As dull as statistics can early and easily become, they constitute at times the most accurate method of determining just where we are and what we have. Thus they provide us with something of a quantitative inventory of how widespread religion is in America, as set forth in a recent book edited by Leo Rosten and published this week by Simon and Schuster. [A Guide to the Religions of America?] The book reveals that:
- Ninety-six percent of Americans say they believe in God, while 76 percent of them believe in some form of afterlife;
- Seventy percent of American Negroes are church members, while some 60 percent of white people are;
- Episcopal, Jews, and Presbyterians have a greater proportion of white collar and professional people in their membership;
- Baptists, Catholics, and Lutherans have the biggest share of manual laborers;
- Suicide rates are lowest among Jews, and somewhat higher among Protestants than Catholics;
- While nearly all denominations carry on missionary work to secure converts, Quakers, Christian Scientists, Jews, and Unitarians do not;
- Three out of 10 Catholics marry a non-Catholic; one of the three without approval of the church;
- Jews have the lowest divorce rate of any of the three major religious groups, while Protestants have the highest;
- Sentiment among Protestants favoring one united Protestant church has climbed from 40 percent in 1940 to 50 percent now, while only 39 percent are opposed, with the remaining 11 percent undecided;
- The average church has 322 members, a gradual climb from some 235 in 1926;
- Among clergymen, 38 percent believe the Bible is wholly free from legend or myth, while among ministerial students only four percent hold this belief.
Many more features that are well worth reading appear in the volume, but the above are a few of the highlights. Clergymen, church researchers of many denominations, and others have contributed to the volume, which provides one of the best, detailed, and up-to-date accounts of the country’s churches which has appeared in a long time.
In the week’s mail there was an item on fear that seems worth passing on to you listeners. It deals with the proposition that we can not only learn to live with our fears, but can turn them to creative account. Fear is an emotion. It involves reverberations and disturbances that are likely to affect our behavior. It can be so acute as to constitute terror and paralyze action if not dealt with wisely. It can and often does cause unhappiness and illness.
Yet, man is an animal that is accustomed to meeting crises. Fear is useful to him in apprising him of a present or pending crisis. He is also biologically equipped to meet crisis. In the relatively long story of evolution, only those animals that had or developed a quick sense of fear survived. The buffalo is now almost extinct, but his fear quotient was low. Man’s fear quotient is high, and developed to a greater degree than any other animal.
Emotions can (and should be) servants, not masters. Otherwise we become something of only a ganglion of the universe. One of the ways of making them servants is to develop a philosophy of life and living, some personal and satisfactory system of thinking about our relation to the universe and our place and function in society. This may be called “religion.” One can hardly know right from wrong or know the desirable limits of behavior without some scale, sense, or hierarchy of values.
Today, fear is real with all of us: fear of financial insecurity, atomic war, loss of prestige, loss of health; some people are afraid of sex, afraid they won’t get married, or afraid that they will. In the economy of our philosophy, fear plays a large part, but it can be turned into something creative, nevertheless.
One way to make it creative, in addition to building a philosophy of or an attitude toward life is the matter of religion itself. Doubtless a considerable amount of our fear grows out of conflicts emerging from irrational religious ideas. The conflict, for example, growing out of the notion that we live in a bisected cosmos, a natural and a supernatural world, can well give rise to an ambivalence that prevents unity of purpose in the business of concentrating on building a worthwhile, and enjoyable life here and now.
Another step toward making fear creative is to regard and accept it as normal. Fear can be a stimulant to action. Someone has remarked with a great deal of truth that “We are as lazy as we dare to be.” Fear of failing in school can well be a stimulant to greater scholastic exertion. Fear of financial insecurity, loss of prestige, can well be the exciter that brings about greater exertion.
Again, fear can be looked upon as something of a benevolent warning. It can tell us to avoid the end result of possible failure in health, professionally or otherwise.
Fear can also force us to look facts in the face. Many times perhaps we are afraid of the little man in the dark room who isn’t there. There is no substitute for coming to grips with reality, whether it be in business, domestic affairs, professionally, or purely personal relations with others. One of the most pernicious habits is pretending that evils do not exist. The optimist (he who sees the bright side when there is really no bright side) is flirting with disaster, is somnolent, or simply being unfair with himself and the world. The philosophy that always “God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world” is the philosophy of a simpleton. Such a Pollyanna outlook cuts the nerve to action, and there is no security in pretense.
Fear thus need not paralyze, need not attain mastery over the individual. In 1933, some of you may recall, a great president said that “All we have to fear is fear itself.” That is a statement that, analyzed logically, does not make sense and the parts of it are contradictory, but many of us can recall how it calmed the hysteria that was assailing us as a people. And who can objectively say that out of our fears, as a nation, in the depression of the 1930s, there was not carved creative action during the next two decades?
