An item reported this week almost immediately disappeared from newspapers or other news sources. It concerns our agreement negotiations with Spanish dictator Franco. Sometime ago the U.S. agreed to extend military and economic aid to Franco in return for the right to establish certain defense bases and maintain certain military personnel in that country, an agreement which many people looked upon with no enthusiasm because of the moral principle involved in our accepting as an ally a government that has been fascist from the beginning.
Nevertheless the agreement was reached and now our military people are working out with Franco detailed understandings with regard to our occupying the bases for which we bargained. Among these details is a report that our representatives agreed that marriages among U.S. personnel, both civilian and military, would be solemnized by the priests of the Catholic Church.
Let me make it clear that there is, or should be, no object to having marriage ceremonies performed by a priest of the Catholic faith or of any other denomination, as long as this conforms to the voluntary desire of the two principals involved. However, our Constitution states specifically in the First Amendment that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”
If the above report is true, it would appear that our military men, representing the Executive department, are trying to do something that not even Congress can do. Perhaps it would be well for such men to read the Constitution or to take a course in its principles before trying to placate an ally of doubtful morals by committing American citizens, with or without their consent, to the religious preferences of that ally. We wish no combination of church and state, and even the military should finally get around to realizing this.
In regard to the morality of our dealing with Franco, it might be recalled that in two world wars the U.S. insisted, and generally rightly so, that it was not interested in securing by these wars any material advantage, that its sole interest was in achieving peace. If no material gain was our aim, then we must have been motivated solely by moral principles. It follows quite naturally, then, that we should have moral scruples regarding those with whom we allied ourselves. The Nazis were our bitter enemies in the last war, and Franco was a close friend and collaborator with Hitler. Now we apparently have no qualms about doing business with that collaborator, though he has not changed either the purposes or principles of his government. Truly our memories must be short when we make a cornerstone of our foreign policy a rearming of Germany, which in effect means putting our former Nazi enemies into uniforms, and proceed to make a close alliance with Franco. Perhaps we little people are shortsighted, or perhaps our moral scruples are too insignificant to count, but to us it appears that there should be some consistency in the conduct of nations as well as in that of individuals.
Between last week and and this, we have had two three-day holidays for many people. Over the Christmas holiday weekend Americans demonstrated the wrong way to celebrate by piling up some 500 casualties on our highways and in accidents in other ways. That record even went beyond the most feared predictions of the National Safety Council. Statistics are not yet in on the present weekend, because it is not yet concluded. But it is probable that when they are, an equally unenviable record will have been established. Most of the highway accidents are the result of speed, and in many of them drinking is a factor. Speeding and drinking stem from no statistical phenomena. They are the products of personal violation to a high degree, and both individuals and society must take the blame. War is indeed a terrible scourge, but we do not as yet have control over it. The speed at which we drive our automobiles and the physical condition of our bodies at the time are matters under our control, and we should be more conscious than we apparently are of this high toll of deaths that is entirely within our power to prevent, for we kill more people in this country with automobiles than have been killed in the wars we have fought.
We hear much today of the influence of reading matter upon the habits of people. Specifically, a hue and cry is raised that comic books cause delinquency. Whether that is true or not has yet to be proved, but an interesting experiment in newspaper publication was carried out in Klamath Falls, Oregon, recently. During the week before Christmas, the Klamath Falls Herald and News devoted its whole front page to constructive news, relegating stories of crime and scandal to inside pages.
The reaction of the public was astounding. Telephone calls came in from Houston, Texas, from New York City, and from Arizona, as well as many from nearer home. The newspaper made arrangements to keep track of the first 1,000 persons in the subscriber area who telephoned in, but it was soon swamped with calls and no tabulations were made of the entire number. Without exception, these calls were heartily in favor of a newspaper with only constructive news on page one. Some of the papers which specialize in highlighting revolting crimes or scandals in box car type on page one, and which at the same time are decrying the admittedly tragic rise of delinquency might stop contributing to this delinquency by ceasing their spotlight displays of the very kinds of crimes they so prominently feature for the front page of their papers.
In religious life, the New Year’s holiday is perhaps evidenced mostly by “Watch Night” services on New Year’s Eve. Sometimes church services are held on New Year’s Day. The church uses the occasion to emphasize to members the time for a new leaf – a new life – in a new year. It seeks to strengthen those good resolutions so boldly made. “Watch Night” goes back a couple hundred years to the Wesleyan Methodists, who held a monthly devotion lasting until after midnight. Later they and other denominations began holding watch night on the last night of the year.
New Year’s itself has religious background. January 1 as the start of the year began when Caesar adopted the Julian calendar. That moved the holiday from December 21. In medieval days, most Christians observed March 25 as the year’s first day. But Anglo-Saxon England used December 25 as the start. Then William the Conqueror ordered the year to being on January 1 – doubtless because he was crowned that day. Still later, England joined other parts of Christendom and adopted March 25 as the annual beginning. When the Gregorian calendar was brought in in 1582, January 1 was restored as the year’s initial day. All Catholic countries adopted the new date at once. Germany, Denmark and Sweden accepted it about 1700. But England waited until 1753 to again have New Year’s Day on January 1. In the Middle East, many Orthodox Christians still use the Julian calendar. For such as the Greek Orthodox, the ecclesiastical New Year thus falls on January 13.
