eternal providence, without whose will no sparrow falls from the roof, they will be able, instead of this, to imprint on the minds of children the new religious conception of the divinity of a world, proceeding according to law. The new morality will be built on this new religious idea. It will be filled with[Pg 293] reverence for the absolute conjunction of cause and effect—a connection which no grace can remove. Man's actions will really be directed by this certainty. He will not rock himself to sleep in any sort of hope, based on providence or a reconciliation, able to defer surely fixed effects. This new morality, strengthened by the realities of life, admits of logical consequences. No single command of this teaching needs to remain an empty phrase. In its system, too, there will be a place to apply all the eternal profound words uttered by Jesus or by other great human souls. These words will ever furnish further material for application, which is the same as saying material for self-application. Yet the application will be worked out in complete freedom. Each word will be used as furnishing the material just suited to that style which men wish to apply to the architecture of their personality. Yet neither the words nor the examples of one or the other teacher will be taught as absolutely binding.

The soul of the child will not be stained by tears of repentance for sins nor by the fear of hell. It will not be stained by a realism without ideas and without ideals, by the contemptuous mistrust, which the mouldering[Pg 294] effects of fine words leave behind, like cold damp spots. The weak, as well as the strong, will progress in the happy and responsible belief in their own personality, as their only source of help. The pulse of their purpose will be strong and warm with red blood. They will not be forced to humility; they will not accept even equality with all others, or with any other one. On the contrary they will be strengthened in their right, to give their own individual stamp to their joys, their sufferings, and their works. They will be warned to do their best because it is their own; to seek their highest good, by drawing their own boundaries at the place where the rights of others begin.

While the home and the school make compromises between two opposed views of life, people obtain from neither of them any real good for the education of children. I have already shown how in one and the same school religious instruction and a certain amount of knowledge and love for nature as well as history can be communicated. In one and the same school the course of natural development and history can be taught in connection with instruction in religious history. In this instruction Judaism and Christianity will re[Pg 295]ceive the first place. So the reverence and love children were wont to acquire for the personality and morality of Jesus, previously obtained in the Bible, can be increased. Guided by sincere and serious purposes one can select either plan. But, during religious instruction, to make Moses and Christ the absolute teachers of truth, and in the hours devoted to natural history, to expound Darwinism, cause more than anything else that want of logic, that moral laxity and flaccidity that can effect nothing and want nothing. Everything I have learnt, since these words were written, has strengthened a hundred fold my previous convictions that the most essential thing is not, what kind of view of life we have—this may be important enough too—but that we have enough capacity of faith to appropriate for ourselves some view of life, enough force to bring it to reality in life. But nothing works more depressingly on the ethical energy of growing generations than the dualistic view of life, received at the present time at school. The school too must exercise its choice; there must be no compromise between two schemes of education and two views of life, if the strength of will and the power of faith in young people is not to be broken. The ques[Pg 296]tion of a compromise is in this case not a question of application; it is a most important question of principle in education.

Since I set down these words, many points of view have been brought out in this connection. One which made a sensation when it was published, in 1890, was Professor Dodel's book, Moses or Darwin? The author showed how deeply Darwinism was implanted in science and in civilisation; how popular education was restricted, because it was kept remote from the scientific views of the present day and forced into the circle of ecclesiastical ideas. Religious instruction is simply a crime against the psychological law of development. For children are taught by a theological system to think about abstract conceptions, while they are in no condition to do it. The worst is, he said, that in high schools the theory of development is now taught as scientific truth, while in the common schools, built and maintained by the same government, the myth of the Mosaic story of creation continues to be taught, in the sharpest contrast with what science and living nature teach the child. This is an immoral and dishonest state of affairs that must be brought to an end.[Pg 297]

