Last Sunday I reported at as much length as time then permitted on the meeting of the triennial general assembly of the National Council of Churches, which had just finished its work then at St. Louis. I should like to begin this broadcast with a few items left over from that report, items that seem too important to omit. For one thing, the report by the council’s associate administrator declared that many churches yielded to secular practice to the extent that they have become public relations-conscious, so much so that they hesitate to do anything that produces a hostile or even critical response.
Many churches, the report goes on, are more interested in getting a good organizer and promoter as minister than in getting a fearless thinker. Too many churchgoers emphasize the vague need for “faith and religion” rather than making religion function in their lives. Church institutions are prosperous with income and membership is at peaks, but delinquency and crime and social confusion are also rampant.
There are over 100 church members, a Sunday school enrollment of 39 million, 349, 870 ministers and 308,647 churches, and new ones are going up at a rate of 10 each day. Quantity is increasing; little is said about quality.
The report also scores the churches as being too often content to accept science and technology as the most realistic approach to human welfare, but are now rebelling against this materialistic outlook. Parenthetically, at this point, I cannot resist the impulse to point out that preachers are as bad as schoolteachers (maybe worse) to take the either/or attitude. McCarthy and others did the same. Why would it not be a good thing if the scientists had a little more religion, and the religionists knew a little something about science? But back to the report:
There are indications, however, that a sturdier attitude is developing in some churches. “There are,” it points out, “indications that, faced with a decision, such churches are asking less ‘What does the popular will expect of us?’ and more ‘What is the word of God that we must proclaim?”
Well, it looks like both churches and schools are getting considerably disturbed over the aimless confusion that has characterized both these last few years. Let us hope that out of the present turmoil, sound programs in both church and school will emerge. Both have plenty of room to improve.
Last Monday at sunset the Jewish festival of Chanukah started, this eight-day holiday, sometimes called the Festival of Lights, commemorates the successful struggle of the Maccabeans against an ancient Syrian monarch who tried to impose paganism on them. In their battle, the Judeans achieved history’s first triumph in the cause of religious freedom. Jews the world over will celebrate the holiday with special services in synagogues, homes, and religious schools. Emphasis is placed on the right of all persons to worship according to their conscience. On each night of the festival an additional candle is lighted in the special eight-branched candelabrum called the menorah.
In New York, Rabbi Maurice N. Eisendrath, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations issued a special message. He reminded Americans that people of many faiths are indebted to the Maccabees. If it were not for their sacrificial heroism, he said, Judaism would have perished. If this had occurred, Rabbi Eisendrath added, it could not have given birth to Christianity later on.
In Jerusalem, the Israeli Antiquities Department announced the discovery of the oldest Christian church ever excavated in Israel. The church was uncovered in the village of Shavei Zion on the Mediterranean coast. An inscription in one of its stones sets the date of construction at some time during the reign of Constantine the Great in the fourth century. The basilica-type church measures 50 by 80 feet and has extensive mosaic floors.
Priests, religious, and laymen who teach in Catholic schools in the diocese of Lille, France, went on strike to protest what they say is inadequate support by the government for education. Church schools in France now get indirect state aid for students up to age 14. Catholics say the aid is insufficient and threatens the future of Catholic schools. The strike, first by priests and religious in French history, was supported by members of the Catholic hierarchy.
In Kassel, Germany, an international conference of churchmen, scientists, educators, and government officials issued a plea to leaders of public opinion throughout the world. The conference asked that molders of opinion spread a sense of justice and mutual understanding in the relations between the races. The appeal came from a meeting convened by World Brotherhood, an organization set up in 1950 to promote friendship, mutual respect, and cooperation among people of different religions, races, nations, and cultures. Headquarters of World Brotherhood are at Geneva, Switzerland. Its president is Dr. Everett R. Clinchy of New York. The Kassel conference urged parents and educators to prepare the younger generation for cooperation in a world without racial prejudice.
A Christian woman was elected mayor of Madras, India, recently. Mrs. Tara Cherian, 44 years old, is the first woman ever named to the post. She is an active member of the Church of South India which was formed in 1947 by a merger of Anglican and Protestant groups. Mrs. Cherian is connected with many welfare organizations. She has headed the advisory board of the Hospital for Women and Children in Madras for nearly 20 years. She also served on the senate of Madras University. Both she and her husband, Dr. P. V. Cherian, lecture regularly for the Church of South India.
