Several times references have been made on this program to the tug of war going on in Argentina between dictator Peron and the Catholic Church. Last Sunday it was reported that Peron had, for the first time in some four months, permitted the Catholics to parade in religious procession in the streets. This week, the news reveals that the government had agreed for the procession to march only from Congress Square to the church of Our Lady of Montserrat, which is only eight blocks, instead of the traditional thirteen blocks on down to the spacious Plaza de Mayo.
Well, the procession reached the point where it was to stop at the church. The marchers shuffled to a halt, some of the younger advanced on as into enemy territory to see what the cops would do. They did nothing. Then the columns slowly started up again. The crowd, catching the spirit of the marchers, joined in, and by the time they had reached the forbidden plaza, a sea of white handkerchiefs fluttered, not in the air, but for the church, in defiance of President Juan Peron.
A part of the picture of the strained relations is the fact that Peron called home his representative to the Vatican, while the pope reciprocated by asking return of his Apostolic nuncio to Rome. It remains to be seen what retributory measures the government will now take to punish the Easter Thursday crowd for its disobedience. Truly the church is paying a big price for its once-respected constitutional right to a monopoly of religious education within the state. Those in this country who urge religious education in our public schools could follow with profit what is happening in a sister American nation where religion and the state are not kept separate. One, it would appear, is swallowing the other.
Two years ago the Russell Sage Foundation commissioned a Presbyterian minister-sociologist, Dr. Samuel Blizzard, to cooperate with Union Theological Seminary in a study of the functions of the parish minister. Detailed questionnaires were sent to informants in 47 of the 48 states. From the replies, some interesting and significant information is revealed. In the first place, the typical minister is between 35 and 44 years of age, married and has two children. His church is made up of about 400 members; 22 children are in his Sunday school. The greatest single trend pointed out in the survey is the shift from rural and village to urbanized mass living. Among the questions facing the ministers are such as these:
- Should the minister be a mediator between God and man or a servant of the congregation?
- Should he specialize or be a general practitioner?
- Should he emphasize an all-knowing and all-powerful God, or stress the ethical implication of the Gospel?
- Should he identify himself with the trends in our culture or be critical of that culture?
- How should he divide his responsibility to the local church and the world wide, or ecumenical church?
It is likely that these and many more similar questions confront the minister as he goes about the work of his church, and it is equally likely that no single answer will be possible for all. In religion, as in all other matters in this country, people have a way of maintaining their own diversity of religious beliefs and practices, while at the same time keeping with a very broad framework of ethical behavior approved by American religious mores.
This next item should doubtless be included under the “How mixed up can you get?” department. It reveals that Cecil B. DeMille is listening to taped speeches of Gen. Van Fleet with a view toward using Van Fleet as the voice of God in Paramount’s forthcoming picture entitled “The Ten Commandments.”
Something that does make sense is a recent speech of Ernest T. Weir, chairman of National Steel Corporation, a speech made before the Cleveland, Ohio, Engineering Society. He says, “Never in all history has humanity had so great opportunity to exercise a choice as to what its future shall be. And never before has it been confronted with a choice between such drastic extremes. Scientific knowledge and the ability to apply that knowledge in practical ways have been increasing at an ever-faster rate – particularly over the last half-century … and the prospect for future development defies the imagination.
“The critical question is, will humanity use this expanding knowledge, and the ability to apply it, as a tool or a weapon. Will these things result in a better more livable world, or in the suicide of civilizations? I am convinced that the answer to this question is being formulated by those of us who live today – and that no individual can escape a personal responsibility for his contribution to that answer….
“Since the war, the two real centers of power in the world have been the United States and Russia. And these two centers have conducted themselves as armed camps, each viewing the other with suspicion and hostility…. The great bulk of opinion expressed by certain military men, by certain members of Congress, and in a number of news organs, created the impression of a nation convinced that world problems could not be solved short of forcible means….
“The only real choice that the people of the world have today is the choice to live together or to die together. The fact is that war has moved to such extreme level of destructive power that it has lost whatever excuse it ever had as an instrument of international policy….”
There is much more of the wisdom and conviction of Mr. Weir, but the above are enough to express not only his viewpoint but that of countless others of us. We can only hope – perhaps wish would be a better word – that the go-it-alone Joes, the military brass and the naval braid would let these sentiments sink into their consciousness when they talk recklessly of tossing around atom bombs as they would Fourth of July firecrackers. We sometimes wonder if they can read; we frequently wonder if they can think; and we almost always wonder if they have not lost only their sense of values but also their sense of balance when they talk in 1955 in language that could have been realistic only in the 19th century, even if it was then. There is pretty good evidence to substantiate the charge that today it is the so-called leaders who are laggard in this business of war, and that the peoples of the world are thinking far more realistically than their leaders. If so, the answer for us little folks is to bombard the leaders with so much evidence of rational approaches to world problems that they will be deflected from the irrational ones which they are so eager to express with each issue of the newspaper.