Most Christians in Egypt are not celebrating New Year’s today. Many of those in the Nile valley are Copts, who have New Year’s on September 11, 12, or 13. They date their calendar from “the year of the martyrs,” some 700 years ago, when the Emperor Diocletian massacred the Christians.
For Jews, New Year varies between September 6 and October 5, because their calendar is a compromise between a lunar and a solar year. The Jewish calendar, by the way, is dated from the “creation of the world.”
The year just past has witnessed the world’s religious forces moving closer together. In the U.S. and abroad, various branches of various denominations have found they have common enough beliefs to cooperate and to merge.
The most vivid, and stirring, show of the shift to greater solidarity in 1954 was the assembly of The World Council of Churches, at Evanston, Illinois. Representatives of 161 Protestant and Orthodox denominations in 48 nations found and demonstrated the value of solidarity based on Christ.
U.S. church bodies that took steps toward mergers in the past year have included three Presbyterian churches, four Lutheran ones, the Unitarian and Universalist churches, and the Congregational Christian and Evangelical and Reformed Churches.
For Roman Catholics, the greater part of 1954 was the Marian Year, dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Tens of thousands traveled to Rome for services and audiences with and blessings by Pope Pius XII. Millions of Catholics were pilgrims to other shrines to pay homage to the Virgin Mary.
For the Catholics, 1954 was also the year in which their Pontiff twice made miraculous recoveries from death. Once again Pius is convalescing, although still ill and weak. But his faith and vigor are such that within days of his more recent critical illness he has been up and about for short walks.
Vatican City: Pope Pius XII hopes to read his delayed Christmas message in person next Wednesday. In addition to the traditional appeal for peace, the 4,000-word address to Catholics is expected to announce a consistory to name new cardinals to the Roman Catholic Church. The Sacred College has been reduced to 64 members from its full strength of 70 because of deaths this year. The Pope’s doctors have opposed his plans to read the Christmas message in person. But Vatican sources say that if he should prevail, his voice would be recorded beforehand in several sessions.
Washington: A World Assembly for Moral Rearmament opened a 10-day session last week in Washington. It is being attended by 500 delegates from 23 countries. Among the chief speakers at the early sessions was a member of the Indian Parliament, N.P. Rajabhoj (razh’-ah-bozh). John McGovern of the British Parliament told the Assembly that co-existence with Russia is like trying to co-exist with a lion in a jungle. Yakubu Tali (yak-koo-boo-tah’-lee), the chief of 1.5 million Moslems on Africa’s Gold Coast, said moral rearmament is doing for Africa “what Abraham Lincoln did for this country.”
New York: The Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada has branded the Conservative Rabbinate’s revised Jewish marriage contract a “heresy.” More than 200 members of the Orthodox group, meeting this week in a special session, adopted a resolution on the subject. It warned Jews not to “consult the so-called beth din”… or Rabbinical tribunal … “of the Conservative Rabbinate on any matters pertaining to marriage or divorce, or any other religious question.”
Philadelphia: The National Council of Presbyterian Men has announced it will hold three meetings in 1955, instead of one, because of the rapid expansion of the Presbyterian Church. The Council said it will hold meetings February 11 ,in Sacramento, California; February 25, in New York; and March 18, in Chicago. All will be for two days.
Okinawa: Francis Cardinal Spellman, Catholic vicar for the United States forces in Korea, is on Okinawa. Yesterday (Friday) and today, he is conducting four masses and two benedictions for air force and army troops.
Chicago: A sociologist has suggested that Catholics might reduce Protestant antagonism by not throwing group support behind a political figure simply because he is a Catholic. The suggestion was made by professor Gordon Zahn of the University of Loyola in Chicago before the 16th annual convention of the American Catholic Sociological Society.
U.S. Jews also can mark Gregorian 1954 as a big period. Last September, at the start of their new year, they began an 8-month observance of the 300th anniversary of Jewish settlement in America.
From a poll of its member radio stations and newspapers, the Associated Press found evangelist Billy Graham with the most votes as the “Man of 1954” in Religion. His most spectacular program last year was 12 weeks of successful revival meetings in England. British ministers and lay people mostly welcomed the Rev. Graham. They saw in him and his work a revival of their own churches.
The U.S. evangelist followed his English success with a short, and also successful, revival series in Europe. But the heavy schedule broke his health. However, now the Rev. Graham is again on the circuit.
The AP editors also picked, by the way, as their foreign affairs “Man of the Year” one who has had close connections with Protestant church affairs all his life. That’s the U.S. Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, a Presbyterian, a minister’s son, and one-time head of the old Federal Council of Churches of Christ.