The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
The Home Teaching of Religious Truth
by Rev. H. E. Victor, Vicar of Holy Trinity, Hastings.
Address given to the Parents' National Education Union
We start on the common ground that all through life we are learners, that men and women are only boys and girls grown big, that life is one great school of learning, and this thought is sobered for us as we grow older with the ever-deepening sense--how much there is to learn and how little we have learnt. And we shall agree, further, in this: we learn in life's school in two ways, by direct teaching and by indirect teaching; and while these two forms of teaching go and must go together, yet indirect teaching has precedence as the form of teaching which in the long run probably carries most weight. Let me illustrate exactly what I mean by direct and indirect teaching. A child learns to talk and a child learns to read. You teach it to read, you do not teach it to talk. The child learns to read from books and from a teacher who teaches it the form of letters and the combination of sounds; but the child has first learnt to talk simply from hearing others, and from the desire to express its own wants and desires. And then the child goes to school to be definitely taught. A lad is apprenticed to a carpenter definitely to be instructed in the trade. A medical student joins a school of medicine to be definitely trained in the knowledge of his profession. But the far wider school, the school in which we linger longest and from which we learn most, is the school of simply living our lives, where, by experience, by success, by failure, by seeing what others do, by the daily doing of common things ourselves, we are ever storing up increase of knowledge.
With this preface, turn to the subject we have before us--The Home Teaching of Religious Truth. At once, we are met with these two forms of teaching, coming to us hand in hand--that which the child is directly taught about religion, and that which the child learns indirectly by what it sees and experiences.
But, at the outset, we have to recognize children have got to learn a religion of some sort, and they will learn one. A child has a body, and without physical drill it will learn to use its body. A child has a mind, and whether well or ill taught, or not taught at all, it will learn in some sort to use its mind. So a child has a soul, and taught or untaught, that soul will assert itself in some form of religious development.
When educating a child, we have to take into account what a child is, and a child is these three things--a body, mind and soul blended into one being. Some people have an idea that a child's body and mind should be trained, and the soul left to think things out for itself; that is, should be left to pick up religion, learning how and where it can; a point which amounts to this--either the child is to learn a clear, definite, noble living giving religion, the best that can be taught by home and school, or it is to be left to pick up a vague, soulless, or even deadening religion from the smart essay of the magazine writer, or from the standards of the world. There is, it is very much to be feared, a widespread disregard of the religious education of children on the part of educated people that will hardly be credited by those who have not had some opportunity of seeing beneath the surface in educated homes. In these days of culture and educational competition parents are keen to a degree in the education of their children's minds--the training of their bodies, showing at the same time the blindest disregard of what sort of religious education they receive. I remember the headmaster of a big public school telling how he had been interviewed by a father, who was entering his boy at the school, as to every detail of his son's mental and bodily training, and after much discussion the interview ended. But a few minutes later came a knock at the door, it was the father come back again; putting his head round the door in a great hurry, he said, "Oh! I forgot to mention, Church of England I suppose, and Low Church," and without even waiting for an answer went his way. How many parents make it the first question, "what sort of religious training will my child get? in what sort of religious atmosphere will he or she live?" You bring immortal beings into the world, and it is your first duty to see their immortality is taken into account in their bringing up.
In this great matter of religious training we have to look to the teaching, both direct and indirect, of which we have already spoken. In direct religious teaching, remember, the teaching needs to be such as we should wish for in reading, arithmetic, drawing or music. We want clear, definite teaching--the best that can be had. A child needs to be taught definite religious belief. Beware, above all things, of undenominational teaching, or the teaching of mere religious generalities. Whether it be a teaching to be a definite member of the Church of England, or a definite Roman Catholic, or a definite Dissenter, a positive religion is what a child needs, a something it can lay hold of and cling to and live by--a clear decided religion that a child can hold to alike through life's battles and death's on-coming. Definite religious belief and principle should grow up with a child as part of itself. A child needs, above all else, to be taught religious truth as clearly and as practically and carefully as in a government elementary school it is taught the first principles of arithmetic.
