Project Canterbury

The Life and Letters of George Alfred Lefroy, D.D.
Bishop of Calcutta, and Metropolitan

By H. H. Montgomery

London, etc.: Longmans, Green and Co., 1920.

Chapter V. Religious Influence in Mission Schools

IN 1883 Lefroy wrote another "Occasional Paper" on the above subject. It seems to me to be of permanent value. Nor do I know that further experience has tended in any way to modify what this young Cambridge man set down after three years' experience. Advisedly, I print full extracts on this subject in close juxtaposition with the work among the low castes. In both spheres, so utterly different, George Lefroy was evincing the qualities of a sane and trusted leader.

Religious Influence in Mission Schools.

"I have been asked to put shortly on paper my impressions as to the moral influence which the system of Education that we are now pursuing is calculated to bring to bear on the boys attending our schools, and also as to the effects of it--if any--which may already have become discernible. . . .

"And first as to the opportunities which we have for forming any opinion on the subject at all. These are principally threefold--

"(a) The Regular Religious Lesson with which we begin each day's work in school and college.

"(b) The more personal and private interviews and conversations which we are able to have with a few of our pupils who come to us out of school hours for help, either in their regular subjects or more frequently in some extra piece of reading which they are taking up for themselves and which does not come into the course of the regular lessons.

"(c) A prize essay which we set them--usually on some subject more or less directly religious--twice a year, and in which we try to elicit an honest statement of their own opinions. It is in this, of course, that we get the most direct assertions of beliefs and disbeliefs, though there must always remain a question as to the value of such assertions representing truly and honestly the writer's mind.

"Of these the most important--as it is the most frequent and the most methodical--is probably the regular class lesson, and yet it is, perhaps for the very reason of its regularity, the one in regard to which I find it most difficult to form an opinion as to its probable or achieved influence.

"That it may be made thoroughly interesting--that it is very often quite the reverse is an opinion from which probably but few religious teachers of any country or any class will dissent, as also that the difference in this respect depends principally on the teacher, on his own interest in the work and the care and thoroughness with which he has prepared it for his pupils beforehand.

"That the generality of the boys and young men of this country show any special aptitude for or interest in religious teaching is an opinion from which I should be inclined to differ.

"It is, I believe, often said that the native mind is naturally religious, and there can be no doubt that it is so if by this is meant that they are greatly interested in and show a most remarkable aptitude for the Philosophy of Religion (by which I mean abstract speculation as to the Divine Essence, the nature of life, and such like), or for the outward ceremonial and detail of religion.

"Of this one meets with most abundant proof, not only in the more educated minds with which we come in contact in schools and colleges, but in the case of the commonest tradesman or mechanic who often interrupt the Bazaar preaching with a question of such metaphysical or speculative depth as would be, I believe, quite beyond the reach of the ordinary Englishman either to originate or appreciate, as they certainly are most difficult to answer. If, on the other hand, by 'religious' is meant that they are possessed of that acute moral sense which we believe to lie at the very foundation of all truly practical religion, there can, I think, be no doubt that Hindus and Mahommedans alike so far from being highly possessed of this lack it in an almost incredible degree. To this the Pantheism of the one and the absolute predestinarianism of the other most probably largely contribute, but whatever the causes may be the effect can scarcely be denied by any one who either meets them personally or is at all acquainted with their religious maxims or doctrines on the subject of sin.

"And further, in addition to this blunted sense of moral responsibility, there is an aversion to, or at any rate an incompetence to appreciate, anything like Historical Evidences which often sorely troubles us when dealing with a religion essentially so historical as Christianity. It will therefore be seen that while in some respects we find greater receptivity, in others, and these perhaps more important ones, we find greater bluntness and want of interest than would usually be the case in England.

"And yet I hope that our work of these three years has not been altogether in vain. Allnutt has been occupied with a lengthy course on Natural Religion, the need of Revelation, the characteristics of a true Religion, and so on, while I have been engaged with Biblical subjects, at first parts of the Historical books of the O.T., and latterly the opening of the Epistle to the Romans. This last has certainly, as might have been expected, worked more interest than any of my previous subjects, but besides this there is, I think, a distinctly perceptible advance in the Hindus, who form the bulk of our senior class, in the definiteness of their perception of a present personal God--a belief almost wholly lacking to Hinduism--and in the one Mahommedan whom we have, in the recognition of the need of some high standard of morality, though at present he chiefly confines himself to moral maxims and advice, not realising their insufficiency and the need of their being backed by some practical and enabling power. I don't think one can say very much more about the daily lesson. . . .

