A rather curious approach to the matter of church attendance was taken this week by Dr. R. Dean Goodwin, a prominent Baptist clergyman of New York, who has concluded that it does not work to tell folks they should go to church because they ought to, or to please the pastor. He favors a joint study by all churches of the new art known as motivational research. It is his view that the churches should do what advertisers recently learned to do – namely, reach into the subconscious with their hidden persuaders to motivate those tiny springs that make people do things without realizing why.
Dr. Goodwin is a former Nebraskan who directs communications for the American Baptist Convention, and he explains the new art as one which studies people’s hidden needs and desires so they can be appealed to without knowing it. He puts it like this, and I quote, for I have no desire to place myself on such a petard as this: “If you put the same kind of coffee in three bags of difference color, women will select the brown package and swear it is the best coffee, even though it is the same coffee.”
There is more to the good doctor’s statement, but enough of it has been included to indicate the general nature of his view. Even a simple analysis of this view reflects that such a procedure would be trying to put something over on the people without their knowing what was happening to them. Furthermore, it presumes that there are not enough intrinsic merits in the religious viewpoint itself to hold the allegiance of people; we have to add a new magic ingredient of some kind, like blue cheer or headache medicine, or some of the other nostrums of soaps paraded through radio speakers and on television screens these days ad infinitum and ad nauseam. Is it not going a bit too far to adopt Madison Avenue techniques of hucksterism to something that is so fundamental, so intrinsic within itself that it is a universal phenomenon even among people who never heard of present-day psychology and subliminal advertising? How crude and asinine can we get in the name of religion? I personally don’t want to be sold a bill of goods, even in religion, where the salesman swears it is good for me. Did you ever know a salesman who told his customer that his article was bad? Then, if we could and do use it in the Protestant world, what about the Catholic, the Hebrew, the Mohammedan, and all the other religious worlds? Each insists that his brand is the best. Frankly, religion of any kind will appeal to humanity and endure only insofar as they are aware of the need for it, see sense in it, and get satisfaction from it. Let’s leave it that way.
Several church groups warned during the week against the use of church facilities aimed at maintaining segregated schools. The Methodist Church’s General Board of Education issued such a warning at its annual meeting in Cincinnati. The board noted that some states have passed laws permitting abolition of the public schools if courts force integration upon them. Efforts may be made, the Methodist agency said, to use church facilities to maintain a segregated system. Some persons have advocated segregated parochial schools as an alternative to non-segregated public schools. The Methodist leaders said such proposals endanger our democratic way of life and threaten the integrity of our churches.
A similar view was expressed by 14 Protestant leaders in an article published in Presbyterian Outlook, a publication of the Southern Presbyterian Church. The church magazine asked leading churchmen whether the churches should let their facilities be used to run segregated schools if public schools were closed down.
The churchmen, from both North and South, agreed the churches never should permit such segregated parochial schools. The opinion was voiced by such prominent religious leaders as Dr. Eugene Carson Blake, stated clerk of the U.S.A. Presbyterian Church; Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr of New York’s Union Theological Seminary; Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, President of Morehouse College in Atlanta, and others.
The same view was offered in a resolution adopted by the North American Area Council of the World Presbyterian Alliance, holding its annual meeting at Mt. Pocono, Pennsylvania. The resolution said a church is in error when it commits itself to a program to deny the right of any person to be treated as a child of God.… The measure said segregated church schools would strike a mortal blow at the public school system at a time when the maintenance of that system at a high level of efficiency is even more vital than ever. In a separate statement, the 100 Presbyterian and Reformed leaders attending the Mt. Pocono meeting called integration in American education the crucial race relations issue today.
A consultation and information center on Judaism has been set up in New York by the New York Board of Rabbis. Rabbi Harold H. Gordon, executive vice president of the board said the center will consult, advise, and give information on Judaism. A commission headed by Rabbi Robert Gordis of Belle Harbor, New York, will operate the center.
In Washington, a special committee was named to conduct a two-year nationwide study of Baptist attitudes toward spiritual, moral, and religious instruction in the public schools. This committee will represent six major Baptist conventions affiliated with the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs. The study group will sponsor seminars, workshops, and conferences in various parts of the country. These various studies will culminate in a national conference to be sponsored by the Baptist Joint Committee in 1960, at which time the Baptist leaders will try to state more clearly Baptist positions on controversial issues relating to the public schools.
