Lemuel K. Washburn: “Sunday Schools”

Of all the stupid things we meet with, Sunday school lessons are the stupidest. There seems to be only one way to account for this, and that is that stupid persons are connected with Sunday schools and can comprehend only stupid things. It seems to us as though a bright boy or girl at the age of twelve years ought to be able to overthrow every argument employed in a Sunday school to bolster up the Christian superstition. The lessons taught in them are adapted to undeveloped brains, and the literature one gets from their libraries is of that variety that is calculated to discourage any robust independence of mind.

We believe that any religious or theological instruction is a positive injury to the young; that it is utterly wrong to instill into the immature mind ideas of God, of a future life, of heaven and hell, of angels and devils. All that we know about God is what we don’t know. The same may be said of other branches of religion. How much better it would be to teach something useful, something of importance, something real, true! Parents owe it to their children to save them from being taught the false and foolish dogmas of Christianity. False education is the bane of humanity, and the falsehood that is learned in Sunday schools poisons and deforms the life of man as long as he lives. Fear of God – the most terrible specter that ever haunted the human soul – is a product of the Sunday school.

The victims of this fear can be counted today by millions. This one fact ought to be sufficient to condemn this nursery of superstition and evil. There is no earthly reason to fear God, and other reasons should have no weight. The black shadow of fear which darkens the whole Earth is the result of faith in God. The catechisms used in the Sunday schools are mostly filled with pious trash. The questions and answers they contain are written out of ignorance, written, too, in most cases, for the purpose of making the intellect the slave of the priest and minister. There is no mystery so shallow as a theological mystery, because it is founded on deception. The only mysteries that the human mind can contemplate with real wonder are the sublime mysteries of nature, the mysteries of life and death, of sand and star, of flower and feeling.

Before these great, overwhelming mysteries, that everywhere surround us, the petty ideas of Gods and devils, of saviors and mediators, of heaven and hell, are trivial and cheap. We condemn Sunday schools, because they do not teach what is real, what is true, what is necessary to a noble human life on Earth; because they inculcate superstitions, and elevate the belief of religious dogmas above scientific and useful knowledge; because they put God above man, heaven hereafter above the home here, and the performance of religion’s duties above the life of honesty, purity and love. Sunday schools are the poorest schools on the face of the Earth, and there is only one excuse for their existence, and that is to perpetuate the Church, to keep alive the superstitions upon which it was built and upon which the clergy depend for a living.

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