Charles Gore.

Objections to the Education bill, 1906, in principle and in detail online

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Bishop of Birmingham

/CHURCHMEN are finding themselves in an
^"-^ attitude of most strenuous opposition to
what is for this year the leading measure of the
new Government — the Education Bill introduced
by Mr. Birrell on Monday, April 9th. To the
writer of these lines, with many other Churchmen
who had hoped, and do still hope, so much from
the new Government, such an attitude cannot
but be profoundly distasteful ; and though, doubt-
less, many others will be explaining the grounds
of their objections to the proposed measure, I
also must attempt to explain, especially for those
who in some sense value the name and principle
of Liberalism, why I feel bound to offer a radical
and thorough opposition to the Bill in principle
and in detail, as being a Bill not only liatly
contrary to the religious convictions of those with
whom I agree, but also, in its whole conception,



contrary to the very idea of Liberalism, and to
the fundamental principles on which alone modern
social progress can be expected.


First of all, then, the Bill " establishes " one
particular kind of State religious teaching in the
State schools at the expense of every other —
the kind called " Undenominational," and mis-
called " Simple Bible Teaching." I would
respectfully but urgently ask that this latter
phrase might be banished, in the sense which
it is at present made to bear, from among our
popular terms. It is utterly misleading. You
can teach children the Bible or religion simply
only by teaching positive religious opinions in
an uncontroversial manner, without giving the
reasons /r(? or con. which justify or are supposed
to justify the opinions. That is what is called
teaching dogmatically — " dogma " meaning the
established religious truths which are taken for
granted in some religious society. The dogmas
may be Unitarian, or Roman Catholic, or Ana-
baptist, or Anglican. You can teach the Bible
simply — though not, of course, in my judgment
equally truly — on the basis of any of these
positions ; or you can conceive an agreement


among religious bodies to teach only certain
religious truths which are common to all of them.
'v^But in all cases you can only teach religion simply
By teaching certain defined religious truths. To
teach without any such standard means inevitably
to teach either vaguely, which is just what is most
fatal to teaching the childish mind, or argu-
mentatively, giving the various opinions without
deciding between them, which is, by general
consent, the wrong way of teaching children.
The only way to give simple Bible teaching of any
kind is to teach dogmatically. I defy anyone to
teach the end of the sermon on the Mount, or the
parable of the Sheep and the Goats, with any
degree of reality, or in such away as to make any
impression on a child's mind, without teaching
that Jesus of Nazareth, who spoke these words,
claims to be the Lord and final judge of all men,
in their secret as well as their public lives ; and
for my part I cannot conceive teaching a child
this without explaining why one man can make
this stupendous claim over the whole human race.
No one, again, can make a child realise the
meaning of the clause in the Lord's Prayer, " Thy
will be done on earth as it is in heaven," without
explaining that there are angels in heaven who do
God's will ; or the clause, " Deliver us from the


evil one " (granted the right translation, as given
in the Revised Version), without teaching that
there is an evil spirit, called the devil, who tempts
children and all men (including politicians). If
I am not to teach these dogmas, I cannot teach
children these famous passages of Scripture
" simply " at all. I can only hurry the whole
passage over, or involve it in a fog, and evade
somehow the enquiries of the children.

Let us have done, then, with the idea that
"simple" religious teaching for children can be

But a certain kind of religious teaching — simple
or vague — the kind commonly called undenomina-
tional, is by this Bill to be "established" as the
State religion in all the schools of the State.
That means that, for the first time, it and it alone
is to be given at the public expense by the
teachers generally.

What is this undenominational teaching ? It is
the same professedly as has been given in Board
schools or " provided " schools since 1870. But
the Board school teaching might be, to start with,
as dogmatic as any other, provided that no
formula distinctive of a particular religious body
was used. Board school or provided school
teaching has often been strenuously dogmatic


teaching. For instance, the head teacher in a
provided school recently taught the children that
there are three Gods. And as this proposition
is not contained in any formula distinctive of the
Church or other denomination, I suppose he was
within his rights in giving this dogmatic instruc-
tion. Often provided school teaching has been,
unlike the specimen just quoted, both dogmatic
and (in my judgment) also true. There is nothing
in this Bill to alter the condition of things. But
there has been growing a general understanding
that the religious teaching is to be " undogmatic,"
or " undoctrinal," or "merely ethical." Now the
ethics of the Bible are involved in doctrine about
God and man in one inseparable whole, and
therefore "merely ethical" teaching cannot be
simple Bible teaching. What, however, is
apparently intended is that what shall be given in
all schools (where the local education authority
sanctions religious teaching being given) is Bible
lessons, omitting as far as possible the distinctive
Christian doctrines, which, as I have said, must
mean Bible lessons of a kind untrue to their
subject-matter, and not calculated to gain a hold
on or to impress the childish mind.

