Throughout U.S. history, major religious bodies have been in conflict over various aspects of American life. But at last, Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish leaders are talking over these problems around the same conference table. Previously, however, the general pattern has been for the different groups to remain in their own domains from which they hurled their arguments, and frequent brickbats on touchy subjects. Now the three faiths are tackling an assortment of issues under a new project involving a broad study of religion, its activities, and relationships to freedom and democratic government.
Among the issues are use of public funds for parochial schools, rights and effects of religious pressure groups in such matters as censoring what they deem to be undesirable literature and entertainment, and dissemination of contraceptive information. Prominent clergymen of the three faiths are also studying causes and results of sectarian bloc voting and the part [?] plays in religion.
So far as is known, this is thought to be the first time such full scale, joint discussions have been held. The editor of The Boston Pilot, a Roman Catholic weekly, says to his knowledge this has never been done before. The Right Rev. Francis Lally adds that he has never heard of such an effort on this level. A top Protestant theologian, the Rev. Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr of Union Theological Seminary, said mutual talks on limited phases of the various subjects have been held but that substantive issues have not been discussed.
The Fund for the Republic, Inc., one of the Ford foundations, is sponsoring and financing the project, which will require about a year to conclude. It includes the commissioning of special research from qualified individuals and institutions. The chief coordinators of the project are Dr. Niebuhr and the Rev. John Courtney Murray, a leading Catholic scholar, of Woodstock College, Maryland. Among the key consultants are Rabbi Dr. Robert Gordis of Jewish Theological Seminary, Dr. F. Ernest Johnson of the National Council of Churches, and Mark de Wolfe Howe of Harvard Law School. Non-religious representatives are also included.
Coincidental with the opening of this unusual interfaith study, a Jewish scholar, Dr. Will Herberg, commented that the Catholic Church was right in principle, in calling for public support of parochial schools. He expanded his position as follows: “Parochial schools are, in fact, public institutions though they are not governmentally-sponsored. They have full public recognition as educational agencies. Their credits, diplomas, and certificates have exactly the same validity as those of public schools.”
Jewish groups, generally, have in the past been opposed to government benefits to parochial schools. Catholics, however, have advocated that their schools should share in such benefits as transportation, health services, textbooks, and school lunches, but not direct support. It is highly likely that Congress will be eager to depart from its long tradition of being reluctant to appropriate money for private education. Furthermore, it might be pertinent to suggest that if Dr. Herberg is correct in his view that private schools are really public, those states in the South that have threatened to turn their public school systems over to private agencies to escape integration are going to have to re-think their procedures and come up with something else. But even should Congress relax its stand on public money for private schools, the courts have in recent years been especially sedulous in drawing the line even more clearly to keep church and state separate. Even the so-called “moral guidance” programs which in some cases have become mere cloaks for religious teachings, have come under judicial ban in a few cases. And released time for religious instruction is definitely not legal, though some over-zealous people, especially here in the Bible Belt, are going on with such stuff, despite its illegality.
Of course, the ridiculous, and sometimes uncomfortable, position they take is that if anyone opposes teaching of religion in the schools, as does this reporter, he is thereby opposed to religion, which this reporter definitely is not. This is about as sensible as saying that because one does not want to wear his shoes in bed he does not wear them anywhere else either.
The unity or teamwork they derive from prayer and living Christian lives is credited by Coach Bud Wilkinson and his Oklahoma Sooner football team for this aggregation’s great string of victories. (It might be though sacrilege by some to wonder in passing why the coach does not then give up training rules and devote all his time and that of the team to prayer and doing good. deeds.) Anyway, before yesterday’s game they said a prayer, uttered another at half-time, and a third when the game was over. A leader in this movement to bring prayer sessions to college football has been Guard Bill Krisher a 216-point Hercules who is candidate for All-America Guard. Says Krisher, “We never pray for victory. We let that take care of itself. We do pray that both teams can play their best.” Krisher believes praying gives the team unity and says the players feel better when they pray. That praying and Christianity are considered important is indicated by the fact that when a new athlete reports to Sooner coaches, he is first asked whether he knows the locality of his denomination’s church. During a game, Krisher is a hard-hitting lineman. He says he puts forth even more effort when opposing a player who resorts to the use of foul language. There is no place in football for profanity, he notes, because it does not make the player any better and accomplishes nothing.
Well, there is more of the same stuff, but it is still the same stuff. No psychologist would be likely to dispute the therapeutic effect of a frame of mind which causes one to believe he is fighting in a righteous cause, but the whole idea sounds like the line continually put forth by the Graham-Peale-Sheen axis, much of which is charlatanism simple, if not so pure. Moreover, such an attitude and practice sort of puts God squarely in the middle in an earthly contest. Remember how the gods came down from Olympus and aided each side in the Trojan War? Unfortunately the Sooners and their opponents, presumably, have but one God and it would require a schizophrenic one to aid both sides at the same time. How silly can we get in the name of religion?
