The fact that there appears to be a cult of religiosity in this country generally and in Washington particularly has been mentioned on this program before. John Cogley, writing in a current issue of the magazine Commonweal, deals with the subject somewhat at length. Putting it in time perspective, he says, “Religiosity – or the God-bit, as it is called in the more cynical capital circles – has long been a part of our political traditions. … The people, especially religious people, seem to demand it and who is to say that there may not be some faint ring of sincerity as the politico’s little coins of godliness are dropped.… It is the identification of our national cause, our needs, our ends – conceived in political and military terms – with God’s cause.… Certain vestiges of America’s Calvinist past seem to have reappeared [and] people who know better talk as if ours is not only God’s country but that we are his chosen people.… It may even be that when a great nation begins to think of itself as godly because it is great, it has gone a long way toward losing its claim to godliness.” And to that, anything which this reporter might add would indeed be superfluous.
Some people find it easy to become emotional over sacred writings. An understanding of how they came to be what they are may do something to shed light rather than heat on a subject of importance to all of us.
Even yet, after it has been distributed widely over a number of years, there remains much heated emotion over the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. This version is a monumental task that required our ablest scholars a number of years to finish. Without dwelling on its merits or demerits, it is illuminating this controversy to reflect how our Bible came to be, especially the New Testament.
Actually the New Testament consists of a small part of the writings that were produced by the new religion that came to be called Christianity. Many of these early writings have been that new religion. Some of them have been lost or were not considered worthy of preservation. There remain more materials that did not get into the New Testament than did. Unlike the Old Testament that took over 900 years in developing, the New Testament was dashed off in about 100 years (50-150 A.D.). It is divided into 27 sections called “books.” Like the Old Testament, the titles tell us nothing reliable about the authorship. The books were tracts for their times, and exhibit great theological diversity. Some people have been confused because they have approached the New Testament with the notion that Christianity began as a full blown theological system and that that system was set forth consistently in all its parts. The truth is that when a person speaks of Christianity, he may mean almost anything having to do with Christ. Christianity is a culture containing many, and often somewhat contradictory, theologies, just as it must be admitted that in the New Testament there are some contrary doctrines.
As with the Old Testament, there are no original manuscripts extant. All we have are copies of copies. All the books have been changed through the years by editing, translations, and deliberate revisions, as well as by unintentional errors in copying. By the time that printing was discovered some 1,450 years after Christ, thus making uniformity and permanence possible, the text had become progressively corrupt through copying and translating. The earliest complete copy of the New Testament is of recent discovery and written in Greek. It shows a large number of discrepancies in what we have been calling the New Testament.
A large part of the New Testament consists of letters of Paul, an apostate Jew, who had absorbed many religious ideas of the Hellenistic world. He wrote nine or ten of the books (Authorship of Ephesians is in dispute, though usually accorded to Paul).
There are three biographies of Jesus that show remarkable likeness, even to parallel language. A philosophic biography called “John” completes the list of the Gospels. The writer of “John,” whoever he may have been, was seemingly trying to bring together all the disparate and warring conceptions of Christianity under one big tent. Then there is a history of the early church called “Acts,” part of which may be fictitious. There is no consensus as to who the author was, though generally it has been ascribed to Luke. Some minor writings largely make up the rest of the New Testament except for the final book called “Revelation.” This seems to be rather frenzied symbolic writing. The author appears to be suffering at times from delusions of persecution, at other times perhaps of grandeur. Its contents are subject to almost any kind of interpretation, and many of us do not profess to understand it or to believe those who claim they do.
These, then, are a few of the facts of how the New Testament came to be. The authors of the Revised Standard Version simply took what we had and tried to make it as nearly like the earliest known copies as they could, eliminating as many errors that had occurred during history as possible. They tried, then, to give us a Bible like it originally was and in language of the man-in-the-street today. It might be well for us to keep these historical facts in mind as we try to evaluate the work of these scholars, for theirs has been a truly monumental production. For my personal use, I prefer the King James Version, but that preference is in no sense a disparagement of what has gone into the new version.
Intellectual compartmentalization perhaps has always been a characteristic of secondary intellects. But it became a disease in the 19th century. It is most evident in the church now, which is ready for the most part to bless war and nuclear weapons, and it is also evident in government that in the name of liberty takes away our liberties. It would seem past the time when the former should reassess its principles and the latter its procedures.
It is interesting, though not very rewarding, to reflect upon some of the more popular and publicized theological trends these days. On the one hand we have the paralyzing theology that Christianity is a religion of failure taught by the Niebuhrs and the Tillichs. On the other hand, we have the oversimplified psychology of the Sheens and Peales. The latter support their viewpoint on the superstition of direct and personal intervention on the confident supplicant’s behalf by the deity. Reason and logic combine to leave the impression that the first is founded on a cosmic conception that has never been established: while the latter bears some elements of pure charlatanism. It gives assurances more extravagant than the claims of a salesman of second-hand cars.