At any rate, the teachers in all schools, with
the permission of the local education authority,


are to be encouraged to give some kind of
religious teaching which does not involve any
reference to the standards or institutions of a
religious body, such as the Church.

Now the Nonconformists appear to be generally
satisfied with such religious teaching. I have just
been reading the life of R. W. Dale, and what
he would say about their present attitude it is
easy to conjecture. But I am not concerned to
criticise this attitude, only to observe it. The un-
denominational teaching, the religious teaching
without reference to standards, satisfies most of
the Nonconformists. But it profoundly dis-
satisfies most Churchmen or many Churchmen, all
Roman Catholics, and some Nonconformists who
inherit the traditions of Dale. I will explain very
soon why it is so profoundly unsatisfactory to a
Churchman. I am here only emphasising that the
Government establishes as the only kind of
religious teaching which the State teachers are
normally allowed to give, and which alone may
be given in all schools, a kind of religious
teaching without standard, which is agreeable to
Nonconformists and is contrary to the feelings
and principles of Anglicans and Roman Catholics,
with some others. Hitherto this kind of teaching
has been allowed side by side with other kinds of


teaching. Half the schools have been denomina-
tional. There has been therefore, on the whole,
a broad sort of justice. Now the undenominational
is given a manifest supremacy as being alone
taught by the public teacher at the public expense.
This is, therefore, a measure of establishment — the
establishment in the schools of the country of the
religious teaching approved by the Nonconformists.
It is by this very fact a measure depriving those
who in this respect disagree with the Noncon-
formists, and who equally with them are ratepayers
and citizens, of equal justice. It is a measure of
religious inequality. Now there is nothing which
has been more constantly taken for granted than
that modern Liberalism was bound up with
religious equality, with the principle that the
State should be impartial in its attitude towards
religious differences. This, therefore, is a measure
flatly incompatible with Liberal principles.


Secondly, the religious teaching thus " estab-
lished " is of so unreasonable and unsatisfactory
a character that its exclusive or preferential
establishment can only result in bringing religion
into disrepute.

I fancy that in Germany the inhabitants are


much more ready than we are to accept their
religious differences as facts, and to base their
pubHc policy upon a recognition of their existence
without enquiry about them. In England it is
not so. We are broadly Anglican Churchmen,
or Nonconformists, or Roman Catholics, or Jews,
or Unitarians, or non-believers. Practically, so
far as concerns the classes who receive elemen-
tary education in State schools, we have Roman
Catholics and Jews mainly grouped together in
certain districts in towns, and over the country
generally the problem is to deal almost only with
Anglicans and Nonconformists— Unitarians and
non-believers being too few to reckon with. Now
one would have supposed that an English Govern-
ment and an English public would have accepted
the differences between Anglicans and Noncon-
formists as inveterate, and would have based its
public policy upon a recognition of their existence
without argument. But that is not at all our way
in England. On the contrary. Churchmen are
challenged to explain why they are so bigoted
and unreasonable as to object to undenominational
religious teaching, all the more as there are a few
reasonable people among them, like the Bishop
of Carlisle and Canon Henson, to teach them
better. Now I find myself gasping under this


accusation of bigotry and unreasonableness. I
have tried to study modern historical criticism
applied to the Bible, and especially the New
Testament, and I thought it had one plain and
luminous outcome. I thought it tended to reach
one clear conclusion in writers, orthodox and
rationalist, of all nations — viz., that the New
Testament as it stands, as a volume of sacred
books considered as having final religious authority
for Christians, is quite inseparable from the Creed
and the organisation of the Church.* The three
are part of the same growth. I thought that
what contradicted all the tendency of modern
criticism was to maintain the New Testament in
the old Protestant way, as an authoritative reli-
gious volume, apart from the organisation and
Creed of the Church, with which, and as part of
which, it in fact came into being. Moreover,
when I look into the New Testament for myself,
I see as plainly as I can see anything, that
all the books presuppose the teaching Church and

* The critic, of course, as such, simply treats the books of the
New Testament as so many separate Hterary productions ; and, if
he holds rationalist opinions, he freely rejects their statements,
both of fact and of belief. I am speaking above of the New
Testament considered as having religious authority. I believe
that such authority it can, and ouyht to, retain. But, if it is to
retain it, it must be treated as part of the l.ving society, the
teaching of which it constantly presupposes.


a certain initiatory doctrine, such as our Church
Catechism — which is as "simple" a document as
a Catechism can be — attempts to give. The books
of the New Testament were written, one and all,
for those who had already received the primary
teaching of the Church, and who were practically
members of the Church, having been baptised and
received the laying on of hands, and who were
partakers of the teaching and fellowship of the
body. To detach the Bible from the Creed and
Sacraments of the Church, and to treat it as self-
explanatory and capable of standing alone, is to
treat it in a totally unhistorical way, is to treat it
as it was never meant to be treated ; that is to
ay, is to treat it unscientifically. If any scholars
can be found to deny this, I will endeavour to
prove it. Meanwhile, I must be content to
state it.