As reported here several times, the Knoxville Board of Censors goes right on, telling people what they (the people) do not have sense enough to read. Much of what is banned, to be true, is mere trash, but who are the blue nose censors to judge? Now they have spread out somewhat from comic books into the field of novels. Recently three such works were held to be unfit for the public to read. As feared, the malady is spreading. First it was children’s comics; now it is novels – adult reading. Upon the recommendation of the board, I read Peyton Place. Anyone who has lived long enough to get on a censor board has heard many times everything in that book, and while no defense is made here of the language, it is about time the board should come to realize that obscenity is a matter to be determined by the courts, after a work has gone on sale; not before. Most of us, especially we parents, are sensitive to reading matter coming into the hands of our children. However, those children are growing up in a world where they, like Adam and Eve, must make their choices between good and evil. It is our responsibility, along with the school, church, and other community institutions, to help them develop an understanding of what is worthwhile and what is not. It certainly will do them no good to try to create an unrealistic situation where they have no opportunity to develop wise choices. With so many public officials sticking their heads in the sand, there may be no more room, but the censor board members should investigate this, and if there is, then take their places with the other ostriches they find there.
Mamie Stover and Constance Mackenzie are not new characters in fiction. What about Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Shakespeare, Johnathan Swift’s writings, Moll Flanders, Boccaccio’s Decameron, the works of Lord Byron, the Song of Solomon? And by the way, did you watch the film version of the Ten Commandments? If sex is what the censors are looking for, that presentation well could have been banned. Ho hum, and we send missionaries to the foreign heathen also.
Another item of moral import, an item in which there is also an unrealistic approach, comes from Knoxville also. It is brought to attention here, not to belabor our Knoxvillian neighbors, but because the subject is a periodic disease in Tennessee, including in Washington County and Johnson City occasionally. On next Thursday, December 19, Knox voters will go to the polls and vote whether to be honest with themselves and legalize alcohol through establishment or public stores, or to continue the present bootleg racket and kid themselves that they have sobriety.
It would seem that a statement of some viewpoints are called for here. If the present prohibition circumstances really prohibited, it might be justifiable. However, only the most naive insist that it does. Then the choice is not between alcohol or no alcohol; it is whether we wish to recognize its existence, the difficulty, the impossibility of prohibiting, and to regulate it in the public interest rather than to let it go unregulated for the interest of the bootlegger.
A realistic approach is to permit it to be sold only at specified hours and through public stores. This last takes it out of the hands of private profit and channels the profits into the public treasury. Strict regulations regarding hours of sale and misuse of the beverage can be effective. Oregon, for example has done so. Thus it is brought out into the open, and transactions regarding it are legal and overt rather than illegal and furtive.
The other approach, the one now in vogue in Knoxville and Johnson City, is to kid ourselves that prohibition really works. It is only kidding. The two or more tanker loads of illegal whiskey seized in or on its way to Knoxville recently, together with varied estimates as to the volume handled in this manner, makes the idea that it works laughable. What happens is that it is handled under cover, offtimes with the connivance of unscrupulous officials who are bought off by the bootleggers, thus corrupting law enforcement officials and channeling the money into their pockets instead of into the public treasury. Is this being honest with ourselves? With the law enforcement officials?
If prohibition brought temperance, all of us except the habitual drinkers would be all for it. It brings not temperance, but law evasion; it closes our eyes to what we are realistically. Yet, ironic as it may be, it is well-meaning ministers and lay people who either cannot or do not wish to look at the world realistically, who assist, inadvertently of course, the bootleggers to keep the status quo. The bootleggers are realists. They know what the score is, and to legalize the whiskey traffic would drive them into bankruptcy, where they should be.
The ministers live comparatively cloistered lives and do not know of their own observation what is going on in the community. It is easy for them to believe that prohibition works, because that is what they want to believe, and what most of the non-drinking churchgoers want to believe. But it is not what really happens. A glance at almost any issue of a newspaper hereabouts should convince them of this fact.
Some of my friends, when they hear me talk along this line, ask me if I, a school teacher, would not consider it immoral to have the schools supported by taxes from the whiskey traffic. While not admitting any connection between such support and morality, my answer is “Certainly not.” Items of court cost, whatever the crime, find their way to the public treasury and are spent for education. I personally would feel much more moral to know that educational support is derived from open, honest transaction in alcohol than to have my children grow up realizing what a farce presently constituted prohibition is. At least, I do not have to forgive the sin of deceiving them or to let them think I am closing my eyes to perhaps the most persistent hoax in the name of sobriety. People who have religious conviction should, of all people, look at their world realistically and do something rational about those things that need improving. The current controversy over legalization of alcohol in Knoxville is one of those things.