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THE RELIGIOUS EDUCATION OF OUR YOUTH.
REV. MARION LE ROY BURTON, PRESIDENT OF SMITH COLLEGE,
The past decade has been marked by a deep interest in the whole field of religious education. Organizations have been formed; large conventions have been held; educational, religious, and psychological literature has been produced; new courses of study have been formulated, and many practical experiments have been tried. As a consequence, much valuable experience has been acquired, new truths have been discovered, and larger hopes have been awakened. But, despite all of this interest and activity, much vagueness still pervades the whole question. Few of the results have been systematized, and many of the fundamental principles are not generally agreed upon nor clearly enunciated. While there is every reason for gratification over the progress that has been made and the widespread interest that prevails, there is a corresponding demand for an attempt to formulate clearly some of the more generally accepted truths relating to our subject.
I. THE AIM OF RELIGIOUS EDUCATION.
With this need in mind let us endeavor to formulate the aim of religious education. That no inherent contradiction exists between education and religion is perfectly apparent. Education, in the last analysis, is the training of personality for efficient service in life. It is the process by which a person is brought into true relationship with every factor of his environment. Religion is not theology nor ecclesiasticism, but life. It is man's life lived in relationship to God's life. The perfect compatibility and inner spiritual unity of all true education and real religion is therefore obvious.
The aim of all education is not only to store the mind with the detailed facts of various fields of knowledge and to develop that mental acumen which will enable the student to attack any problem, but also to transmute that knowledge into action, to create character, to build manhood and womanhood, to equip our youth for citizenship and give them world-wide sympathies and interests.
The particular aim of religious education is not only consistent with this standard, but builds upon it and utilizes it. It aims not so much to teach theology or biblical literature as it does to give knowledge about how to live. All education by the very nature of the process deals with the intellect. While knowledge is not necessarily virtue, nevertheless knowledge may and often does determine action. Although there is no positive assurance that the wise man will be good, there is every reason to feel confident that knowledge is more potent in character building than ignorance. Therefore the religious educator endeavors to use this agency for molding the life of our young people and to do so by dealing specifically with that field of knowledge which concerns most intimately the best methods for right living. His hope is thereby to secure noble character and true manhood. His object is to establish those habits which will make the child when he reaches adult life a useful and worthy citizen. His supreme desire is so to relate the youth to himself and to his nation and to the world that he will always stand for the right against the wrong, for the just against the unjust, for the true against the false, for the genuine against the fictitious, for the beautiful against the ugly, for the good against the evil.
The religious educator goes even farther. He endeavors to establish those ideals which will serve as anchors in the stress of life. He strives to put the child in touch with the eternal sources of inspiration which will insure the permanence and stability of character. He attempts to link the youth to his God and to thrill him with the tangible ideals of the life of a spiritual Master. Unquestionably the supreme aim of religious education is to teach our youth how to live. The emphasis is not upon ethics or theology or facts, important as they all are, but upon character and life and ideals.
II. SOME SIGNIFICANT FACTS.
The task of the religious educator in his attempt to realize this ideal is greatly complicated by certain conditions peculiar to the present time. The realization of every aim is conditioned by the facts of life. Certain constant factors confront every religious teacher in any age. But it is of importance here to reckon with those forces which are peculiarly significant for our present task and seriously effect religious education to-day.
Whether we like it or not, we live in a time when all the fundamental conceptions of religion are undergoing radical changes. Doubtless this very fact accounts for the deep interest and widespread activity that has attached to the question of religious education. In an age of transition men have felt the need of fuller knowledge and have coveted better privileges for their children's training in religion than they themselves enjoyed. To-day distinct and widely accepted tendencies in Christian thought are deeply affecting men's minds. God no longer sits aloft, far removed from the feverish life of man, but “in Him we live and move and have our being." Christ is no longer the center of metaphysical discussions, but all our theology is Christo-centric. The primary fact about man is not that he is lost, but that he possesses infinite capacities for finding life; he is not the "wreck and ruin of a once fair and perfect harmony," but rather a "chaos not yet reduced to order." Sin is conceived of not only as the inevitable taint inherited from the past, but as selfishness pure and simple. Salvation is not a purchase whereby a human soul is saved from eternal punishment, but is the making here and now of a bad man into a good one. Punishment is not the edict of a judge, but the inevitable penalty which inheres in all sin. The authority of the Bible is the authority of the truth which it contains. The “religion of the spirit" has replaced the "religions of authority," and mankind kneels at the shrine of truth. These shiftings of emphasis are fundamental; they produce many questions, they require careful readjustments, and lay an unusual burden upon the religious educator.
