A penetrating investigation of the American religious scene is contained in a book just off the press entitled Protestant, Catholic and Jew, by Jewish author Will Herberg. Among many other things, it reveals that Americans are very inconsistent in some respects regarding religion. It reports that a recent survey reveals that over 80 percent of Americans say they believe the Bible to be the “revealed word of God.” But another, apparently equally valid survey reveals that 53 percent of those same Americans were unable to name even one of the four Gospels. (This would appear to be something like the citizen who said that he believed in and would die for the Monroe Doctrine, but that he did not know what it was.) But back to the Herberg volume: it cites a panel of 28 prominent Americans who, when asked to rate the 100 most significant happenings in history, rated the crucifixion fourth, making it a tie with the flight of the Wright brothers and the discovery of x-rays.
The author goes on to point out that “While the Jewish-Christian law of love is formally acknowledged, the truly operative factor is the value system embodied in the American way of life. Where the American way … approves of love of one’s fellowmen, most Americans … assert that they practice such love; where the American way … disapproves, the great mass of Americans do not hesitate to confess they do not practice it, and apparently feel very little guilt for their failure.”
Which of course, from a theological standpoint does not make sense. In such circumstances, religion becomes merely a support of or bolster to secular ways of living, leaving little opportunity for it to determine those ways. It would appear that a new kind of secularism is flourishing that uses and supports religion, but fails to let it be a primarily determining factor in the way of life of the people.
The author summarizes something of his convictions in this connection by saying that “The familiar distinction between religion and secularism appears to be losing much of its meaning under present day conditions. Both the religionists and the secularists cherish the same basic values and organize their lives on the same fundamental assumptions.” And just what that leads us to spiritually and theologically, this reporter will not even hazard a guess.
Much satisfaction and relief have been felt, at least temporarily, by the common man throughout the world as a result of the seemingly more peaceful atmosphere in world affairs following the Geneva meeting. Something the president said there is of basic importance in trying to find a solution to basic international problems, and one cannot help but wonder if he knew the full significance of what he was saying. His words were these: “There can be no true peace which involves acceptance of a status quo in which we find injustice to many nations, repressions of human beings on a gigantic scale, and with constructive effort paralyzed in many areas by fear.” And, one could add, with equal pertinence, this applies within countries as well as between them, even within our own. Change is an order of life, and here in the U.S. we have generally found a way of accommodating that change by law. But there are some powerful segments in the American public that find it difficult to accept orderly change. To many of them, their slogan is “Let’s march ahead to yesterday.”
In this country great economic progress has been obtained by labor division and by capital saving and concentration. But with the increase in the size of units of production, with the relatively less significant part the individual worker plays in the whole productive process, workers have, quite naturally, turned to organization and collective bargaining in order to make their voices felt in the marketplace. There are those who would stamp out these organizations through pressure group tactics upon legislative bodies and through propaganda to the public. Slogans like the “right to work” are paraded under the guise of sign points to democracy, when actually their ultimate effect, if successful, would be to kill off labor unions as effectively as did the Stalins, the Hitlers, and other tyrants. Admittedly there have been excesses by labor organizations. Some of them have come under the control of undemocratic cliques, but the same could be said for many other types of organizations, even churches. And a wrong committed by a labor union is just as wrong, and no more, as the same wrong done by the National Association of Manufacturers. The point is that much of the material betterment of the workingman has come about through the functioning of his labor organizations. This material betterment has meant improved shelter for his family, better medical care, education, vacations, more of a feeling of independence and self-respect, and more of a recognition that he has a stake in the functioning of American democracy. Those interested in the promotion of human welfare and social justice could hardly be expected to be misled by the slogans and propaganda of self-seeking and selfish pressure groups whose campaigns are garnished with sweet sounding words, but whose ultimate objectives are in reality gall and wormwood insofar as the masses of the workers are concerned.
