State Education Entails State Religion

Since the Commonwealth is entitled to exist, it is entitled to take all the powers necessary to secure its proper existence. Ignorant citizens endanger that end. Therefore the State is entitled to assume the function of educating all the citizens.

I proceed by the same steps, but with stronger premises.

Since the state is entitled to exist, it is entitled to take all powers necessary to secure its proper existence. Immoral citizens endanger that end. But the influences of the Christian religion alone furnish a sufficient basis for morality. (Thus testifies all history, and more expressly the fathers of our country, as Washington and Patrick Henry.) Therefore, the State is entitled to assume the function of Christianizing all its people. This conclusion of course, would authorize the State to appoint a Christian pastor for every neighborhood, and tax the people to pay him, precisely as the Commonwealths which hold the Prussian theory of education now appoint and pay schoolmasters. Every man who uses the premises to deduce the one plan and refuses to deduce from them the other plan, a State religion, is glaringly inconsistent.

This charge is sustained by the whole of modern history.

First, every statesman of the Reformation epoch who, like John Knox, argued the right and duty of the states to educate the children, also argued State religion as an imperative duty from the same premises. Not a single leader of opinion can be found for two hundred years so absurd as to assert the one inference and discard the other. Every one of them would have rejected such a proposal with indignant contempt, as both foolish and wicked. This assertion is true, also, of the fathers of those New England commonwealths whom we now hear quoted in favor of a coercive system of State education without a State religion. Were they to return to life, they would repudiate such perversions of their authority as thoroughly deceitful. These modern advocates are especially fond of quoting the principles and the measures of the great Knox.

Were that Iron Man to return to the earth just now, and to hear these pretended successors to his creed quoting him as authority for the educational rights of the State which they have stripped of all Christian character and of every right of Christian inculcation, one can imagine the thundering disclaimer which would come from the roughest side of his rough tongue. He would declare that such a State, giving such an education, was a conception of the devil himself. [Let the reader note that I do not say that this verdict of Knox is mine.] But next, it is a fact, very difficult for our recent theorists, that nearly all the statesmen in the world, at this very day, judge as the reformers did, concerning the inseparable conjunction of a State religion with a State education.

In all Protestant Europe, there are but two commonwealths which, pursuing a State education, have abandoned a State religion; Ireland and the Little canton of Lausanne in Switzerland. The departure of Ireland from the old doctrine has been the result of no consistent logic whatever, but of the political strategy of the Prince of demagogues.

Even freethinking France, under a Republican government, which regards the prevalent religion (popery) with suspicion and fear, in upholding the State education, still upholds her State religions. Thus sweeping is the current of enlightened opinion in the world on this point (overlooked in America, with an obtuseness almost insensate), that if the premises authorize a state education, they must also authorize a State religion. For every instructed mind sees that an agency which has inhibited itself from being Christian is thereby disqualified itself essentially being an educator.

Education a Soul–Function

The thing to be developed by an education is a soul, a monad endued with several faculties, among which the moral and spiritual must hold the ruling place, or else the result is a spiritual wreck, and an immortal destiny ruined. The educator who cannot develop these ruling faculties can do nothing effectual. The training which he gives is merely a perversion, and not an education. Such is the testimony, not only of all the divines and moralists, but of all true statesmen and philosophers. Education is a soul-function. The modern American State is a political Corporation.

“Corporations have no souls.” Can there be a greater solecism into a sign the training of souls to agents which have no soul? Does anyone argue that the motherly cow, which supplies nutrition for the child’s body in the letter to shoe his feet, is therefore a suitable agent to train his mind and morals? She gives excellent milk, but nonetheless she will steal the growing corn of her masters neighbor, and, unlike the child, lack all rational knowledge that her theft is sin.

Again, the weapon which the State wields by the authority of God and the natural reason is force. Its emblem is the sword, the instrument of wounds and death. By its nature, it has no other power of control. The sword is no implement with which to train a child. The proper implements of a teacher are light, love and conscience, sustained by parental authority, tempered with parental tenderness. Does one reply, that this is a rhetorical trope and not logic? Then I drop the figure and point to the fact, that when the State assumes as her own the immense function of all the parents, she places herself inevitably in this dilemma: either she lets her work go “at loose ends,” to the ruin of the children’s habits and principles, or she must organize a discipline of rigid system, and enforce all its details with military precision, by her one legitimate instrument of force. But this presents a system harshly unfitted for training the tender souls of children, and destructive of mental freedom.

R.L. Dabney

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Robert Lewis Dabney was an American theologian, Southern Presbyterian pastor, Confederate States Army chaplain, and architect. Despite turning down a position at Princeton, Charles Hodge considered Dabney to be perhaps the greatest theologian in the U.S.

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