April 14, 1957

The newsletter of the Student Christian Fellowship of the University of Utah carries currently a comment upon the stodginess and narrowness of schoolteachers that is worth repeating here. It goes like this: “The student very often sits silently in class trying to determine the professor’s opinion so he can repeat it back on the final exam…. He would maintain his independence of thought in the classroom, but when he feels that the professor will not understand this independence and that it will result in a lower grade he becomes silent and gradually comes to feel that does not pay to think.”

If this is true, and to the degree that it is true, then we who tried to teach are committing at best a moral wrong in taking this attitude toward our students. Other things being equal, it is assumed that the professor knows more about the subject than the students generally, otherwise there would be little point in his being there. But all of us, if we are honest with ourselves, have come across students who not only knew as much about a given topic as we, but often a darn sight more. Not only that, but occasionally we have a student who can think circles around us. What are we doing to these students when our method of instruction and our attitude towards class learning consists merely in pouring into the class a portion of subject matter and then are satisfied with the results only if the student gives it back to us by rote in undigested form? Students may, and many will, forget fairly early a block of subject matter in a given course, but they are not likely to forget a course in which they are made to think, to do critical thinking out of the information they have learned. Teachers have an obligation, not only to the students, but to themselves, to stimulate students to be curious about the world around them, to want to satisfy this curiosity through learning, and to evaluate through critical thought processes what they are learning and how to relate this to the satisfaction of their curiosity. Unless this process is encouraged – even demanded – much of what goes on in the classroom is not only a farce, but is robbing the student of his right to develop his ability through classroom experiences that require the exercise and expression of his independent thinking and learning.

All of this puts important responsibility on the student, and all too many of them recoil from this responsibility because it means effort on their part. Far too many of them come to college desiring a diploma and shrinking from doing what is necessary to get an education. But even they have a right, moral as well as educational, to an opportunity for stimulation of their mental development through class experiences rigorous enough to challenge their best ability, liberal enough to encourage them to think. If they do not take advantage of such opportunity, they have no business in college, and their grades rightly should reflect this. Failure on the part of the professor to provide such an opportunity and on that of the student to profit by it, is immoral, intellectually, however smug the teacher may like to be or non-receptive the student is.


Being a native of this section of the country, and having lived elsewhere for a rather long period of time, this reporter is in something of a unique position to look rather objectively at the constant conflict and tensions arising among denominations, and among members of the same denomination, over the fundamental versus the modern point of view in religious beliefs. Nowhere in the United States is fundamentalism in religion more entrenched than in the South, and Johnson City, being a part of that South, has its share, maybe more, of these tensions and traditionalists who would restrict religious thinking to the 17th, 16th, or even earlier centuries. Religion, perhaps by its very nature, can change slowly, but even it must change with changing needs, or it loses its value to the people who rightly can profit by cultivation of this very important part of human existence. But how many sins do we commit in the name of religion? Cloak any idea with a religious aura or flavor, and immediately, to some people, merely to question that idea is to be an infidel, or best an agnostic. The fact is that many people, including myself, have had religious experiences that were not worth having, while many experiences not ordinarily associated with the religious realm, have had for us deep and abiding religious significance.

Traditionalists are alarmed lest the values that sustained people of the past be thrown away. They lament that sin has become behavior and that psychology has captured theology. Liberals feel that our religious needs of today cannot be reached by the dogmas of yesteryear. Traditional theology is not religious enough to meet the needs of a people whose culture is maturing fairly rapidly. The rise of liberalism in the last century or so is no more revolutionary than many previous upheavals in church history. Traditional emphasis has been more on belief than on being. The church is always been more severe with heretics than with sinners. Traditionalism seeks to reassert the past. Liberalism is dissatisfied with the past. Traditionalism emphasizes heredity; liberalism emphasizes variation and perhaps experimentation. Traditionalism holds that guidance for man is embedded in the past, that the task is to rediscover it and make man except it. Traditionalism wishes to enforce inherited beliefs and institutions. Liberalism seeks to examine its inheritance, reject what has been outgrown, and restate its religion in view of present day needs. But liberalism is not merely a restatement of old beliefs in modern terms. That is neo-orthodoxy. It is not a new collection of theological principles. If it were it would be but a new orthodoxy, which it is not. It is a method, an attitude, an approach. Traditionalism grounds truth in authority. Liberalism grounds truth in the inductive method, for that is the only reliable way we have developed thus far to determine the reliability of a supposed fact.


