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Church and State

( Originally Published 1912 )



IF you stand before a steam-boiler you will see a small glass tube containing some water. The water in the tube rises and falls. This is a gauge —the proportion of the water in the tube to the capacity of the tube is always the proportion of the water in the boiler to the capacity of the boiler. You cannot see the water in the boiler, but this is an unfailing index, this gauge; never higher will the water rise, visible, in the tube of glass, than it rises, invisible, in the boiler.

What the glass tube is to the boiler, such is the thing we call the government to the mass of our people. It is one of the gauges of our national morality, one of the many indices by which we may know what is the average of morals in our people. There are other indices—commercial life is one. Never will government rise higher morally, nor will business morality make a higher mark, than the average morality that we cannot see, nor otherwise measure, in this huge mass of ninety million human beings. The law of balance is perfect—it is what we call the law of averages, the law of compensating forces, the law of the conservation of energy, the law of gravity, the law of harmonics. We have many names for it—one, which is comprehensive, is the Eternal Justice of God. That is at the heart of it; that is why all these laws that we meet in physics, in music, in chemistry, in astronomy, in anything whatsoever, are in reality the same law. Truth is true universally.

It is my idea, then—and not mine alone but that of many—that a good citizen must be first a good man. I do not mean a perfect man, any more than I mean a perfect citizen; human nature being what it is, we can hope for neither. But I do mean a man with an impulse in the right direction and the grace to be ashamed of what things wrong he may do: with a developed conscience.

I cannot conceive of a bad man being a good citizen. By a bad man I mean, not a man who sins, even though his sins be grave, but a man whose impulse is toward sinning, whose conscience lies atrophied and tongueless in his breast, who cannot be said to have fallen before temptation because he never has stood up before temptation.

It has been the experience of the human race that mere intellectual culture does not vivify a conscience. It must be inspired—breathed into. And only God can breathe life into it, as God only can breathe life into anything that lives. Behind morals, therefore, there must be inspiration. Behind the good man there must be the idea of God.

It has been the expressed opinion of the most, and the best, educators, and students of education, that this thought of God should be instilled into the consciousness of youth; that religious education should be mingled with secular education, the one to animate and make beneficial the other. So many are the students of life who have declared non-religious education a thing dangerous to the state that I shall not name them here; enough of them for the purpose I shall name elsewhere.

In this country we have laws making education compulsory because we believe, and the fathers of the Republic believed, that it is good for the state that all its rulers should be intelligent. The compulsion lies not only on the child to receive, but the parent to furnish, and not only the parent but all adults; it being the theory that an educated people is a state benefit shared in by all the citizens. The state makes itself the agent of the citizens in this matter, taking from them a part of their income, as John Stuart Mill points out, and, with the fund thus obtained, building school-houses and hiring professional teachers.

The system, as it exists at present, is by no means what was planned at the outset. The planning was vague and meagre, sufficient unto the day and place; what we now have is something that has been shaped and fashioned by developments of the intervening years which were not thought of in the beginning. One idea with regard to it, which had to do with other things as well, found a place in our fundamental law, and by a strange misconception, not of its purpose but of its operation, it has come to operate inversely. The idea was that public funds should not be used by one creed, or religious denomination, to the prejudice of any other; that there should be no discrimination against any religion. Upon the perfectly sound theory that a discrimination in favor of any religion would be a discrimination against all other religions, we have done a most unsound thing; that is, we have laid down an iron bar of discrimination against all religion. The engine that we built to go has gone, but instead of going forward it has gone backward. Our state, that was not to discriminate against any man's belief in God, has crushed out of its school system all belief in God.