But henceforth the established religion for the
children of the English State is to treat the Bible
as self-explanatory, or as needing no corporate
standard to interpret it. The individual teacher
is to interpret it as he pleases, or as best he can.

Now, hitherto the teachers have been very
largely bred in Church Training Colleges ; they
have inherited, consciously or unconsciously, the
standards of historical Christianity, the traditional


view of Christendom. Henceforth this is to be
altered. More and more the teacher is to
represent '* the average man " in respect of his
rehgious opinions. Moreover, hitherto the
standard of provided schools has been con-
sciously or unconsciously affected by the more
defined standard of the non-provided or denomi-
national schools. Such concurrent standard,
with its definite influence, will now be removed.
No State teacher — except in the rare cases where
denominational teaching is to be retained —
will teach by any standard or creed. More
and more what is to be taught will depend
upon the private opinion of the teacher, an
opinion which no one is to inquire into,
or to sift, or to test. Can any system be
imagined more utterly irrational, or unjust, or
better calculated to bring religion into contempt ?
Some thirty years ago there was a sort of
" Protestant religion," with a doctrine of the
Trinity, of Heaven and Hell, of Atonement and
Judgment, of Resurrection and Eternal Life —
which for good or evil could be more or less
assumed. Such a standard has gone. I seriously
doubt whether nearly half the grown men of the
country could seriously say that they believed
that Christ is God, or that He really rose the


third day from the dead. It is not that they have
become Unitarians. It is that their religious
opinions are in complete chaos. To take the
teacher from among the " average man " ; to give
him no scientific or systematic training in the
Christian Creed ; and then to set him to teach
religion out of the Bible, by no standard such as
the New Testament assumes, simply as he pleases,
with the vague understanding that he is not to
teach it "doctrinally," is to give the preference
in the schools of the country to a religion which
rests on a basis of sand, a religion which we can
only be content to "establish," if we care about
the name of religion rather than the thing.

A religion which is worth having for the mass
of men must be a religion, such as Scotch
Presbyterianism, or Roman Catholicism, or the
Churchmanship of the Catechism, or Wesleyanism
— a religion of membership, with definine beliefs
and definite moral duties and definite religious
obligations. It is the exact opposite of this that
we are now establishing in our schools, not as a
mere expedient for filling up the gaps where
nothing better can be provided, but as the kind of
religious teaching to which we give the pre-
ference, which, as I say, we make the established
religion of our schools.


I repeat, then, I object, as a Churchman and as
a Liberal, to the Government Education Bill —
first, because it violates the principle of religious
equality by establishing in the State schools one
kind of religious teaching, that approved by Non-
conformists and objected to by Churchmen and
Roman Catholics ; secondly, I object to it because
the kind of religious teaching which it establishes,
Biblical teaching without standard, is unhistorical,
unscientific, and likely to become more and more


Thirdly, I object to the present Education Bill
of the Government because it proceeds on lines
which, by keeping the religious controversy alive,
not only in the political, but in the municipal
sphere, must serve to hinder social progress of all
kinds, for social progress can only proceed effec-
tively under our present modern conditions if
national and municipal politics are kept as free
as possible from religious questions.

Englishmen are extraordinarily fond of re-
proaching Christians with their controversies,
which, however, are the inevitable result of that
refusal, right or wrong, to submit our judgments
to one ecclesiastical authority, which is the very


thing on which we pride ourselves. Grant the
value of private judgment in religious matters,
and, human nature being as various as it is, and
Englishmen as individualistic as they are, we
shall certainly differ in religious matters ; and, in
proportion as we care about religion, we shall
differ seriously and attach value to our differences,
and we shall decline to abandon our particular
opinions because other people find them somewhat
inconvenient. I repeat there is no way out of
our religious differences till we either learn to
agree by thinking exactly the same, or till we
agree, in despair of this, in submitting to one
ecclesiastical authority, either the Free Church
Council, or the Pope, or the Bench of Bishops, or
General Booth.