So much appears in the press, on the radio, and through all communication media about round-the-clock prayer sessions; about asking for this, praying for that, until at times one cannot help but wonder whether the deity takes the trouble to listen to so much piffle, various parts of which are often contradictory. We have seen such a spasmodic series of supplications going on in our own midst these last few days, apparently in preparation for the forthcoming experiences of renewing Protestant prejudices by sharing them with each other and to the exclusion of any consideration of any kind to those other great religious systems, many of which are older and affect far more people than our own. But we go on holding our missions here and sending missionaries to other countries, when it is more than a sound bet that we would not welcome their missionaries into our own midst. Anyway, out of it all, there comes a wholesome illustration of a realistic prayer that is even more pertinent now than when it was uttered.
It took place like this: When the U.S opened its nuclear detonation season the test began with a short prayer, intoned over the intercom by the warship’s chaplain and it went, “Unto us who are privileged to draw aside the curtain into the secrets of thy universe, teach us that our whole duty is to love thee, our God, and to keep they commandments.”
Sydney J. Harris, columnist for the Chicago Daily News, suggested that a more realistic prayer would have been, “Unto us who have the pride and the presumption to release the most devastating forces of nature, O Lord, be merciful: Protect us from cardiac contusion; preserve us from cerebral or coronary air embolism; guard us from the dreadful consequences of respiratory tract hemorrhage; allow us not to suffer from pulmonary edema; save us from the trauma of distended viscera; withhold from us the horrors of hemorrhages in the central nervous system; visit these catastrophes upon our enemies, not upon us, and we promise to love thee and keep thy commandments – all except one, O Lord, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’”
This, at least, would have been an honest and meaningful prayer. No nonsense, no hypocrisy, no solemn theological jargon to disguise and sanctify the purpose and power of the bomb. It is highly probable that the deity would not have granted this prayer, but at any rate, it would not have been an insult to his intelligence and an affront to his benevolence. One wonders, sometimes, if God may not be more discouraged by the blindness of his shepherds than by the folly of his sheep.
And while on the matter of hypocrisy, further reflection on the matter comes from the public forum of a recent edition of The Salt Lake Tribune, a newspaper of wide circulation and influence in the inter-mountain area. The writer points out that “We Americans are a peculiar people and surely like to kid ourselves…. We shout lustily in favor of free enterprise; whereas, in very truth, we are in the … clutches of monopolistic enterprise. If you do not admit this, ask any small businessman…. We brag about our educational system and then immediately proceed to ridicule our teachers, making it tough as possible to get adequate appropriations for the schools…. We believe in Christianity, but spend our time scheming how we can carve each other up ‘as a dish fit for the Gods’…. Our private electric power utilities proclaim loudly against government subsidy of any kind but they are strangely silent when good old Uncle Sam spends millions of dollars regulating the waters of the Ohio River for their benefit…. We howl against any subsidy to the poor man, but say nothing of the giant subsidies that our leading magazines receive from the post office department…. We seriously classify ourselves into the genus, homo sapiens, man the wise; whereas, in very truth, we belong to genus, homo the sap…we are indeed, a peculiar people.”
The only comment this reporter feels like making is to ask, “Is not more than consistency involved here? Is it not also a matter of morality?”
And now for the foreign news as time will permit:
In Sydney, Australia, a prominent Evangelist after two years abroad conducting missions in the United States, Canada, Europe, and the Middle East, told his congregation that churches in communist-run East Germany are crowded. He said 90 percent of the East German youth belong to church groups despite the fact that this bars them from higher education.
In Toronto, Canada, the Canadian Council of Churches reported on the success of the biggest Protestant stewardship campaign ever undertaken in that country. Last year, said the council, the annual budgets of 435 churches totaled $8.85 million. This year the budgets of the same churches increased to nearly $11.5 million.
The big increase is the result of a program under which thousands of laymen canvassed the membership of participating churches. The house-to-house canvas was based on the so-called sector plan, an idea first developed by the American Baptist Convention. Participating in the drive were churches of eight denominations.
In Rome the first copy of the 1958 Vatican Directory was presented to Pope Pius. The new yearbook’s statistics indicate a strengthening of the Catholic hierarchy and an expansion of the church in missionary territories. The number of resident episcopal sees increased the past year by 35. The number or resident archbishops increased by one to 308. Apostolic vicariates increased by seven to a total of 213.
This last item is of domestic origin, and reports that when the First Lutheran Church of Worthington, Minnesota, held its recent annual meeting, the congregation elected deacons, trustees, a Sunday school superintendent – and a termite committee. Termites have been a problem in the church for several years. This last reflection of my own is made self-consciously, but when I read that statement, I could not but realize that many churches have been plagued by termites for a long time and they are not always confined to isopteran genus.