Our effort to be just was until recent years universally honest, and is still for the most part honest; and this outcome is quite unexpected and perplexing. Men at the head of our educational institutions who have no desire for anything like this, who feel the evil of it, for some years now have been puzzling their brains in an effort to think some way out. They have advanced many ideas : first, agreement of Protestant sects upon form of religion to be taught; then agreement of Protestant and Catholic divisions of Christianity; still later, agreement of Jewish and Christian leaders. That has been going on for some years, but instead of getting better the thing gets worse. We are so many denominations; naturally, there can be no agreement. Every step we take leads away from the ideal, every change is one in the direction of an absolute divorce of religion from education. How is this to work out? Some men are trying to substitute for the old religious inspiration something that will check the spread of immorality. It is to be ethical training—they are going to teach ethics. But Dr. Andrew S. Draper, State Commissioner of Education in New York, remarks dubiously, "If it is difficult to separate religion from morals, it is dangerous to separate ethics from morals." Dr. Draper is struggling with this problem from his own standpoint—What are we going to do to make our present public-school system efficacious morally? In his Religion, Morals, Ethics, and the School, published by the New York State Education Department in 1911, he speaks of the situation in France, where they have gone the full length of the formula. Read what he has to say and make what you can of it. Is it good? Is it bad? It is hard to tell just what Dr. Draper's conclusion is on the whole question. But it cannot be wholly good, for he finds some "trouble" about it. "Political and religious freedom have been enlarging their opportunities under the French Republic," Dr. Draper says. "In doing so they have been seeking education that is not limited by the dogmatic teaching of a church. And thus they have been pulling down a church with-out reforming it or putting another in its place. It is to be feared that this has been destroying faith altogether. Instruction about the moral virtues without faith and feeling may result in the superficial politeness which is perhaps a little better than savagery, more than in the sound character that is infinitely better than either."

This is Dr. Draper's opinion with regard to it. There are others who say baldly that it has resulted in the savagery itself ; we shall hear them later.

But what concerns us now is that our machinery isn't working right; it isn't doing the thing we builded it to do. And it won't ever do it; it will always get worse and worse; and the more swiftly because there is a new force at work which this machinery, working backward, suits in every rod and wheel. What we in-tended as a device for insuring religious liberty, Socialism finds admirably adapted to its work of crushing religion out of existence altogether, in order that its political power shall grow out of its materialistic philosophy. Under the skilful operation of its Intellectuals our public-school system is producing a generation of atheists.

Now comes the question, Are we wedded to the machine or the ideal? Are we going to give each church, as each man, equal opportunity to grow and function, or are we going to make religion and individual life mere state functions?

Some of our churches, seeing the trend of all this, have taken steps of their own. The Roman Catholic Church cannot longer see its children attending a god-less public school, and it has built up its immense system of parochial schools. The Lutheran Church is doing the same thing in the Middle West; the Hebrew congregations are doing it more or less extensively; other churches are doing it, here and there. All these schools; furnishing secular education of as good a quality, and often of better quality than the state furnishes, are supported by private contributions. The communicants of these churches have voluntarily assumed a burden rather than risk the souls of their little ones. All are taxed for the public schools, and they are thus compelled to pay for a system of education which they believe to be bad for the children who receive it and bad for the state that furnishes it, as well as the cost of the schools they themselves maintain. The believer in God and democracy is saying to himself, "This American Republic, which I love and would preserve, is taking a part of my income to build up a huge campaign fund for a Politico-Philosophical Party that hates it and would destroy it. Is it right?"

It isn't right. It is in every aspect altogether wrong. And what is more, the way to stop it is simple and obviously just. It is proposed to make the education of each child, by whomsoever, the unit basis for the expenditure of funds raised for school purposes. It is proposed that if a church furnish education sufficient to enable a child to pass a state examination, then the state shall pay that church for the work done, whether that church be Protestant or Catholic or Hebrew. It is proposed to pay any non-religious organization in the same way and upon the same basis.

In these payments nothing whatever is to be al-lowed for sectarian or proselytizing instruction. It is merely, in the cases of churches, the hiring of God-believing forces to do secular work. It is allowing the plain people to send their children to authoritative moral schools if they so desire, by the state devoting that part of their wages to the secular support of such schools which they themselves would naturally em-ploy for that purpose were not their revenue reduced by state school taxation. It is allowing the parents to bring up their children in the faith of their fathers without compelling them to submit to double school taxation as a penalty for so doing. It is allowing the parents to direct the use, under proper supervision, of that portion of their earnings which is taken from them by the state for educational purposes. It is compulsory state education under the direction of the parent as to that part of it which is moral. It is not the forcing upon the children, against the will of the parents, of state socialistic theories by teachers of faiths other than their own, or of no faith at all.

This is the simple plan proposed for rounding out the education of the youth of this country; for checking the spread of materialism and its dominance in our public-school system. It is the only plan possible, it seems to me, in a state whose mighty population is divided into many creeds. It is unjust to no denomination; it would give light and latitude for the growth of all denominations.