"In the way of private intercourse I have personally seen most of two boys; the Hindu, of whom I have just been speaking, and the Mahommedan, to whom I have alluded as the only one in the uppermost class. Of the former I have not much to add to what I have already said. Our conversation did not often turn on directly religious subjects, though a book he showed me one day was an indication of the turn his thoughts were taking; it was a collection of essays by some of the leading Hindu reformers who are now making so much way in Calcutta and other places, and whose effort is to fall back from the corruptions of later Hinduism on the purer teaching of the Vedas. A letter we have just received from this boy is also interesting as showing the view he has taken of our religious instruction, especially just at the present time, when a Delhi local paper has been urging against us with great vigour that we compel the attendance of our students at religious services and teaching in opposition alike to the wishes of the parents and of the boys. He writes, and I believe, from his personal character, that he means much at any rate of what he says, already quoted on p. 24: 'I cannot find words to express,' etc. The conclusion may verge on bathos, but I believe it is not the less genuine. . . .

"I don't think anything is left for me to say now, except to make a few quotations from the essays to which I have previously alluded, but first a word as to the object and nature of these. In many missionary schools it has been, and I suppose is, the habit, following in this the precedent of the great Duff, to instruct the boys thoroughly, not merely in the rudiments, but also in the deepest and most mysterious doctrines of our Christian faith, and then set questions, or an essay, intended to draw out the knowledge so imparted, it of course being understood that the scholars wrote from the head only, in no way expressing their own conviction or sincerely accepting the truth of what they, in many cases most ably, put on paper. Without expressing any opinion on this method I want it to be most clearly understood that it is not one which we follow ourselves. On the other hand, our chiefest endeavour is to elicit an expression of really honest opinion, whether or not jt be in accordance with what we would fain see believed: this the very wording of the subject for our last essay sufficiently shows. It ran thus:

"'In what way do you think it probable that Indian society will be affected as regards

(a) Its prevalent modes of thought,

(b) its religions,

(c) its manners, customs, and beliefs, scientific or otherwise,

by the continuance and development of education on its present lines.'

"I need hardly say that we did not so stultify ourselves as to endeavour, either by suggestions of our own or by references to books, to supply them with an answer to a question so couched. Furthermore, I believe that the boys know we do want them honestly to say what they think, and that they are not the least more likely to get the prize if they say what is in accordance with our views than if they vigorously maintain the opposite. That this is so may, I think, be proved by a passage in one of these two essays where the writer defends on philosophical grounds the prevailing idolatry as practised by the more educated and thoughtful Hindus. He says,

"'The native students maintain their belief in the worship of deities, on the reason that they do not worship them merely as stones, but as representing the figure of God in different incarnations, such as Krishna, Rama, and Siva, preserving the unity of God under different names.'

"This, while from personal knowledge I believe it does thoroughly represent the writer's own standpoint, is hardly the line that would have been taken had it been sought to curry favour by an incipient Christianity. On the other hand, I do not mean to say that one can always be certain in the case of these writers, any more than of others, that they quite mean all they say. They may of course, as much as others, be induced by motives of supposed expediency to suppress opinions they really hold, or express others of which they are at best but half convinced. I merely want to point out what our own intention is in setting these essays, and I think the words I have quoted, as well as others, which will follow, show that that intention is to a large extent understood and acted on. Having said thus much I will now quote a few passages from each paper. The Hindu describing the spread of a more liberal and thoughtful spirit, says,

"'The most important effect of the Western education is that the natives have begun forming societies in which they try to remove their social and customary abuses. As an illustration of the fact let us choose two chief castes of the Hindus, viz. Kayasth and Khattri. These two castes are generally more educated than others, and consequently the effect on their minds has been greater than on others. The Kayasths have formed a National Society in which different subjects are discussed for the improvement of mutual advantage, viz. the abolition of those customs which are superfluously expensive, the restrictions in the expense of marriage ceremonies and such other things. . . . These societies represent marked distinctions between the old men who are uneducated in Western sciences and the young educated students. The former wish to retain as far as possible the old customs, the latter wishing to abolish them and form new rules about them.'