Anglicans are no more to be reproached with
holding to their opinions than Swedenborgians or
Baptists. These various opinions exist, and many
men sincerely hold them, and think them of
supreme importance. They will differ strongly,
and, because they are men of imperfect temper,
they will be occasionally as acrimonious or narrow
on religious as on other subjects. The State must
simply take these facts for granted ; and, because
the modern State ought not to attempt to select
one religious opinion to identify itself with, it


will show its wisdom by keeping the sphere of
political and social progress as distinct as possible
from the sphere of religious opinions and dif-
ferences. But this Bill makes each local education
authority the arbiter of whether any religion is
to be taught in the State schools within its area,
and also (what is new) the arbiter of whether
certain schools within its area are to be allowed
to remain, in a certain unsatisfactory sense, de-
nominational in respect of the teaching given ;
and this must result in introducing religious
controversy into every municipal election. It will
be vital for Roman Catholics and Anglicans to
elect councillors who, as the local education
authority, will sanction '* extended facilities,"
ie.^ the use of certain exceptional schools for
denominational purposes, and who will arrange
tacitly to let the teachers there be men and women
of the denomination chiefly concerned. " Deno-
minational " candidates will be run for every ward
in every municipality, and the religious cry will
interfere with our most obvious and crying social
needs, the needs which alone our municipalities
are really capable of dealing with, and with which
they ought chiefly to occupy themselves. Church-
men are thrown into a state of indignation by this
Bill, which has not been equalled within our


memories. I cannot understand how anyone can
doubt that they will combine with Roman
Catholics to fight municipal elections in order to
secure the necessary majority in favour of
" extended facilities."


Fourthly, I object to the Bill because it not
only violates the principle of religious impartiality,
but also tramples specially and emphatically on
Churchmen ; and, considering the place which the
Church has taken in the national education of the
past, treats them with needless and cruel injustice.
I do not the least apologise for the mistakes of
Churchmen in the past. I have always thought
that it has been with us a grievous mistake not
spontaneously to offer the best provision possible
for Nonconformist children being taught their
religion in Church schools where there are none
other. I never was able to say that the Noncon-
formists had no grievance in single school areas,
though I thought that the grievance had been
exaggerated ; and though, no doubt, its solution
was rendered very difficult by the fact that the
Nonconformist bodies showed no such disposition,
as the Church has shown, to care for the religious
teaching of its own members in elementary


schools, still, I think there has been a grievance
in single school areas which the Church might
have been more alert to rectify. It has liked to
ignore Nonconformity, and now it is suffering for
this error. But because there has been a griev-
ance which the Church ought to have been more
willing to see rectified, and on the rectification ot
which the State ought to have insisted, and ought
now to insist, even at some expense to the
country, this constitutes no kind of justification
for creating an injustice of far greater magnitude
in the opposite direction.

I can interpret this Bill in no other way than
as an Act of political reprisals by militant Non-
conformists who have obtained a command of a
political majority.

What are the facts ? First in the villages.
Owing to the fact that for a very long period the
education of the poor was mainly cared for by
the Church, and was almost entirely the concern
of the parson (or sometimes the squire), with the
teacher, it has resulted that the village schools
were Church schools, built to educate the children
in the principles of the Catechism and associated
in the closest way with the Church and the parson.
No one who does not know from inside can tell
how much of the country parson's work has been


with the schools, and (I must add) how very
difficult it will be, when you have ousted and
alienated him, to find anyone else to interest him-
self in the schools as he has done. These country
schools are held mostly under trust, or private
ownership, for Church purposes. The religious
education given has been of a (more or less)
Church character, with the safeguard, almost un-
used, of the conscience clause. The schoolmaster
or the schoolmistress has been a Churchman or
Churchwoman, chosen by the Church, or recently
by a board of managers, of whom the majority
were Churchmen. It would have been, in my
judgment, quite right for the State to insist that,
where there was even a small minority of Dissen-
ters, provision should be elaborately made for
their separate instruction in religion, even if they
did not seem, in most cases, to care for it. But
by the present Bill all these schools in single
school areas, inseparably bound up in their history
and associations with the Church, very generally
forming one group of buildings with the Church
and the parsonage, and secured by trust to the
Church, are to be alienated. The Church is to
have nothing to do with the appointment of the
teacher, which, it cannot be said too often, is the
matter of chief importance. The teacher is not


to have his religious opinions enquired into. He
is to teach only undenominational religion, and
the representative of a "denomination," presum-
ably the parson, is only to appear from outside
to give "special" religious instruction, on not
more than two mornings a week, to the children
of those parents who ask for it, at the expense of
the denomination. It is quite plain that the
schoolmaster will not, in most cases, like this
occasional intrusion. He will be apt to dis-
countenance the parents asking for it, and his
influence will be increasingly great. He alone
will represent the authority in education on the
spot. In any case it is quite certain that the
Catechism, or the distinctive teaching of the
Church, will appear as an "extra" given by an
"outsider" at an immense disadvantage to the
" regular " religious lessons. I do not think that
anyone who does not know what the life of our
English villages has been and the place (as a
civilising even more than as a religious agency)
hitherto held by the parson and his family in the
small society, can realise what a needless outrage


Online LibraryCharles GoreObjections to the Education bill, 1906, in principle and in detail → online text (page 1 of 2)