Why, then, if this plan be simple and just, and its object on all hands admittedly desirable—nay, more than that, necessary to the continuing righteousness and strength of the state—why is it not put in operation? Why do not those who admit that there must be some moral element in education, who admit that it is not there now, and seek in many places for some method of putting it there—why do not they give their support to this plan, demanding of legislatures that it be enacted into statutes, telling of it to the people until the people unanimously write it into the fundamental laws that are made at first hand and are called constitutions? What stands in its way?

A fear. A fear that was born of a prejudice. A fear that is strong because it is not a fear of the ignorant and the thoughtless, but one that holds in its grip men of culture, men who have read widely and thought deeply. It prevails among these, not because they have failed to look at the facts of history, but because they have accepted a false theory as to the meaning of those facts. It is not ignorance, it is a wrong point of view. And the point of view was the prejudice out of which this fear was born.

It is easier to name this fear than it is to define it; easier to tell how it is called than what it is. It is called "Church and State." If I ask one man, "What is `Church and State' ?", he will answer, "The Spanish Inquisition," and it may strike me that it is called, not the Church Inquisition, but the Spanish Inquisition. If I ask another he will answer, "St. Bartholomew," and I wonder if the Guises were the Church or the, State. I shall get many answers : "Temporal Sovereignty," "The Holy Roman Empire," "The Concordat," "The excommunication of Philip Augustus" : all ancient and modern instances of supposed Roman Catholic ecclesiastical interference with temporal government.

None answers me with a reference to the union of Church and State under Henry VIII of England, or the German Electors, or under the Czars of Russia. It is quite plain that we do not think of these instances when we talk of "Church and State" ; what we do think of is a Roman Catholic alliance with the governing power. What we think to-day is precisely what was thought in England three hundred and many years ago, when it was reported that the Jesuits were welcome guests in the palaces of the Stuarts. The viewpoint has come down to us unchanged, and it never occurs to us to challenge it, to question whether it was right or wrong, to consider whether even, if it was right then, it may not be utterly wrong now; for there have been changes—the state does not now mean what it meant when Louis XIV truly expressed the thought of monarchs in his "L'Etat, c'est moi!"

What does the state mean—here and now? It means you and me. It means the government of the people by the people. It means something that cannot become subservient to any creed until there is among the people a substantially unanimous adherence to that creed.

Even if the church desired it. And does the church desire it? Has the church ever desired it? It was to the political advantage of rulers and parties some centuries ago to give to the people the viewpoint that the church did desire it. It was to their political interest to picture a church constantly intriguing, constantly reaching out for temporal power; and writers of popular history were influenced—in most cases, I believe, honestly and unconsciously—by the national or party viewpoint, and read into history a meaning that it did not have of itself. Historians of the present day are beginning to recognize the error of that viewpoint, the fallacy of the earlier inferences, and to clear up some of the confusing conceptions that have so long clouded the vision of the English-speaking world. Without extenuating the cruelty of St. Bartholomew's bloody massacre, they have recognized it as the punishment by a prince of seditious subjects, a movement that was base and bloody and political.

Without palliating the cruelty of the Spanish Inquisition, they have recognized it in its cruellest aspect as a national rather than a church institution; something that belonged to the Spanish character, and, following upon the freeing of Spain from the yoke of the infidel, was inspired more by personal and political vengeance than by attachment to the church. It was as easy for a politician in those days, using religion as a mask, to have an opponent's head cut off, as for a political boss in later days to use his leadership to deprive an enemy of his livelihood.

They are recognizing the political significance of the status of the papacy prior to the Reformation; they are understanding that the interdict laid upon Philip of France was the punishment of an individual for a moral wrong, and could have had no effect whatsoever were it not for the assent of the French monarch's subjects to its justice.

We do not have to wait upon the historians, however, for a reasonable. view of the meaning of history. If we are furnished with the facts, we can form our own conclusions ; we may be startled to find them, when formed, far away from those we have been accustomed to accept as they have been handed down to us. The facts, or enough of them to serve as a foundation for proper conclusions, are easily obtained. We need not seek for them in manuscripts that are obscure as to meaning and difficult of access ; we can accept those which have been familiar to students of popular history for generations. And, if we wipe away all religious prejudices, all preconceptions of what kind soever, and simply let our conclusions grow from the facts before us, we shall find those conclusions within striking distance of the truth. The change of viewpoint will give us a new vision. The whole picture changes as the facts of history re-arrange themselves, falling into their proper places and perspective, and we are astonished to find how well balanced, how symmetrical the whole is.



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