Joseph McCabe (1867-1955) was one of the most prolific authors of all time. He was brought up as a Roman Catholic, worked on Latin documents, and made himself very well-informed about Christianity, but turned against it. But he was extremely naive about Jews; bear this in mind.

Click for Detailed notes on McCabe - scroll down for selections from A Rationalist Encyclopaedia (1948).

Here's the full A Rationalist Encyclopaedia (about 1.3 MBytes; Word format; includes notes on some of its limits)

Illiteracy and Religion.

J. McCabe, Rationalists Encyclopaedia

One of the most insolent claims of apologists is that the Church first provided schools for the children of the workers and has always been eager to give education. The appalling Christian record until modern times is given in the article Education; and under the heading Culture and Religion it is shown that acceptance of the Christian faith is most widespread in poorly educated nations or sections of nations and least in the higher cultural strata. Vague statements about the zeal of the Jesuits on the one hand, and the Reformers on the other, to found schools alter the middle of the sixteenth century have no weight in face of the broad fact that at the time of the French Revolution 85 to 90 per cent. of the people of every country in Europe except Prussia, where the Rationalist Frederic the Great had inaugurated a school-system, were still illiterate. Jesuit colleges had an exclusively sectarian aim, and Protestant enterprises, like that of Massachusetts in the sixteenth century, sought only to enable the young to read the Bible and religious literature. The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge opened 2,000 schools in England in the eighteenth century, but they restricted their work to giving children an elementary capacity to read and write. The Bishop of London said, in 1714, that the first care of the Society was "to fit the child for its inferior station." Experts broadly conclude that on the eve of the French Revolution 90 per cent. of the people of Europe were illiterate, and at the close of the Napoleonic regime - the Atheist French leaders, their disciples abroad, and the great Rationalist paedagogists Pestalozzi, Froebel, and Owen having made an impression - about 80 per cent.; and the most densely ignorant States, apart from the Greek Catholic Balkans and Russia, were Papal Italy, Spain, and Portugal. The struggle, led almost entirely by laymen, who were largely sceptics, but never Catholics, to secure a national system of schools (which pagan Rome had had fifteen centuries earlier) is described in the article Education. As late as 1861 the cultural condition of the four most advanced countries in Europe was that in England and Wales 1 child in 7, in France 1 in 9, in Holland 1 in 8, and in Prussia 1 in 6 attended school. In more religious countries the proportion was much smaller, and the degree of illiteracy corresponded to the extent of clerical influence. When the Papal States were taken over by the Italian Government, in 1870, some of them had already been for several years under secular administration, yet 70 per cent. of the people over the age of 7 were illiterate. In the table given by Mulhall for the year 1885 the countries with more than 80 per cent. of the population literate are, in this order of merit: Germany, Scandinavia, Switzerland, the United Kingdom (slowed down by the illiteracy of Ireland), and Holland. At the bottom of the scale are Austria (55 per cent. able to read - though the Liberals had effected an improvement), Italy (47, the new anti-Papal Government having done much), Spain (23), Portugal (20), Spanish America (10-20). The relative positions were much the same at the end of the century, according to statistics in the Cyclopaedia of Education, published by Columbia University, and a report of the U.S. Commissioners of Education quoted by Webb for the year 1900. While at that date the proportion of illiterates had been reduced to 0.11 in Germany, 0.30 in Switzerland, 3.57 in Scotland, 4.0 in Holland, 4.90 in France, and 5.80 in Great Britain, it was still 7.0 in Ireland, 23.80 in Austria, 28 in Hungary, 30 in Greece, 38 in Italy, 61 in Russia, 68 in Spain, 79 in Portugal, 86 in Serbia, and 89 in Rumania. Although these statistics, furnished by a Government department of America, were available everywhere, American Catholic apologists continued, like those of England, to boast of the Church's zeal for education in all ages. Until five years ago all systems were under secular authorities, and the figures rose, but the triumph of clerical-Fascism has ruined education in Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Austria, and is debasing it in France. But the mere capacity to read and write is not enough. Progress depends on the matter taught in the schools and available for reading afterwards. Compare in this respect the fine system in Soviet Russia to-day highly praised by Prof. Dewey and other authorities, and that of Italy and Spain under Fascism, or the school-life of Mexico to-day and that of Fascist Peru or Brazil.


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