Sir, To a mixed community where diverse creeds and various forms of worship prevail, the adoption of a system of education in consonance with the religious sentiments of all is a work of no ordinary difficulty. False superabundant zeal should not, however, be employed to counteract the blessings of moral and scientific knowledge, and overthrow the empire of useful learning. Zeal when misdirected, or engendered in religious animosity is doubtless the worst, the most dangerous of all human evils. When thus begotten it is impossible to forsee its results; commencing in the very quintessence of human depravity, it terminates in its most fatal consequences. That a man may be his own enemy, experience has rendered true; and the ease is then bad enough; that a man may become the enemy of his friend, of him for whom he entertains friendship the most sincere and perfect, is what we can scarcely comprehend, it contains an evident contradiction, a solecism in words. Yet it often happens so. But, when a man sacrificers his dearest friends nay, his own very children, voluntarily and knowingly, on the altar of religious rancour, and personal inveteracy, what must be the depravity of human nature! this is, indeed the climax of all wickedness, the utmost stretch of human depravity.
That the individuals who raise an objection to the present National System of Education, and thereby (as far as depends upon them) counteract their benign influence, are enemies of their friends, and enemies of their children; a moment's consideration will suffice to convince the unprejudiced mind. When a man's conduct is calculated to strike at the root of social harmony, and mutual fraternal affection, does he not destroy at once the peace and happiness of all that are dear to him? can any motives' on earth justify his conduct? does he not break down and trample upon those paramount considerations which are thelife-pulse of Society, and the heart-strings of Christianity. Union, harmony, and affection are the nerves and optimus of Society; this is an axiom which needs no demonstration.--Mutual good will, brotherly love, and social concord breathe through every page of the Sacred Volume; Such is the will of God, such the dictates of Eternal Truth. These virtues, therefore, we are obliged, as members of Society, and children of the living God, to cherish and cultivate; and no pretext, no argument under heaven can invalidate their importance, or justify their violation. The British Minister acknowledged their paramount importance when, Legislating for the [ecclesiastical?] interests of Ireland, he abolished the Kildare Place society, and erected on its ruins a more liberal, general, and enlightened system of education; a system which embraced all creeds and religions and which founded on the wisest and most christian principles, was productive of mutual affection, harmony, and happiness. The same wise and general system has been adopted for this country by the Local Legislature; but a barrier is thrown in the way of its wholesome influence, and the indiscriminate reading of the Bible becomes the fruitful subject of opposition.
It were well indeed that no pretext had existed, to counteract the benevolent tendency of a system which combines all sects and colours of religious persuasion; and none could be more heartily desirous than I am, of uniting all denominations of Christians under the one tutelage; so thoroughly convinced am I of its consequence and importance to the general interests of the country.
Really, that the indiscriminate perusal of the Bible should be deemed as any part, let alone, an essential part of a scholastic education, appears to my mind not a little strange. But here I beg to disclaim all intention of entering into a polemical [disquisition] or canvassing the claims of any sect or believers; I shall merely prove that the indiscriminate use of the Bible in schools is not not only calculated for the weak capacities of children, and productive of no moral advantage; but, moreover, that is highly dangerous both to their own eternal welfare, and the prosperity of the State.
That there are parts of the Bible which young minds cannot comprehend, needs no argument to prove, when we recollect that the adult and the learned themselves are at variance about them; this being the case, it naturally follows, that from those parts no moral lessons can be derived; they are to children as "sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal." When those abstruse and unintelligible parts are construed according to the sense or inclinations of the student, and that different readers adopt different and opposite constructions, some, or perhaps all must be in error, therefore, the morality established on such constructions of Holy Writ (for without adopting a system of moral conduct from the study of the Bible, its perusal is of no avail) must be wrong, and contrary to the Divine Will; andhence it follows that the general study the indiscriminate reading of the Bible becomes replete with danger, error, and immorality. History is not silent on the evils and miseries accruing from the diversity of opinion on scriptural subjects; such differences and discordances might again arise, as indeed they are even now arising in the Mother Country, and, as in the former, so in the latter, might be followed and characterised by individual conflicts, virulent party animosities, inveterate dissensions, ruin and blood.
But waving for the present all consideration of the danger of committing the Bible to the indiscriminate perusal of youth, from their incapacity to comprehend, and their consequent inability to derive any benefit from it; is it not apparent by a reference to the seasons and authorities adduced in my last letter, that the domestic atmosphere is not only the most favourable to the growth of virtue and the acquisition of a habit of moral and religious discipline; but that if they be not cultivated here, there exists but a distant if any chance of securing them from any other quarter? Men act more from habit than reflection; and I might well say, that it is on habit [alone] the whole system of morality revolves;--put the Bible into the hands of a child, and is it not ridiculous to expect that he will be able to derive there from a system of [Ethics], by which to square his subsequent conduct through life? Teach your child verbally and by example the duties which he owes to God, Society, and himself; exemplify those duties in his own person; make him practice them in his several relations; and you will accomplish more good than if you had provided him with all the Bibles in the world. To aid you in this training point out to him the plain word of God enforcing such practices; and for this end put into his hands each [sections] of the sacred volume as are easy and intelligible; and illustrative of those moral duties which you would earnestly inculcate.
