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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 29.djvu/570

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THERE are some good things that seem just a little too good for many of those who profess to prize them most highly. One of these, we regret to say, is religious liberty. If there is any one thing that the people of this country, taken in the mass, are bent on preserving and enjoying, it is this; and yet it is this very thing that some excellent people, who are far from regarding themselves as abettors of spiritual tyranny, are continually seeking to undermine. Our excellent contemporary, the "Journal of Education," of Boston and Chicago, has lately called attention to the action of the Presbyterian Synod of the State of New York, in referring to a committee, to be reported on at the next annual meeting, a resolution affirming that, while a union of church and state in this country is not to be thought of, it would still be desirable to incorporate into "the course of State and national education" certain very specific theological doctrines, in which, as it was stated, all Christian sects agreed. These were: the existence of a personal God, the responsibility of man to God, the immortality of the soul, and a future state of rewards and punishments. We can not suppose for one moment that those who favored this resolution would wish such doctrines as these to become topics of discussion in the public schools, or to be treated as in any way open to doubt or as subject to possible future rectification. If taught at all, they would have to be taught on authority, just as the catechism might be taught in church schools. This being the case, we can not understand how the members of the synod who favored the resolution could help seeing how vain was their disclaimer of any desire to establish a connection between church and state. The whole essence of an ecclesiastical establishment consists in the assumption by the State of the right to guide individual citizens in the formation of theological opinions. It matters not how many or how few those opinions may be, how much or how little of theological subtilty their formulation may involve; whenever and wherever the State looks upon the individual as unfit to guide himself in such matters, and therefore undertakes to teach him dogmatically what he ought to believe, then and there we have the elements of ecclesiastical government.

Now, the instinct of the American people has hitherto been that theology and religion do better without the patronage of the State than with it, and that it is not safe to intrust the civil power, whether Federal or local, with the making of any law looking either to the establishment of a church or to the encouragement of any special form of religious belief. We choose our own rulers and we set them over us, not in spiritual matters, but in temporal only, and, if we are wise, we shall restrict their action even in the temporal sphere as much as possible. This by the way: What is perfectly clear is that our people do not want to receive direction in theological questions at the hands of the State, and therefore are not prepared to have theology even its most widely accepted propositions introduced into public-school teaching. It is felt that the State has no business to make opinion in these matters, which it undoubtedly would do if it were allowed to impart any theological instruction whatever. Let, for example, the propositions above mentioned become a part of public-school teaching through-out the length and breadth of the land, and the modification of opinion to which