THE BIBLE IN SCHOOLS.
To the Editor.
Sib, —I see by to-day’s telegrams that Sir W. Fox has presented a petition to the House praying for religious teaching in schools, and further that he has moved —“ That the Education Act be amended to provide permissive powers being granted to Education Boards to introduce Bible reading in schools, subject to time-table and a conscience clause.” This motion has, of course, been condemned, principally by Mr. Holiest on, who says that the introduction of the Bible would tend to destroy the national system of education which the colony aimed at. There were other members who spoke to the motion who also condemned it, notably our “ drugo-phobic ” local member, Mr. A. Saunders, who seems to have a terrible antipathy to lawyers, doctors, and parsons, and everything relative to them. Some twelve months ago Otago discussed largely the question of Bible reading in our public schools, but as nothing seemed to be able to be done the interest died out. The subject has once more been opened up, I am glad to see, and I think we may expect some good to accrue this time. Sir W. Fox, in moving his proposition, contended that the Bible was the only book expressly excluded from the State school teaching, and I must say that the presence of the Bible in pur State schools is conspicuous only by its absence, and this, if I remember correctly, is to be attributed to tire fact that the clause of the Act which caused its expulsion was hastily carried through the Assembly without the members having appealed to the sense of their constituences in the matter, and so flagrant was this breach, of order that Mr. Macandrew rose up and foretold a reaction, which in due course did take place, more especially in Otago, but exciting considerable comment both favorable and adverse all over the colony. Now, I should like to ask what all this glib tirade against the Bible reading amounts to 1 Simply the question with the statement that as reading the Bible without comment would do no good, therefore the Bible must go. Now, it is just simply this reading without comment that is claimed for by the Bible reading party as at least some acknowledgment of the presence of God in their assemblies. In all the parade there is made of the numerous sects of the colony, the Bible reading question is resolved into a dispute between two parties—Protestants and Catholics, not all Protestants, for there are some of these (nominally so) who would hardly be moved if they saw the Bible burnt by the public hangman; but there is a class of conscientious Protestants, and these I presume are not in a minority in this colony, and are their consciences in this matter of no account at all 1 Is there any logic in giving way to the Catholics, who abate no claim, and in mortifying the Protestants by refusing to acknowledge their claims ? Now, we know that in party disputes it is wise and Christian to endeavor to compose their differences by mutual compromises, but where there is a vital principle involved a compromise would not only be unwise but even dangerous. Such a principle is now, I think, involved in this dispute. The Catholics insist upon the Bible being removed from the schools —a demand that a conscientious Protestant, from two-fold reasons, connot accede to—first, because he considers it dishonoring to his Maker that the Bible should be slighted in such assemblies ; and, second, because he fears the Catholic religion gains ground by that means. Here, then, we see two sects in the State at utter variance with each other—the one (the minority) insisting upon gaining an object from the other (the majority) that the latter cannot yield. What, then, should be the action of a wise Legislature in such a case 1 It certainly looks tyrannical to decide in favor of the majority, but we mnst remember it is a vital principle, and it is only right that those who are members of what is termed the national religion should have their privileges confirmed by acts of their own Legislature. ■ . . : But now I will enquire what hardships this Bible reading proceeding subjects the members of the rival sect to. Are their children compelled to learn tasks in the Bible ? No. Are they compelled to read the Bible ? No. Are they compelled • to hear it read ? To this I must again reply no. It seems to me that the only real hardship in the matter is, that teachers who are old enough to have formed their own opinions happen to be present while the Bible is being read, and the fact of a Catholic being so present and listening to a Protestant reading the Bible (according to Bishop Moran) amounts to an act of perversion on the part of the former. If such is the case, I have known and do : know many men who considered themselves staunch Catholics, become perverts on the same terms. As a bar to the settlement of this gx’eat question, this objection seems so flimsy that I marvel how. sensible Catholics forbear to laugh at it. Our worldly politicians would effect to get out of this difficulty by attempting to soar above the matter altogether. I am under the profound belief that there are among our colonial legislators, men so self-elevated with their, ideal wordly enlightenment —who, when the Bible question crops up at all, seem to consider that however well it may be for children, yet really for men of their intelligence it is hardly worthy of their serious consideration. In banning the Bible from our schools, our rulers in effect ignore the presence of the Deity in their midst, and the inference they give color to, is, there may possibly be a God, but in these halls of legislation we do not recognise him. Why, if an educated Hindoo were to visit our shores, they would by their action give him reason to say on his return “ These English are strange people, with all the fuss they make about their Bible with us in preaching and trying to convert us, yet in their own country they ignore it. As I went through their schools I never once got a sight of it. ” How true this would be, and it is not only quietly ignoring it but it gives a signal contradiction to a statement made by our gracious Queen Victoria, who, in answer to a demand of an African chief as to what was the secret of England’s greatness, sent him a Bible/ It appears as if our rulers were determined to make New Zealand a great country without troubling the Bible in the matter. This great question—Bible reading in our schools—has occupied the attention of some of the greatest thinking men in the world ; and, I think, it would be well if we glanced for a moment at the decision arrived at outside our own colony. Let us take first Victoria, where the bitter fruits of the secular system have already shown themselves. There we see the Bishop of Melbourne, who at . first advocated secularism, has completely changed his opinion on that subject. But now, let us look at the mother country. Scotland occupies but an insignificant part on the map of Europe, but it has acted a great part in the world of history ; it has produced such men as Hugh Miller, Guthrie, George Gilfiillan, men whose reputations have rung through Europe. They were all great men, yet their opinions were different slightly. In Scotland, within the last three years, I believe, the question of the Bible in schools was put to the vote, and the result was, with the exception of two or three dozen parishes,
a unanimous resolution for the retention, of the Bible. But perhaps, Scotland is too rigid for our go-a-head colonies, rand I will move furthur soutln . In _ London, where is focussed all the intelligence of the three kingdoms, is it not strange that the school boards there should also retain the Bible. How America stands affected in the great problem, I am unable to say, but, I should think, that as it is a land where all extremes meet we might find both methods holding in different parts there. In India I believe the Bible system prevails through all • its schools. Apologising for the length of this letter. —I am, &c., .Eve’s Grandson., 16th July, 1880.
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