It is my deepest conviction that man, without religion in the emotional element of his nature, can pursue no ideal ends, cannot see beyond his own personal interest, cannot realise great purposes, cannot be ready to sacrifice himself. Religious enthusiasm broadens our soul, binds us to the acts we hold as ideals. But because Christianity weighs upon the soul and can no longer be the connecting link of all factors in our conduct, earnest men are abandoning it more and more, influenced by purely religious reasons. Such men should not have their children brought up as Christians, under the excuse that the child requires Christianity. Here, as in other cases, in which adults are not agreed about what the child needs, we should try to get, not from adults but from children themselves, some information about their real needs. In this way we can learn that the child himself begins at a very early period to be concerned with the eternal riddles of mankind, to be troubled with the questions of whence and whither. At the same time one discovers that the sincere and honest childish nature is opposed to the Christian explanation of the world, until the child's sincerity is dulled and he either takes without question what is taught, or in his own soul[Pg 298] denies what his lips must repeat, or finally allows his heart to be possessed by the only nourishment offered to his religious needs.

My own recollections of childhood caused me to make observations of the religious ideas of children at an early period. I have now before me comprehensive accounts of this investigation, going back twenty-five years. I recollect my own fierce hate against God, when I, at the age of six years, heard of the death of Jesus being caused by God's demand for an atonement, and at ten years I recall my denial of God's providence, when a young workman died far away from his wife and his five children, to whom his existence was so necessary. My brooding about the existence of God took on this occasion the form of a challenge. I wrote in the sand, "God is dead." In doing so I thought, If there is a God, he will kill me now with a thunderbolt. But since the sun continued to shine, the question was answered for the time being; but it soon turned up again. I had no other religious instruction than reading the Bible on Sunday, preaching on Sunday, and reading from the catechism, which, by the way, was never explained. Yet the New Testament belonged to my play books; I learnt in it to love[Pg 299] Jesus as profoundly as other great personalities of whom I read. But during the confirmation period, I received explanations of the Bible; in them every point, every name in the Gospel was explained, every sentence made the basis of hair-splitting distinctions, to show the fulfilment of prophecies and the edifying hidden meaning of every word, that formerly seemed so simple. The dogma of the Trinity for example was shown to be contained in the second verse of Genesis. This was a terribly sad discovery for me, that the living book of my childish heart and my childish imagination could be so stone dead. That religious indifference is a frequent result of religious instruction, that spiritual maladies come from the desire to convert the souls of children, numerous proofs can be given. I have heard children of six years speak with holy horror of their four-year-old brother who dug with a spade on Sunday. On the other hand I have heard a six-year-old child who was dragged in one day to three church services ask after reflection whether it was not more tolerable to go to hell immediately.

The Judaic Christian conception of a creative and sustaining providence, which gives the fullest perfection to all things, is so absolutely[Pg 300] opposed to all that experience and evolution teaches us about existence, that one cannot even conceive of the possibility of holding both ideas theoretically at the same time. Much less can one practically unite them by the paste of compromise. The child with sharp-sighted simplicity does not allow himself to be deceived. If we do not wish to speak the truth then let us not speak to children about life at all—life in its unity and diversity, its manifold creative acts, its process of continuous creation, its eternal divine subjection to law.

But this means that it is impossible to save the Christian God for children, after the child begins to think about this God, in whom he is taught blind confidence. Nor can the child be prepared in this way for the new conception of God with its religious, its uniting and elevating power, I mean for the conception of a God whose revealed book is the starry heavens, and whose prophetic sight is in the unfathomable sea, and in the deeps of man's heart, the God who is in life and is life. Nothing shows better how imperfect is the real belief of modern thinkers, than the fact that they always teach their children a system which they do not wish to live by spiritually themselves, but[Pg 301] which they hold as indispensable for the moral and social future of the child.

When we pass from the conception of providence to the conception of sin, we find in children the same natural logic. A small girl, an only child, asked: "How could God allow his only child to be killed? You could not have done it to me!" And a small boy said, "It is a very good thing for us that the Jews crucified Christ, so that nothing happened to us." These are both poles of an emotional and a practical way of looking at the Atonement. Within them all similar circumferences are drawn. To a more comic and na?ve sphere of ideas belongs the proposal of a small girl to call the Virgin Mary God's wife. Also there is the story of a boy who spoke in school of Our Lord and the two other Lords, meaning the Trinity.

From the classes in Bible history and