This next item may seem ironical and contradictory when compared with what I just said about the dangers of optimism. Several times on this program, however, I have been optimistic enough to see (or think I could see) glimmers of hope that we were coming out of our paroxysm of hysteria and fear as a nation and getting back to sanity. A feature (on the back page at that) in the news this week revealed that we have indeed come a long way as far as the U.S. Senate is concerned. About a year ago, the Senate, by a narrow squeak, voted to condemn Senator McCarthy for a few of his many un-American actions. This week, the junior senator from Wisconsin attempted to get through the Senate a resolution that would have laid down a list of prerequisites, agenda items, etc., that would almost certainly have prevented or wrecked the forthcoming at-the-summit, Big Four Conference. (And if time permitted I should like to discuss the irony of such a meeting.) However, when the senator saw he was licked, he tried eagerly to send his resolution back to the committee, but the Senate blocked that, and then, by the overwhelming vote of 72-4, it voted down once and for all this effort of McCarthy to get out of the basement. Even the California senator from Formosa voted against his erstwhile comrade in arms. What does this mean? Well, it may mean much or nothing, but it certainly reflects that this time in the Senate the tail did not wag the dog, and that is about the reverse of what was happening prior to the Watkins Committee a year ago. This, itself, is some indication that we are little saner, a little less hysterical, and considerably more moral in public life on this particular personality issue. It would appear that the once seemingly indispensable man has now become very much expendable.
A dispatch from Buenos Aires cites informed sources as declaring that Argentine officials are trying to end the seven-month feud between the church and the dictator’s regime. Officials of the foreign ministry are said to be studying terms of a possible concordat between Argentina and the Vatican. But that will be if and when an Argentine Constitutional Assembly votes on ending the Catholic Church’s status as the Argentine state church. An easing of the tension has already been evidenced. Pro-government newspapers have quit their long stream of attacks on the Catholic clergy after last week’s abortive revolt against Peron. And imprisonment is ended for all priests arrested since last November, when Peron publicly accused some clergymen of trying to subvert his government. Furthermore, the police are guarding churches to prevent such incidents as the burning and sacking of religious buildings during last week’s revolt. Religious services are allowed if the sermons are not political and the congregations do not demonstrate. No word has come as yet of the moves to bring back into the church the Argentine leaders and others who took part in the expulsion of two prelates from the country last week.
But repairing the scars, even under the most favorable future events, will take years. In addition to public and private buildings damaged, church properties in downtown Buenos Aires suffered vastly, even after the revolt. The Episcopal Palace was burned out. Church officials say irreplaceable records of historic and civic interest dating back to the early 17th century have been lost. An AP religious news writer says only one thing is clear. George Cornell declares religion is one thing men consider their own, not to be tampered with lightly. And it is likely that many in Argentina, including the goose-stepping Peron, have learned this.
It seems unlikely that women will ever become rabbis in the Jewish religion. The Central Conference of American Rabbis, meeting in Asbury Park, New Jersey, has defeated overwhelmingly a move toward that end. They rejected a resolution that would have put the conference on record as favoring introducing women rabbis into Jewish life. But after voting down the resolution, the assembly adopted another one calling for a one-year consideration of the proposal.
Just a little bit on the social side comes a statement from a writer of religious novels who says that ministers’ wives should try to be attractive, but, she adds, “not too much so.” The novelist, Grace Irwin, who teaches in a Toronto secondary school, has some further advice for wives of pastors. She says the minister’s wife must be the most adaptable person in the world. For instance, she must be ready to changer her role according to the size of her husband’s congregation. She must also know that wife and family can never come first. Her husband is a public servant insofar as his parish is concerned, and somewhat like the doctor, must leave home at any time on almost any kind of errand.
Columbus, Ohio: The Congregational churches of the U.S. and the Evangelical and Reformed Church have chosen June 25, 1957 as the date for their merger. The time was selected by the Evangelical’s General Council and the Congregational Executive Committee at a joint meeting this past week. They will take the name “The United Church of Christ.” The two groups will conduct joint religious projects during the next two years in preparation for their merger.
Washington: The House has passed and sent to the Senate a bill authorizing the post offices to accept stamps bearing the words “Pray for Peace.” The House Post Office Committee said it should “encourage the great body of our people to do so, and to work actively toward its accomplishment.” And the ambiguity in language construction there gives this somewhat weary if not cynical reporter to wonder whether the committee meant work to accomplish peace or to accomplish acceptance of such stamps.