And while on the subject of Graham, a not altogether pleasant one, I will admit, The Atlantic Monthly for July had an article by R. E. Robertson on “When Billy Graham Saved Scotland” that was a literary masterpiece. The September issue of the same magazine has a defense of Billy Graham by David H.C. Read that is not a masterpiece. Mr. Read, like all defenders of Graham, uses considerable space asserting Billy’s sincerity. I wonder why Graham’s friends feel that is necessary. You’d think that his sincerity might be taken for granted and not be imputed to him as righteousness. Moreover, the alleged fact that Graham has a pleasant personality does not appear to be relevant. The defense rests upon the undisputed fact that Billy attracts crowds and makes converts. If he, at the same time, and in the process, teaches a shallow gospel, making full use of the myths and superstitions of an outgrown theology, but gets people to accept the same, is it good or evil he is doing? Can you imagine a group of astronomers, e.g., allowing meetings for an astrologer and justifying the movement by attendance figures? Are not the clergymen backing Graham a cynical lot? Their attitude seems to be, “Of course it’s not true, but he increases church attendance and church income and we hope he does some good.” I am not unaware that this current comment may be looked upon as heresy (by the superstitious at least), but I believe it stands the test of logic and at the same time is a reasonable conclusion from the evidence splurged across the newspapers and through the air about this truly remarkable figure.
A quotation that is worthy of quoting again came to me this week. It is from a statement by the Rev. Harold Schmidt in Van Nuys, California. He says that “Little has been done to help the man in the street to understand the new world he lives in, to help him see how utterly different it is from yesterday’s worlds; even how different he is in personality from any of his ancestors; to help him see how costly it is in life and wealth to himself and his children to pack around in his head images of worlds that have died. Little has been done to give him a fuller, more accurate image of the world that is and can be. The liberal should not be surprised when so many people fail to respond to his thinking or his leadership. They do not share with the liberal the new worldview from which our new social thinking stems. Hence they keep a grandfather thought of God as a part of the furniture of [their] mind.”
To supplement Dr. Schmidt’s rather penetrating analysis of the unnecessary and no longer useful furniture we hold onto in our minds comes to my mind the fact that among many people, and this includes some ministers, we still hear a lot of nonsense about the so-called conflict between science and religion. With our normal acceptance of religion, this imputes an evil quality to science. Perhaps in the minds of many, this evil quality has been emphasized by the identification of science and materialism.
But let us remind ourselves that religion is the best that man knows about God, while science is the best of man’s knowledge about things in God’s world. The assumption that scientists find no place for God is simply not true. On the contrary, the more objective a scientist is, the more likely he is to fall back on a “first cause” which is in effect, a creator. Furthermore, many, perhaps most, scientists attend church, serve as Sunday school superintendents, lay ministers, deacons, or other active workers in their denominational groups.
The scientist starts with the assumption that knowledge about God’s universe is good. It should aid in the understanding of God and his ways. It is said of the great biologist Louis Agassiz that he would say to his class at the beginning of an experiment, “Gentlemen, we are about to ask God a question.” It can and should be – probably is – in a somewhat similar spirit of reverence and humility that scientists do their work today.
Perhaps still another reason the uninformed or ill-informed assume there is a conflict between science and religion is that discoveries that scientists make inevitably change the previously prevailing concept of God. This is not denial of religious insight, but rather an amplification of it. Men sought to know about God and his way from earliest times. It is natural that they should impute to him wondrous creative powers in terms of their current conceptions. “In the beginning God created the heavens and earth” is a beautiful and universal concept. Thus it was that Ussher attempted to date the Old Testament using recorded chronologies and genealogies, placing the date of creation at 4004 B.C. In later years many discoveries in the areas of geology, anthropology, and chemistry showed that there must have been many, many omissions in these records. This in no wise diminishes man’s concept of the creative power of God, but it does change his ideas of how and when God created. The truth is that religion can have a great future in the acceptance of the expanding concept of God that science makes possible. It is the duty of science to make these explorations in the spirit of asking God a question.
It has been about 200 days now, more than six months, since the life of a Washington Countian was snuffed out by an automobile starter rigged with a homemade bomb – time enough for the forces of law and order here to find a guilty party or parties, or call in more expert aid to do so. A trial, called by the local newspaper, “A Farce, A Fiasco” was held. This week the Knoxville News Sentinel carried an item with a Johnson City dateline saying that investigators Peterson and Shoun were reentering the case unless a special investigator for the National Board of Fire Underwriters, who has done much talking but presented little information, produces concrete results. No published evidence has appeared indicating any activity on the part of the local sheriff and attorney general in trying to apprehend the guilty. Has it become safer from the standpoint of punishment, for one to kill a man than to steal his automobile? There is not only a legal but also a moral obligation for the two chief law enforcement officials to produce results or to procure someone who will.