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Letter ReferenceLetters/500
Archive
Epistolary Type
Letter Date13 May 1912
Address FromDe Aar, Northern Cape
Address To
Who ToAdela Villiers Smith nee Villiers
Other VersionsCronwright-Schreiner 1924: 306-7
PermissionsPlease read before using or citing this transcription
Legend
When Cronwright-Schreiner prepared The Letters of Olive Schreiner, with few exceptions he then destroyed her originals. However, some people gave him copies and kept the originals or demanded the return of these; and when actual Schreiner letters can be compared with his versions, his have omissions, distortions and bowdlerisations. Where Schreiner originals have survived, these will be found in the relevant collections across the OSLO website. There is however a residue of some 587 items in The Letters for which no originals are extant. They are included here for sake of completeness. However, their relationship to Schreiners actual letters cannot now be gauged, and so they should be read with caution for the reasons given.
1To Mrs. Francis Smith.
2De Aar, 13th May.
3
4... Something interesting happened to me in Cape Town bearing on the
5question of teaching children Christianity. A splendid girl of about
622 was talking to me. She has studied and thought and so of course is
7a freethinker. She spoke with so much bitterness about her father,
8whom she otherwise loves passionately, because he himself, an
9enlightened freethinker, had allowed her to brought up a Christian.
10She said, "I cannot, I cannot, understand how he, who loves me so and
11has otherwise been so tender to me, could let me be taught what he
12knew to be false and did not believe himself, and never hinted to me
13that he did not." She said how he could have saved her years of
14struggle and anguish, which might have ended in her moral death, if he
15had spoken a few words to her when she was a child. I showed her his
16difficulty, that, while the mother was an ordinary Christian who could
17have insisted on teaching them prayers and taking them to church, it
18was hard for him to speak. But I think he might even so have told them
19what he thought. Where both parents are enlightened there is of course
20not this difficulty. Why should a human being spend years of their
21life in learning what later they will have to unlearn. I agree with
22Havelock Ellis, that the more one teaches children morality and right
23doing and love for all animals and people in the world, without
24fastening it on to any system of theology, Mohammedan, Christian,
25Buddhist or any other, the safer will its roots be. I would teach
26children the history of all religions carefully as they grow older.
27Show them how all savage and primitive peoples have formed theories of
28the unknown, and that the priestcraft have forced them on the people,
29so that a man as a rule accepts the religion of his country without
30any thought for himself. The Greeks killed Socrates for not believing
31what they believed in, Zeus and Venus, &c.; and the Christians killed
32people for not believing Jesus was a God; and the Catholic people have
33killed people for not believing Mary was a Goddess! Show them how
34right it is to let everyone think what they like where no one knows
35anything sure. I would leave a child quite free to choose its own
36theory of the unknown when it came to ripe years. Surely of all
37matters in which an infant mind should not be forced in any direction?
38Christianity, with its horrible doctrine of a man as God!! and of
39vicarious atonement, darkened and embittered my childhood, in a way
40perhaps a simple noble religion like the Jewish, with its simple faith
41in one God, could not do.
42