10 SEPTEMBER 1921, Page 21

THE CHILD'S KNOWLEDGE OF GOD.* IF religious instruction in Manchester

is given on the lines laid down in this admirable book, the diocese is greatly to be con- gratulated. What Lancashire thinks to-day, England (it has

been said) thinks to-morrow. It is to be hoped that it may be so in this important matter ; and that The Child's Knowledge of God should be published in a shilling edition, and be in the hands of all school teachers and ministers of religion, is greatly to be desired. For this purpose, 7s. 6d. is a prohibitive price.

Lamentable and scandalous are strong words : but they are not too strong—they are scarcely strong enough—for the religious teaching commonly found in our elementary, our Sunday, and even our secondary schools :-

" Pestalozzi says that we should give our children ' thinking love.' Much of the love we have given them is unthinking. There is scarcely one of us who has not been guilty of this transgression at one time or another, and the tragedy still goes on."

Nowhere has our national disinclination to and incapacity for ideas had more disastrous results. And the more indifferent public opinion becomes to religion the more aggravated is the evil, because religious instruction falls increasingly into the hands of ignorant and incompetent persons. It was not always so. Speaking of the late Bishop Percival's work at Clifton : " He rarely spoke dogmatically of the great doctrines of our faith as formulated in past ages by the Church," says Canon Wilson ; " but, along with the foundations of the Christian Faith, he so plainly taught the then less familiar truths of progressive revelation, both of God and of Nature, and of pro- gressive morality and knowledge, that the doubts and difficulties which then, at the Universities and elsewhere, were sweeping young men off their feet, were to his old pupils as to himself no difficulties at all." But teachers of Dr. Percival's quality are few at all times, and fewer now than then.

• The Child's Knowledge of God. By the Rev. T. Grigg-Smith, Director of Religious Instruction In the Dioccscof Manchester. London : Macmillan. [72.0d.]

Mr. Grigg-Smith's subject is, however, rather the teaching

of religion in elementary than in secondary schools. " There is great need for a Society for the Prevention of Spiritual Cruelty

to Children," he tells us ; and he lays down two leading principles for the teacher : (1) That "the right matter should be taught at the right stage of spiritual development" ; (2) that " what we teach must be true, and straight from the heart, so far as the Light of Truth has been given to us." Any violation of these two principles " either induces spiritual indigestion in those taught, or engenders a similar lack of conviction to that existing in the heart of the teacher." Each is a trap for souls.

By a curious perversity, not only our nursery teaching, but the schemes of instruction commonly issued, whether by Diocesan or Local Education authorities, start from the fundamentally false assumption that, because the Genesis stories are placed at the beginning of the Bible, they should be taught first. " Such an assumption," says our author, " is psychologically, educa-

tionally, and spiritually false : for not only does it engender, by leading the child into a mental environment totally different from his own, an artificial regard for Bible stories, but it involves

the inevitable presentation to the mind of too primitive a con- ception of God." The story of the sacrifice of Isaac is given as an example of how not to teach religion to children. The impression made is that God commanded a peculiarly horrible and unnatural murder. " Do you think it was nice of God to

do this ? " asks the child in Helen's Babies. The idea of a pious father kidnapping his unsuspecting son, pinioning him

like a hangman, and intending to cut his throat and burn his corpse, " belongs to a spiritual and mental environment entirely divorced from that of a child in a present-day English home of

whatever class of society." As a record of a stage in the develop- ment of religion, it is of great importance ; and Gunkel's volume on Genesis, in tho Hand-Kommentar, should be in the hands of every preacher. Its subject is, however, that Ritual Murder of which God says : " I commanded it not, neither came it into my mind " ; and, " they offered their sons and daughters unto devils, and the land was defiled with blood." And youth goes out to youth. So much is this the case that it is no exaggera- tion to say of many children who hear this story that, for the

time, " they are Isaac." They start with him on the melancholy journey, climb the hill of slaughter, and shudder at the uplifted knife held over their throat. There are few teachers, to whom people speak openly, who have not known permanent alienation from religion duo to such causes. Children are sensitive, direct, and often nervous : what can we expect ?

" To mention one case out of several—it was three months before normal sleep returned to a five and a-half year old little girl after being thoughtlessly told at school in gruesome detail a Bible story that should never have been so treated. The mother states that the child used to cry out and weep until she woke herself, and then it was some time before she was pacified and slept again."

" Why did not God toll the mothers, so that they could keep their little babies safe ? " asked a girl of six on hearing of the

Massacre of the Innocents. Horrors are not to be inflicted on children : " details of the Crucifixion," says the author, wisely,

" should never be told." And the idea of God conveyed is often frankly repulsive. One child writes : " We may get run over by accident, but God made that accident." And another :

" How Elisha must have loved God, when God called the bears to cat the children as they ran after him, jeering as they


We feel more convinced that the Church Cathoohism requires " radical reform " than hopeful that such a revision could be carried out with success under our present circumstances. What the Prayer Book calls " our unhappy divisions " stands in the way. A catechism which would satisfy the preponderant section of the clergy would be unacceptable to, and profoundly dissatisfy, the more thoughtful laity. The existing Catechism is often unintelligible ; that by which it would be replaced would in all probability be mischievous. This consideration may make us

" rather bear those ills we have Than fly to others that wo know not of."