The next item is passed along to you for whatever it may be worth and without comment by this reporter. In fact, it needs no comment, for it speaks for itself. It bears a New York dateline with an INS signature, with a byline of the well-known newspaperman, Bob Considine. He points out that the Rev. Carroll R. Stegall, Jr., pastor of the Pryor Street Presbyterian Church of Atlanta, is carrying on something of a one-man crusade against so-called faith healers on television. Preacher Stegall “bows to no man in his respect for the power of prayer,” but he believes that “when it is used as a gimmick at a televised revival at which the hat is passed,” it is time for righteous indignation. He is quoted as writing in The Presbyterian Outlook that “The modern Pentecostal claim that they (the healers) have recovered the apostolic gift of miraculous healing is a fraud.” He believes that they have manufactured a new cult using age-old tricks of suggestion and psychological cant. So far from glorifying God with this, they cause his name to be blasphemed among the worldly by their excesses. So far from curing, they often kill.
The Rev. Stegall did his research on this subject the hard way, being arrested once at least by Atlanta police for disturbing public worship when in fact he was taking notes, interviewing the lame and blind at one of the healing orgies. His findings about what happens to those that are really ill, lame, etc., is rather shocking. He writes: “No healer will come near any really crippled or disabled person at all if he can possibly avoid it. I have seen many desperate cases at every meeting I have attended…. Night after night they are avoided like the plague. When pressed for an explanation, the healers profess to be able to discern those who have faith – which is never found among those really sick, it seems.
“If one of these does by mischance get into the line, the healer will say, ‘Get up here on the platform with me and wait until the line is over, and then I will give you special attention’…. Needless to say these promises are never kept.”
Well, there are the findings of one person who has apparently done painstaking research in the matter and whose faith in matters religious and spiritual is unquestioned.
A Lutheran church council committee investigating heresy accusations against a pastor has asked him to appear before it in October. The Wisconsin Conference of the United Lutheran Church told the Rev. Victor Wrigley to appear before the committee Tuesday of last week. Layman Ralph Ward of the congregation appeared instead. He discussed the congregation’s objection to the appearance for nearly three hours. Dr. Paul Bishop of Minneapolis, president of the Northwest Synod of the Church and head of the committee, abandoned the hearing until October 7. But he said Wrigley is expected to appear along with members of the congregation.
Over the next three years the World Council of Churches will make an international study and appraisal of Christian responsibility in areas of rapid social change. This applies particularly to the countries of Asia and Africa. The study has been made possible by a $260,000 gift of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. It will be directed by Dr. Robert Bilheimer of New York who last year was executive for the 2nd Assembly of the World Council. He is now an associate general secretary of that organization. The assembly set up the division of studies which says its task is for arousing Christian thinking and acting in regard to issues of world import, and about which there is not sufficient clarity or unity of thought.
Enrollment in the nation’s Sunday schools which is expected to reach record proportions this year, [?] will mark the official opening on Rally Sunday of Christian Education Week which is to be observed by most Protestant churches today through October 2. The 1955 theme is “Go make disciples of all.” Churches throughout the country will carry out programs of home visitation to enlist interest of parents as well as children in Christian education. For the first time, many churches will invite parents to attend the year’s first Sunday school classes for children.
Washington’s 139-year-old history-laden St. John’s Episcopal Church has been found to be so near collapse that it will cost $350,000 to put it into good shape. But the chairman of the building committee, Miles Colean, is not sure where the money is coming from for the permanent repairs. Despite the history which makes it a stop for countless tourists, St. John’s is not a wealthy church.
Known as the “Church of the Presidents” because every president since James Madison has at least visited it, the structure is in appalling condition. The rector, the Rev. Dr. C. Leslie Glenn, commented, “I don’t know what was holding it up, if it wasn’t the grace of God.” (Which this reporter might comment upon by saying, without any sacrilege, that this is laying a great deal of material stress upon an intangible concept.) However, the first sign of trouble came when workmen trying to do a minor plaster repair of the dome, found laths sprung loose and so eaten by termites that most of the plaster was in danger of falling. An engineering survey gave the true picture of how badly a nearly complete overhaul is needed.
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, starts this evening as a climax to the 10-day period of prayer and penitence marking the start of the New Year for world Jewry. During the 24 hours until sunset Monday, religious Jews will fast and pray. It is in that Day of Atonement that they believe that Jehovah writes the Book of Life in which each man hopes to be inscribed for a good year.