Such is my view of the subject; such must be the view of every unbiased, unprejudiced individual; of every one who desires to see peace and harmony pervade the community, and the [grant?] of the Legislature appropriated with advantage.
In point of fact, the folly of subjecting children to the impracticable task of wading through the abstruse and unfathomable depths of the Bible, is at once so evident and so egregious, that the wonder is, a man possessing the least knowledge of its nature should for a moment entertain the idea. Selections are, and always must be, productive of the happiest results, when couched in plain terms and in language commensurate with the weath and slender capacities of youth. But compel the young mind to grapple with the whole contents of the Sacred Volume,--bid the feeble intellects of wavering youth explore its vast extent, and ascertain its variegated domains;--order the mental exercise of juvenile vigour to fling back the barrier, and at once unveil the mysteries of biblical lore:--command in short, the youthful capacity to decompose, combine, and analize, and subject the Bible to all the processes of polemical chemistry;--and you demand impossibilities; absurdity shines out in thesentiment. The mental might be compared to the physical powers:--bid children, then to adopt a body of morality from the Bible, whereby to govern their future conduct, and you impose on the soft and nerveless shoulders of youth an overpowering burden, to which even the full-grown and matured vigour of manhood would be inadequate; you command the infant arm to yield the weapon which even the manly hand cannot grasp:--and again, you desire the optical retina to display the landscape whose extent it is incapable of comprehending:--and, finally, you bid man to tempt those aerial heights to which the Eagle of heaven alone can soar.
Now I come to the plain language of the scriptures to prove my already established and undeniable position. What light does the sacred Text itself afford us on this head? In many texts we are directly taught to place implicit reliance on Church guides, who, we are told, alone possess the gift of interpreting the scriptures. If such is the case, and that pastors alone are the [depositories] of the true meaning of God's word, what madness is it not on to put the bible into the hands of youth that they may form their lives by its contents? I shall here adduce a few texts to that effect. [If thou] perceive that there be among you--a hard and doubtful matter in judgement between blood and blood, cause and cause, leprosy and leprosy; and thou see that the words of the judges [within] thy gates do vary: arise and go up to the place , which the Lord thy God shall choose. And thou shalt come to the priests of the Levitical race, and to the judge that shall be at that time; and thou shalt ask of them, and they shall shew thee the truth of the judgement. And thou shalt do whatsoever they shall say that preside in the place, which the Lord shall choose, and what they shall teach thee, according to his law; and thou shalt follow their sentence; neither shalt thou decline to the right hand, nor to the left."--Deuteronomy 17th Chap. Again, "and if be will not hear thee, take with thee one or two more; that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may stand. And if he will not hear them, tell the Church. And if he will not hear the Church, let him be to thee as the heathen and publicans."--Matthew 18th Chap. Furthermore, "He that heareth you, heareth me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth me. And he that despiseth me despiseth me despiseth him that sent me."--Luke 10th, chap.
I could quote numerous other texts which go to prove the authority of Church Guides, and their peculiar province of interpreting the scriptures; such as, "And he gave some Apostles and some Prophets, and other some Evangelists, and other some Pastors and Doctors. For the perfecting of the Saints, for the work of the Ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, &c.--Ephesians 4th Chap.
The great Apostle Paul expressly declares that there are parts of the scriptures which the unlearned and unstable wrest unto their own destruction; "Even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him,hath written unto you. As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of those things in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable, wrest, as they do the other Scriptures, unto their own destruction." One remark more and then I shall have done.
Saint Philip, one of the seven deacons in the Ministry, was admonished by an angel to go to some certain place, and when he arrived there, he happened to see a chariot in which was a Eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of AEthopia. This Eunuch, it appears, had been performing religious duties at Jerusalem, and on his return home was reading the Bible; and the part which he was reading, was the prophesy of Isaiah; Philip went up to him, as he heard him reading, and said to him, "Do you think you understand what you read?' And he replied, "How should I unless I had some one to explain it to me?" The text then informs us that Philip went into the Chariot and explained the Scriptures to him, and instructed him in the belief and doctrine of Jesus Christ.
Thus, I think, I have satisfactorily proved the folly of putting the Bible into the hands of every school boy, and the frivolous pretext of objecting to, and attempting to [neutralize] the benevolent and invaluable objects, the Education Bill, because it wisely and judiciously prohibits the indiscriminate use of the Scriptures. It is to be hoped, however, that the ridiculous opposition will at once cease, and education be permitted to shed her wholesome influence over the rising generation, unobstructed by party prejudices, or religious animosities, and that the blessings of peace, union and harmony pervade all classes of the community.
Your obdt. humble servant,
Carbonear, April 1839.