And now comes that other side of religious teaching, the indirect side, that constant experience in religion that a baby, a little boy, a little girl, a big boy, a big girl, a young man, and a young woman pick up from that which they see and experience around them. Remember, that which they see most of, that which naturally influences them most strongly, is that which they see and hear at home, and above all, see and hear from their father and mother. A case comes to my mind of a poor woman who lived apparently in disregard of all laws, divine and moral, and yet there was one being whom that poor woman regarded with feelings of deepest respect and pride, and that was her eldest daughter, a girl who had been brought under Christian training and influence, and had grown up to be a woman of exceptional trustworthiness of character, and who, in quiet true living, had raised herself to a position of high trust and responsibility. The poor mother being what she was, was yet so proud that her daughter was not as she was, but was a respected trusted woman. And do not we all wish the children to be like that, whatever we may be ourselves? Must it not ever be the deepest joy to us to know that our children make daily prayer the rule of their lives; that they neglect neither churchgoing nor communion; that they never use wrong words or keep doubtful company, this is a universal source of comfort and rejoicing to parents. But, my friends, it is not so easy for a child to learn to pray if it knows that father or mother do not. Difficult for a child to make churchgoing a steady duty, when mother cannot find time and father says he is too tired. I once heard of a dying lad receiving with joy his last communion, and wanted father and mother to receive with him, and they, with bitter sorrow, had to refuse because they dare not. And such things have happened as a gentleman's son using words unbecoming a Christian or a gentleman, and when spoken to looking up with surprise and the ready answer, "But my father uses these words."
I wonder if you at all know how, as we teach children in school or prepare them for confirmation, one of our greatest anxieties is whether those young hearts, in their readiness to learn, and earnestness to start well, will be encouraged to persevere by the example set them at home. Perhaps of all the sad sad tasks that ever fall to our lot is when we have to teach a child to honour its father and mother, but not to take their conduct as a guide. There is a child's axiom built up of children's love and children's experience; if father and mother honour this axiom and try to live up to its requirements, it is the most blessed and powerful educational influence in the world; this axiom, is this, "What father and mother do must be right." Can parents sink lower in shame and disgrace than when belief in that axiom leads their children into bad ways, or when their children in their inner conscience know that in the case of their own father and mother the axiom is not true?
If I have said some stern things, there is yet one more to be said--children are like green sticks, they will bend to your will. You may train them to be devout members of the Church of England, or Roman Catholics, or Dissenters, or you may give them no religious training at all, they will as children accept the training or the lack of training that you offer them, but they will not always be green sticks. They will be men and women, and, with the experience of men and women, they will have their own opinion of the lines on which they were educated. They may regret, as they grow up, that they did not have a better education to fit them for the competitive struggle of life. They may view with something more terribly keen than regret, that their souls, they find, have to face eternal issues for which their early training at home and at school did little to prepare them. 'Now,' you say, and say justly, 'it is hardly fair to stop here, may we not for our closing thoughts turn to something brighter and more cheering?' If you wish this, then, I offer, for your consideration, a picture, a Bible picture of the power and value of the home teaching of religious truth. Israel wanted a king at a critical period of national history, when a king of exceptional ability and energy was sorely needed. God who always, as King of Kings, makes and unmakes kings, chose on this occasion to select a king for Israel through no intermediate agent, simply sent Samuel with the horn of anointing oil to anoint the man He pointed out, and for the weighty post of a great king, with its responsibilities and its duties, God's choice fell on a well-trained boy. A boy who had learnt physical endurance, sterling courage and resource, and, above all, had learnt the Law of God as the true guide of life, had learnt a firm faith in God and a deep personal love for God, and he had learnt all these things at home under the training of his father Jesse at Bethlehem; and the history of that king's reign revealed the justice of the divine choice. The boy who had had home teaching of religious truth, home training in secular knowledge and physical development, turned out the great king.
"He took him away from the sheepfolds, as he was gathering the ewes great with young ones, He took him that he might feed Jacob His people and Israel His inheritance. So he fed them faithfully with a true heart, and ruled them prudently with all his power."
Proofread May 2011, LNL
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