Again, the one agency upon which rests the chief responsibility for the religious training of the child is undergoing a strange metamorphosis. The home is no longer the most potent force in character building. The father, under the exacting demands of modern industrial conditions, is deprived of the influence over his children which he would naturally exert. The mother likewise is often tempted by dire necessity or by excessive social demands to neglect her children. The definite and positive religious instruction formerly received about the family altar is now lacking. The social conditions of our large cities, the crowding of the tenement districts, the abnormal and incessant haste of American life, together with other obvious forces, have combined to rob the home of its proper place in our civilization. As a consequence the chief factor in the moral and spiritual training of our children is failing us at a most critical juncture, and doubling the task that falls to the teacher of religion.
Furthermore, not only the content of our religious teaching and the chief agency for Christian nurture are undergoing fundamental changes, but the environment into which the youth must go is making demands which our forefathers little anticipated. The instruction suited to the conditions of a generation ago is totally inadequate for the child of to-day. He lives in a different world. Simplicity and unity have been replaced by complexity and diversity. The emphasis is no longer individual, but social. The great fundamental virtues such as honesty and veracity will never change, but their real meaning in the midst of modern social conditions is often lost or perverted. Temptations are so subtle, forces are so complex, factors are so interrelated, organizations are so intricate, responsibility is so diffused, that many persons have gone down to disgrace through the failure to think clearly about the oldtime virtues in the midst of new conditions, and to discern clearly the ramifications and ultimate meaning of many methods widely in vogue in business and politics. The ethical awakening of the past decade, which has left in its train the wrecks of many careers in financial, business, and political circles, speaks in unmistakable tones of the necessity of shaping our ethical and religious instruction to the enlarging demands of a new social era. Stealing is one thing to the boy on the farm and a totally different thing in its outward aspects at least to the youth familiar with the methods of a Wall Street. Our large metropolitan centers, our factory towns where life and toil go on under most abnormal conditions, over both of which has flowed the dark, deep tide of immigration, present a situation which must teach us many new duties. Brotherhood and democracy take on new and unexpected meanings when definite
and concrete situations such as these require new interpretations. The most significant fact confronting teachers of religion to-day is a changed environment which demands a readjustment and reinterpretation of the fundamental verities of life in the light of new facts and conditions.
III. SOME PRINCIPLES.
We now have before us the formulation of the aim of religious education and the peculiarly significant facts in the presence of which we must attempt its realization. We see that which ought to be and that which is. Here, as everywhere, duty consists in the effort to bring the ideal and the actual a little nearer together. How shall it be done? To answer the question would be to solve the largest problem that confronts the Christian church. While we cannot hope to accomplish such a result. in a brief time, we may endeavor with reason to set down some of the principles which must be recognized if our ideal is to be partially realized. While vagueness and indefiniteness prevail in much that is done and said for religious education, nevertheless there are constantly emerging certain basal principles which are generally accepted. Among these we would emphasize the following:
1. Religious instruction must be closely related to the experience of the child. This principle is true for education in any field and for all stages of development. No person learns more than his own experience makes vital. Inner development and outer action are coördinate. Impression and expression are the two indispensable factors of the same process. It is precisely at this juncture that experimental psychology has contributed so much to the fundamental principles that must lie back of all tuition. The actual application of this psychological principle simply means that our instruction of the child will be in the terms of his own concrete daily experience and definitely related to the problems which he faces constantly in his own world. We must have different standards of judgment for different periods of development in the child. It means, as we are coming more and more to agree, that our instruction must be graded and suited to the age of the pupil. It means that we will be concerned not only with the subject-matter of our teaching, but