Not infrequently on this program it is appropriate to comment upon the current status in this country of the thing that we call academic or intellectual freedom. Did you ever stop to think that our whole bundle of freedoms – religion, speech, assembly, due process, etc. – are so inextricably interwoven that the weakening of one automatically undermines all the rest? A national magazine comes out in a current issue with a pertinent and thought-provoking article entitled “Are Our Teachers Afraid to Teach?” What are some of the facts about the right of freedom to teach in 1955? Not only freedom to teach about what everybody agrees to be true, but equal freedom to teach about all sides of controversial issues? In San Francisco, at a meeting of the Association of School Administrators, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Hervert C. Clish said, “I hope nobody will leave this room today thinking that teachers are not afraid. Of course they are.” Teachers seem more concerned than administrators with the realities of teaching in a fearful world. Prof. Milton Konvitz of Cornell told an American Jewish Congress forum that congressional inquisitions have induced fear and bitterness, if not hysteria and panic among teachers. He pointed out that most universities in California employ full-time liaison agents with the state’s Committee on Un-American Activities to screen applicants for teaching jobs. At the University of Colorado two ex-FBI agents are retained to check on the faculty. But it remained for one no longer in the academic world to provide the most comprehensive evaluation. In a lead article in Look magazine Robert M. Hutchins, formerly of the University of Chicago, and now with the Ford Foundation, gave the coup de grace to the hair-splitters and apologists for witch hunts among teachers when he said, “Education is impossible in many parts of the U.S. today because free inquiry and free discussion are impossible. It is almost as bad,” he goes on, “to be ‘controversial’ as it is to be a spy or traitor.”
And yet, most of us who are interested in real education are keenly aware that to eliminate consideration of controversial issues from teaching is not education at all but indoctrination. It is true that there have been relatively few teachers in the country who have lost their jobs because of their teaching of controversial issues, but, again as Dr. Hutchins rightly points out, “The question is not how many teachers have been fired, but how many think they might be and for what reasons. It is even worse than that. Teachers are not merely afraid of being fired; they are afraid of getting into trouble.… You don’t have to fire many teachers to intimidate them all. The entire teaching profession of the U.S. is now intimidated.”
Of course it is possible to read statements of teachers who insist that this is not true. This reporter cannot help but wonder when he hears teachers say that, whether they are afraid to say what they think, or are they so unaware of what is going on in the world that they honestly do not see it. In either case, there are understandable grounds for wondering also just how much such people are worth to the occupation of teaching.
I have no desire to see things that aren’t there; neither do I wish to fail to see things that are, and the conviction that Hutchins is right is very real and deep. One cannot help but wonder also how honest we really are about the defense of democracy, with its freedom of speech, when we forbid the cadets at West Point and Annapolis to debate the current Pi Kappa Delta question of diplomatic recognition of Red China. At his press conference the president, when asked about this denial of freedom of speech, said he did not agree with it. But to date he has taken no steps to correct the Army and Navy dictators who forbade the students this elemental right. Who’s running the executive department anyway? The constitutional commander-in-chief or the superintendents of the respective institutions?
The truth is that it is very fashionable today to take a swing at liberals, interpreting liberals as those who insist upon a scrupulous regard for our constitutional rights. Those who take such swings list the ills that afflict us and say, “See what liberalism has done.” Evidently such inane remarks fool many. The plea is to go back to authoritarianism in religion, in government, in morals, and about everything else. Curiously enough, it is only business that escapes the call to return to something. But if business goes back to something it may well be bankruptcy, and that swiftly. My notion is that to return to the past means bankruptcy in other fields also. Fascism and Nazism are, or were, repudiations of liberalism and a return to authoritarianism.
Those among us who seek to make everyone orthodox, i.e., to agree with them, are, in essence, representing a failure of nerve, a lack of faith in man and the human enterprise. In this unbrave world of today, what should be the strategy and program of the liberal? Obviously, it is the liberals today who are really the conservatives, for it is they who wish to conserve the best that is in the American tradition, and that best is represented by freedom to worship as we please, to think our own thoughts, to speak our own minds, to teach our children to think for themselves, and to permit those same children to be taught by teachers unafraid to stimulate the thinking of their charges in any direction that will enable them to weigh all sides of controversial issues. Teachers are not afraid that honest examination of controversial issues will make undemocratic citizens, for they recognize that only by the interplay of freedom of information and discussion can citizens of a democracy learn its ways and practice it.
Boston: The first biennial convention of the Council of Liberal Churches will be held August 24 – 29 in Detroit. Some 1,000 delegates representing the Universalist Church of America and the American Unitarian Association may vote on proposals pointing toward total merger of the two denominations.