SCHOOLBOYS AND RELIGION
BETWEEN the religious teaching instilled into boys at public schools and the views about religion held by boys at public schools there may or may not be a considerable gulf. It is not always easy to discover whether there is or not, for boys are frequently hesitant about discussing their religious views. For that reason a recent departure at this school may be of some wider interest, the more so as the initiative which led to it came from the boys themselves. At the end of last year I was approached by one or two of the senior Sixth Form boys, who said there was a strong desire amongst some boys in the Upper part of the school to start a religious discussion-group, and they asked whether I would be willing to sponsor it. Having secured the headmaster's cordial approval, I, of course, agreed ; so a committee was formed, com- posed of the two senior prefects and two others ; and " The Sunday Discussion Group," limited to thirty members, was formed. The proposal was to have three meetings a term, at which a subject should be introduced by a paper read by a master or visitor ; two or three masters were to be invited as guests to each meeting. The plan was an immediate success, and more boys applied for member- ship than the number set as limit. I was asked to act as chairman. We are now in our third term, and the interest is as keenly sustained as ever.
The subjects which the committee have chosen for discussion at the beginning of each term will give an idea of the scope of our programme.
First Term.—(1) Christianity and Pacifism ; (2) Christianity and Life after Death ; (3) Reunion of the Churches.
Second Term.—(t) Spiritual Healing ; (2) The Divinity of Christ ; (3) Christianity and the Social Problem.
Third Term.—(t) Christian collaboration as viewed from the standpoint, of the Sword of the Spirit ; (2) Is Christianity a Religion? ; (3) Does Prayer Work?
To the first discussion we invited a Quaker, to the second a scientist ; the third was to be introduced by a Presbyterian, with a Roman Catholic as a guest. In each case we aim at inviting some-
one whom we believe to be likely to contribute something interesting to the discussion.
These meetings reveal that the members can be roughly grouped as follows: one or two very vocal boys who profess to be atheists or at least very sceptical agnostics ; a large core of boys who are genuine seekers after truth, but are critical of the specifically Christian standpoint and usually rather painfully ignorant of what the Christian faith really is ; and a few who are wholeheartedly Christians, but are on the whole rather tongue-tied and shy of expressing their opinions. The result is that the discussions, which would certainly go on to midnight if there were no time-limit, tend to take on the nature of a bombardment of the speaker by a group of iconoclasts, in which very often the discussion wanders sadly astray from the point. But it does us all a deal of good. It enables us to formulate our difficulties and sort our ideas into some kind of order, and it does give the speaker a chance to meet real objections and try to correct misunderstandings. A few of the main difficulties that crop up in these discussions are: 1. God. Many boys find it very difficult to accept the Christian idea of God as personal and loving. The difficulties in the way of reconciling the idea of God's omnipotence with the evil in the world are, of course, not peculiar to this generation, but they loom very large at a time like this.
2. The evergreen problems of compulsory chapel and institutional religion generally. These problems, again, are not new, but the conditions of modern life and the impatience with which anything that savours of discipline in religion is viewed have given them perhaps undue importance in the eyes of the young.
3. The exact definition of the Divinity of Christ. Is He different from us in kind or only in degree? Many find it very difficult to accept the truth of the Incarnation.
4. Does it matter what we believe so long as we live a good life? The majority would, I think, argue that it doesn't.
5. What is the value of prayer? There is a lot of scepticism here.
6. The rival Churches of Christendom. This a great stumbling- block, and I have found a general feeling that here is one of the most urgent problems to be solved before we can get ahead with anything else.
We try to reduce the contributions of masters to the minimum and leave the field clear for the boys, though the chaplains are, in the nature of things, called upon to explain some dogma or answer some criticism upon the Church. Some of the most profound statements and challenging opinions have come from the boys themselves, but they are not by any means all destructive. There is a certain resemblance between our meetings and those of the Christian Evidence Society in Hyde .Park,—with this difference, that a good deal more sense is talked by the audience here than there. Certainly one becomes rathe- sadly conscious of the utter lack of religious background in the lives of most of our boys. That they are groping is an encouraging fact, but it is a pity that the darkness in which they grope is often so gross. In so far as we are doing something to lighten their darkness we are, I feel, doing something really worth while.
To the question whether there are any signs on the horizon of a religious revival I would answer that if my experience is shared by chaplains of other public schools—and it seems reasonable to suppose that it is—then the prospects are not unpromising. Im- patience in the young with what seems to them to be outworn or purely conventional beliefs, and a heartfelt desire to find something to satisfy their spiritual stirrings, are promising pointers to a future where there will be a widely-held resolution to build a new order
on true spiritual foundations. In spite of indignant letters to The Times, the lead given by the Archbishop of Canterbury finds an
eager response in the hearts and minds of the rising generation, which is an encouraging sign to those of us who see only in a religious revival a chance to piece together the shattered fragments of a world in ruins.
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