And along the same line of thought comes something of a progressive evaluation of the significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were discovered in a cave a few miles south of Jericho, a decade ago. It will be interesting to see if there is a consensus among students about the scrolls, and more interesting to see whether their impact will be such as to alter the relatively fixed notions that many, perhaps most, people have regarding their present tenants in religion. Very likely, to the traditionalist whose mind is already made up about everything, whatever consensus there may be about these scrolls will seem as subversive to him as the Revised Standard Version of the Bible.

Already two extreme views seem to be emerging among students. One is that the Dead Sea community where the scrolls were found might shed more light on Christianity than Bethlehem; the other attach relatively little major significance to them. If there is one thread of conclusion about them shared by more students than any other, it is that the scrolls may modify in some ways certain religious viewpoints, but that fundamentally, they do not alter the foundations of Christianity. Rather, they will do much to contribute to the understanding of these foundations.


Some interesting comparisons and contrasts with respect to church-going habits among Americans and Britons are revealed in a survey by Gallup, the results of which are just out. Almost three times as many Americans attend church more or less regularly than is true of our British cousins. It was found that 51 percent of American adults attend church on some occasion during the week, while only 14 percent of the English do. Almost 40 percent of the British say they never or almost never go to church. More of them stopped going to church between 16 – 20 years of age than any other age level. One in seven Briton says he goes to church only on special occasions, such as Easter. Also, fewer Britons than Americans make a point of listening to or watching religious services on radio or television. Among the major reasons given for not attending more regularly are such stock ones as “too busy doing other things,” “just lost the habit,” “services are boring or uninteresting,” “no one else is in in the family goes,” and “find it hard to believe in Christianity.” Just what all this proves, if anything, this reporter is not sure. Certainly it would be unsafe to equate church going with belief in religion, and I do not propose to arrive at such an unequal equation.


Well, the new federal highway system, to be built with your money and mine, will be replete with billboards, unless a miracle happens, and few of us believe in miracles, at least of the political kind. Aside from contaminating the beauty of creation by their unsightliness, these road signs make driving hazardous and thus contributes to highway deaths. But while the Senate Public Roads Subcommittee plans to draft an anti-billboard measure, even if the Senate acts, the House obviously will not. Representative George Fallon, Democrat of Maryland, heads the House Public Roads Subcommittee, and he lists himself in the congressional directory as partner in an “advertising sign business” run by his family. While this firm does not specialize, at least not yet, in roadside signs, Fallon has close ties with outdoor advertising circles in Baltimore, and perhaps elsewhere. This supposed-to-be representative of the people has already stated in advance that he does not intend even to call a meeting of his committee on the billboard issue. He insists that he wants it left to the states, which is exactly where the billboard lobby wants it, for it is easier to maneuver toward their objectives within state legislatures than within the Congress where the national spotlight can be focused upon them. There is nothing necessarily unethical about lobbying as such, but what about conflict of interests where a head of a congressional committee refuses to grant a hearing on an issue which, as a member of a firm, might be unpalatable, but who, as a member and chairman of that committee he has an obligation to see that all sides of that issue have a chance to be heard. The psychologists will call such a personality schizophrenic; some of us who are not psychologists have another term for it, but is hardly as euphemistic.


Rumor and gossip are at times simply nuisances, but they can and too often do become menaces to business, to government, and to individuals, for the poisoned relations between people affect the well being of society. Rumor cuts across all occupational boundaries with a speed greater than that of any other human communication. Under some conditions gossip is a powerful tool for keeping society in order ethically and politically. All of us dislike to be talked about, and gossip can become vicious in small communities especially. Sociologically, gossip is the voice of the herd, thundering in our ears, telling us that the goblins of ridicule, ostracism, and punishment will get us if we don’t behave. Our culture seems to be saddled with it, for good or ill.

How does it start? It may arise from love of one’s own pet ideas. We may gossip merely to fill a gap in a tea party conversation. But whispering campaigns can also be organized to slander a public official, a business executive, or a private individual. And gossip does not exist only on the lower levels, either as to the person spreading it or the nature of the subject matter. Some high in administrative hierarchies indulge in it. It is a mulish way of thinking and acting. It rests not necessarily on evidence, but on prejudice, egoism, or a deliberate intent to spread propaganda. To indulge in gossip is to betray, unwittingly or otherwise, an immature mind, an indiscreet one, and a mind that seeks its indulgence without regard for the direful results that may be visited thereby on the victim. Those who practice the codes of the Golden Rule and the square deal refuse to be so small. Was it not a great writer who said that “He who steals my purse steals trash, but he who filches from me my good name taketh that which enricheth him not and leaves me poor indeed?”

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