"Again, as to the obliteration of sharp caste distinction in the matter of trades, he says,

"'The distinction of caste or rather of trade-holders is quite gone away by the Western education. Previously every caste had its own profession, and was not allowed under any circumstances to alter it. Now when the Western education welcomed all kinds of persons whether high or low, the thoughts of each of them equally improved and they were left to adopt whatever line of trade they may choose or to improve their own.'

"Again, as to the decrease of superstition,

"'The natives held and still hold superstitious thoughts in all their actions. Whenever they go to some work or leave their home to go to some other city they looked for good omens, viz. whether it is a favourable time for them to do so or not. They consulted with the Monks or Faqirs about their future fate and considered them as supernatural persons who also pretended to foretell their fates and thus earned much money while apparently suffering very much by excessive hard life, by which they might be considered as being deeply engaged in the thought of God. The educated natives do not consider them in any respect higher than themselves, but on the contrary think them as wicked persons cheating the people and earning money by false means.'

"Remarking on the fact, that Hindus have been so far much more affected by Western education than the Mahommedans, he traces it to three causes: (1) The ignorance of their religion prevailing among young Hindus; (2) The failure of historical or geographical proof; (3) The inevitable result on native worship of even a slight acquaintance with science. Thus, he says,

"'1. The Hindu students in their school life have no knowledge whatever of their religion, and in that course of time (viz. boyhood) they go on to perform their religious ceremonies without knowing what they mean; they simply obey the will of their parents in doing so, for some of these ceremonies seem troublesome and needless to the young student. When such is the condition of their knowledge of their own religion it is not very difficult that they can be made more doubtful about the truth of their religion by the well-developed and scientific education.

"'2. Another reason of their having become less superstitious or rather possessing opposite views of their religion is that Hinduism fails entirely to prove its historical evidences. There are great exaggerations in mentioning the geographical positions of the places which are the scenes of the great works of their religious heroes, or which are the worshipping places. These exaggerations are found to be utterly false by a very little knowledge of the Western education. The student is thus left to choose which side he likes, either he should leave his religion or he should not accept the testimonies of the great scientific explorers. As an example of the controversy between the Hindu religion and Western science we may state as follows. The Hindu Religious books teach that the source of the river Ganges is Heaven, and that it flows from the head of Siva. The truth of this legend can be easily rejected by the knowledge of the geography of India where we find that the Ganges derives its source from the Himalayan Mountains and pursues a regular course.

"'3. The worship of nature, such as fire, water, and rain, which is an essential part of the Hindu Religion, is not of much satisfaction to the educated students; they have rejected it, or rather they can reject it by a little knowledge of Physics and Chemistry in which they learn what these elements of nature are; how they are guided by the established rules of cause and effect, and have no sense of being considered as things of worship.'

"He concludes with what is, I think, a very remarkable appeal for further information respecting Hinduism in order that he, and others in the like position, may have the materials necessary for a final decision.

"'All the above arguments show that the Western education has decidedly disturbed the educated minds and weakened their belief in their own Religion. In the end it is better to say that if a little knowledge of Hinduism will be given to the native students it will remove all kinds of doubt which they possess and their minds will become clear. Either they will adhere to their own religion with firmness and will throw off the thoughts of swinging between the two, or they will entirely reject Hinduism and adopt any other religion in which they might find more truth and reasonable facts.'

"And now turning for a moment to the Mahommedan's essay, there are just a few points, I think, one may notice. Not many, for though it got the first prize, and is very decidedly better than the other as well in depth and arrangement of thought as in style, yet it contains fewer passages fitted, by definite allusion and distinct expression of opinion on matters of detail, for quotation in such a paper as this. Alluding to effects already achieved and due in his opinion to Western education, he says:

"'Every one knows that it has raised the tone of the native Public Service, purified the native Bench and improved the native Bar, though more particularly in Bengal, Bombay, and Madras; but these being parts of India and inhabited by our own brethren, we may hope the day will come when Upper India also will be on a level with them.'

