Editor Popular Science Monthly:
SIR: The letter of E. P. Meredith, in the April Monthly, reviewing the article by Benjamin Reece on "Public Schools as affecting Crime and Vice" in your January number, does not seem to go to the root of the evils deprecated. It is true that high mental culture is not always accompanied by a correspondingly high ethical standard, but often the reverse, and that, as a general rule, our public-school teachers "bear an exceptionally good moral character, and a majority of them are members of good standing in the various churches," and that "the Sunday school, where moral training is especially attended to, is now considered an indispensable adjunct of every church; yet, with all this, vice and crime are on the ascending scale, and in a most astonishing degree." But when he says that "with this guarantee for the moral training of the pupils by precept and example on the part of the teachers, it seems to me that all is being done in that line that can be done," is he equally right? Is there not some moral taint, some poison-bearing germ from which such evils grow, lurking within these ethical influences? When we read of some great bank defalcation, of some much-trusted man absconding with fiduciary funds, and the like, in nine cases in ten the paragraph will end by stating that the perpetrator was a leader in a Sunday school, or a leading man in a church or a mission. Naturally we often ask why it is so. The usual and the easy answer is, that he put on the cloak of religion to screen and facilitate his dishonest methods—"the livery of heaven to serve the devil in." But that facile answer prompts another still more pertinent question, "Why did this professed religious man add hypocrisy to his other iniquities?" Must we not search the foundations of his ethical culture for the fruitful germ from which these evil actions sprang? It is more than probable that had any one of those leaders of a church or Sunday school, or of that majority of public-school teachers "of good standing in the various churches," confessed that he did not believe, or even that he doubted, that the world was made in six days some six thousand years ago; the first man molded from its clay, and the first woman from his newly made rib; that Moses conversed face to face with God; that Lot's wife was turned into a pillar of salt; that infants dying unbaptized are eternally damned; that the laws of nature were set aside when Christ was begot—he would have lost the position he held, and his social standing, as
Dr. Robertson Smith, Dr. Woodrow, and many others have, for telling the truth. He was therefore reticent, and soothed his stultified conscience by saying to himself that, if those things were not literally true, they were in a figurative sense, and went on acting if not uttering a lie, as a very large class of people are doing every day for the same reasons. The teacher, preacher, or layman who does this is committing an immoral act, and preparing his conscience for tolerating others of a darker hue. We all know that it is the first willful lie or profane oath uttered that shocks the youthful conscience and sears it for repetitions that cease to shock. The late Henry Ward Beecher told us somewhere that his was so shocked at the first lie, that he sought the attic and behaved in such a peculiar, repentant manner that his mother questioned him, thinking that he was about to experience religion. Now the number of men and women who believe in the supernatural part of our religion is constantly growing less, yet for the reasons that I have alluded to they do not avow it. May it not be this constant acting of a lie that corrodes the conscience and causes, in a measure, the rapidly ascending degree of vice and crime, and the "venality and corruption pervading every branch of the Government"? Have we not reached that stage of enlightenment and that sound policy at which we can safely drop the supernatural from our religion, and relegate it to the cults of less advanced peoples, who still find it necessary to keep that element ingrafted into their theogonies, in order to awe their simple and unintelligent followers? We have outgrown the age of witchcraft which our Puritan ancestors believed in so fully, and we have denied the divine rights of kings, which had the same ethnic origin and for the same ends. Why not eliminate the same element in our religion, retaining all its sound ethical tenets, and administer it upon the human teachings of Christ and the natural laws that science has revealed in the progress of civilization? The time is rapidly approaching when the Bible will be expurgated, and all that science proves false expunged; the stirpiculture of its patristic writers and the foul genesis of Ammonite, Moabite, and Ishmaelite banished to the pages of a dead language, leaving a work that men can read without repulse, and the children in our public schools without pollution. As Mr. Meredith says, "Purify the fountain, and the stream will become likewise limpid and pure."
|Childwold, N. Y., April 8, 1890.|