President Eisenhower says his attendance at religious and dedication services of a Jewish temple is neither unique nor especially extraordinary. He said that before the service some of the distinguished members of the congregation had voiced to him surprise at his attendance, wondering that the president of the U.S. should attend services of a faith not his own. The chief executive spoke from the pulpit Friday evening at the Washington Hebrew Congregation, in ceremonies dedicating the building of the congregation. He emphasized that the U.S. is a spiritual organism. He told the 2,000 persons present that “It is well to remember … you may not protest those rights [of religious freedom] only for yourself. You must protect them for all, or your own will be lost. During the service, conducted by Rabbi Norman Gerstenfeld, the president joined in responsive prayers.
Fuller use of America’s abundance to build a freer, more prosperous world is urged by some U.S. religious leaders. In a joint declaration, 88 top-ranking Jewish, Roman Catholic and Protestant clergymen and lay persons also ask greater output and more equitable distribution at home.
The six-point declaration has been released in New York by the Rt. Rev. Monsignor Luigi Ligutti of Des Moines, director of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference. Other signers include Rabbi Eugene Lipman of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, and the Rev. Dr. Eugene Carson Blake, president of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.
Celebrations today honor two U.S. mothers. A woman lawyer and mother of ten children has been selected as the Roman Catholic Mother of the Year. She is Mrs. Henry Mannix of Brooklyn, N.Y., for many years an officer in many Catholic organizations. The other, chosen by the American Mother’s Committee, is 75-year-old Mrs. Lavina Dugal, of Pleasant Grove, Utah. She is a Mormon and the mother of eight children, and much of her activities outside the home have been in the Mormon Church.
We are enjoined by the Bible to judge not, lest we be judged. Also, and this may be one of the contradictions I mentioned a moment ago in the New Testament, we find that “By their fruits ye shall know them.” Following the latter biblical instruction for a moment, it is easy to say that we would be impressed by the self-avowed religiosity of some public officials if such avowals were accompanied by commensurate morality. Many of us have been highly skeptical of the morality of a continuing practice of government of hiring professional informers. Over 80 people that we know of have been employed in such questionable capacity. How many more there are is not known, for the agencies using them are not talking.
Now at least one of these 80 has called the practice a racket, and three have confessed that they are liars. Everybody can agree that this last is true, for if they are now telling the truth, their original testimony was false, and vice versa. Few of us would hazard a guess as to which of their stories, if either, is true.
Harvey Matusow says that he was a dedicated communist fanatic (Are there any other kind?) for a year or two. One day he walked past a synagogue and was overcome by a realization of the sins he was committing and decided to reform. He says he made his living from 1951-1954 by testifying in 25 trials, deportation proceedings, and other hearings, and that he made 180 identifications of communists, or persons he wished to call communists, all for the various agencies that employed him. Not only that, but he hired out as a speaker in congressional campaigns in which, for a fee, he would damage this or that candidate with insinuations of subversion. He wrote for the Hearst papers and lectured on the American Legion circuit.
Among the agencies who used him were the Department of Justice (of all people), the Subversive Activities Control Board, the McCarthy Subcommittee, the Jenner Subcommittee, the House Un-American Committee, the State of Ohio Un-American Committee, and the New York City Board of Education.
Two other people, a Lowell Watson of Kansas, and a Mrs. Marie Natvig, of various places and occupations, admit they lied before the FCC and other agencies. In her testimony before the FCC, Mrs. Natvig branded a prominent publisher and TV licensee as a communist. Now she says that she not only lied about this man but also about her own communist affiliations.
None of the agencies concerned has indicated its intent to reconsider the moral, juridical, or political effects of retaining these witnesses, nor, more to the point, do they seem concerned about trying to find out what injustices, if any, have been done on the testimony of these self-confessed liars. On the contrary, the Department of Justice, at least, seems more concerned about withholding any facts that might indicate its agents helped these liars manufacture evidence, or that they were suckers who accepted untrustworthy evidence, than they are about righting any wrongs that may have been done. Apparently, the Justice Department is not disturbed by the commandment that says, “Thou shalt not bear false witness …”
Let us be clear on a basic point in this connection. Anyone who has broken the laws of this nation should be punished with whatever penalty the law provides for their crimes. The government has a right and an obligation to know that its employees are loyal to our constitutional system of government. But, government also has an obligation, both legal and moral, to uphold that system through observing due process at all times. This involves informing the person of the charges against him, confronting him with his accusers, permitting him to cross-examine them, convicting him upon reliable evidence, and permitting an appeal, to the highest court, if necessary, in case any of his rights have been violated. Not only this, but government has an obligation, moral if not legal, when a wrong has been committed by its own agents to seek just as assiduously to correct the error it has made.