"Again, he notes an improvement in tone and manner of thought among the people generally:

"'The impurity and wildness of thought which have been for centuries notorious characteristics of our society are now dying out. Bear in mind that when I say they are dying out, I do not mean that they have died out. But still it (i.e. what has been already accomplished) is a great achievement of the English education, seeing that they were for many centuries the pith and point of our thoughts. The probability that this healthy effect is due chiefly to English education, arises from the consideration that the impurity and wild-ness began to lose their ground only when English education began to spread, i.e. it was only twenty years ago that they began to vanish. Credulity has passed off, though leaving scepticism in its place as its deputy in many cases, especially with regard to Religion.'

"And further on as to the cause of this, on the whole, undoubted improvement:

"'Then to what cause is this amelioration due? The answer is evident. To nothing else most probably than the influence of English education. The sense of duty, estimation of virtue, importance of truthfulness and honesty, love of their country, and liberty in thought, word, and deed, have begun to take the place of the old impurity and wildness in thought, and credulity of our society.'

"Deficiency in moral courage accounts for the results not being greater than they actually are:

"'The reason why the above mentioned qualities and others like them have not yet begun to be displayed in public is, I believe, that the age of practice has not yet come, and the age of theory is still lingering, i.e. the age in which men rest satisfied merely with knowing the meaning and value of some good principles and do not act upon them, having got no mental courage enough to show them by actions.'

"The same is the case with religion:

"'Still later (i.e. after Hinduism and Buddism) they were thrown into doubt by having now Mahommedanism forced upon themselves, then Christianity presented to them; but doubt alone could not have been sufficient to prevent them from deciding upon a pure religion, had they not been silenced by the base fear of being out-casted; in other words, had they not been bound by the ties of caste-distinction--an intricate snare first laid down by the earliest selfish Brahmans, and then kept on firm by ignorance.'

"And the purely secular character of the Government teaching is further responsible for this:

"'We must not expect too much from Indian society as to this point, seeing that an effect is adequate to its cause, in other words, bearing in mind that English education has been up to this time neither a religious nor a philosophical one, and hence imperfect. But religion is a matter of heart not of head; it appeals to the heart alone which is improved and purified only by a religious and moral education. We are not, however, unaware of how much the missionaries here in India are doing towards it. Hence we are obliged, dividing the present education into two kinds, Government non-religious education and Missionary religious education, to treat of their effects separately. The effects of Government non-religious education lie chiefly in the direction of destroying the beliefs, directly or indirectly, of the natives, whether they be Hindus, Mahommedans, Bengalis, Punjabis, Sikhs, or Parsis. No one believes the Ganges as coming down from heaven, or from a finger of some God therein, or eclipses as wrathful expressions of God's tumultuous contests, or some seven seas of delicious fluids as flowing round the world. Still such destructive effects are the first most necessary steps towards gaining truth. No one can appreciate truth adequately unless he knows the absurdities of falsehood.

"'The effects of Mission religious education operate chiefly in two directions.

'"(I) In that of edifying the natives of this country directly and indirectly, while at the same time it carries on its work of destruction more effectually. . . .

"'(2) In the direction of creating in the hearts of the natives a strong desire for search after truth--a fact attested by the bustle of so many truth-searching societies as the Arya, Brahma, Prarthana Samajes, or as the Theosophical and Sayyid Ahmed Khan societies, which all clearly point to the strong desire to search for truth. As to the future probable effects of English education on Indian society with regard to religion, all the above facts combine to point out that the day will come when these numerous societies will find out one common universal truth by the light of Western enlightenment and decide upon it. The day will come when the natives of this country, getting sufficient moral strength from English education, will bid adieu to this age of theory and will publicly acknowledge what religious opinions they hold, and on what firm religious moral principles they act.'

"One more quotation and I have done, and this on the need of a higher family life.

"'But as regards their family life the absence of two things is felt more painfully.

"'(1) The absence of domestic warmth and happiness.

"'(2) The absence of real order and wise management of household things and affairs.

"'These are chiefly owing to the ignorant and degraded condition of our women, in which they are generally kept, though a few Hindu and Mahommedan families have begun to have their daughters educated by English ladies. But these families, few as they are, lead us to hope for and expect the day when Indian daughters will generally be found educated and enlightened like their Western sisters making their houses warm and happy.'

"On such passages as these I think I need say nothing. This much at any rate they show, that the long fallow ground is being--at least has commenced to be--broken up, and that seeds of deeper thought and higher aspiration are being sown. It remains only for us to pray that in His own good time the Lord of the harvest may give the increase."

Cambridge Mission, Delhi. February, 1883.

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