This is “Religion in the News,” a program of non-sectarian comment on items of religious significance that have appeared in the press during the past week.
Washington: Two-hundred Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish leaders this week brought President Eisenhower a report on the nation’s spiritual resources. Presentation of the report at a White House ceremony marked the high point in a three-day annual meeting of the National Conference of Christians and Jews. During the conference, ten lay leaders and clerics joined in issuing a Brotherhood Statement to be used as “a platform of American action to combat communism.” This platform asked Americans to rededicate themselves to fundamental spiritual values.
A United States Roman Catholic archbishop, Richard Cushing of Boston, is often mentioned as a possible candidate for a cardinal’s red hat. His name is increasingly being brought up now that five vacancies exist in the College of Cardinals. The number in this College dropped to sixty-five this week, with the death of Giuseppe Cardinal Brune, who had been Chamberlain of the College. Pope Pius XII is generally thought to be ready to call another consistory to elect new members. Most new Princes of the Church would probably be Italians, but it is not impossible that one of the places would go to an American, and if so, it would bring the United States’ total to five.
Archbishop Cushing is also in the news this week in another connection. He declared that organized labor and organized religion have many enemies in common. Speaking at the 16th Annual Convention of Massachusetts CIO, he said it is difficult to tell which is more sad and disgusting – to hear a professed churchman explain away tyranny’s attacks on organized religion or to hear a professed friend of the common man defend tyranny’s destruction of organized labor.
One observer with years of new experience in Russia, Associated Press correspondent Eddie Gilmore, says anti-religious workers have obviously gone too far. He points out that instead of leading the Russians away from the church, the workers, that is the party workers, are driving the people into it.
That this may be true can be seen by reading between the lines of a recent decree of the Communist Party chiefs in which Red propagandists are told to keep up their thumping for atheism. The same decree, however, also said they must quit being hard on the churches. This somewhat unexpected order follows a Soviet press campaign against religion. The campaign apparently got out of hand in some places where local Russian officials persecuted believers and clergy.
Reinforcing this impression is information contained in one of our national magazines, Newsweek, for November 15, just off the press. Under the title of “Technique of the Godless,” the magazine stresses that while Russia professes to be neutral toward religion and to permit freedom of worship, the facts are that the party seizes every effort it can to militate against religion, whether it be Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox. Communist Party members are forbidden to go to church. If an official youth group outing is held, it is sure to be on Sunday at exactly the time when the children would otherwise be going to church. If a government worker is to be discontinued or demoted, it is always the religious ones who suffer. Religion is fought in the schools. Pressure is put on priests and other church workers to conform to Party doctrine, or, at most, to refrain from saying or doing anything that would reflect disparagingly upon the Soviet government structure or policy. Everywhere people of religion in Russia report that they are constantly watched and any evidence of suspicious talking or acting on their part is communicated to the local Party officials. Despite this continuous campaign, Russian people are flocking into the churches more than at any time in recent decades.
American churches have shipped over millions of pounds of food, clothing, and medical supplies to the hungry and homeless people around the world during the first nine months of this year. This was reported this week by the director of Church World Service, the International Relief Wing of the National Council of Churches. Included in this amount were 8.5 million pounds of United States surplus commodities made available free by the government. While this amount by no means meets the need of hungry and suffering people, there can be little doubt that this American performance is everywhere contrasted with Russian promises that are almost never fulfilled. Hence, in the aggregate it should do much to build up good will between the recipients and the people of America, perhaps more in the long run than some heralded diplomatic triumphs.
The Baptists of Tennessee have just ended their state convention in Nashville with a declaration of emphasis to which all Christians can subscribe, namely that “Our youth needs intellectual attainment plus a Christian conception of life.” In this topsy-turvy world of today, a sane, workable philosophy of life that is both coherent and consistent is perhaps more important than ever before for personal and social well-being. Yet, one rarely hears an acquaintance express such a philosophy. The Baptist speaker was saying, in different words, what the writer of Proverbs 29:18 said long ago, that “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
One of the most controversial figures in today’s world is that of Prime Minister Nehru of India. It may seem somewhat strange to include him in a broadcast relating to religion, but the sober fact is that what he thinks and does may do much to determine the conditions in which we find ourselves in the future. To many Americans, he is a hard-to-please man with communist leanings. This is hardly a correct picture. He has his prejudices and inconsistencies, and like all national leaders, he is primarily concerned with serving the interests of his own nation, as he sees those interests. But to condemn one of the world’s greatest statesmen because we think he is not suspicious enough of Russia and China is a foolish thing to do, and yet that is what many of us are doing. We need to look a little further than his statements of diplomacy to discover just what his attitudes are toward communism. He has definitively and vigorously opposed the growth of communism in India. He is a friend, and also a critic, of the United States, wanting us to avoid anything that smacks of imperialism. But, he is, or tries to be, likewise a friend and critic of China and Russia. As The New York Times put it recently, he wants “precise safeguards against communist subversion in South and Southeast Asia.” This is important to the Free World, and certainly to the welfare of religion, not only in that area but throughout the world, for religion has no freedom to flourish under communism. One question disturbingly emerges from this attitude toward Nehru: Have we reached the point in our climate of opinion here where we insist that anyone who offers criticism of us or who disagrees with us is both a scoundrel and a traitor to the free world? This is a question that we well might ponder, for democracy in the Free World, as everywhere else, flourishes in considerate appraisal of opposing views, and upon constructive criticism, constructively given. People of religion, most of all, should always distinguish between an accusation and evidence.
Delegates to the National Conference of the Evangelical United Brethren Church are balloting at their convention in Milwaukee for seven new bishops. Four bishops will be chosen from the United Brethren Church and three from the Former Evangelical Church. At least three of these bishops will be new.
This denomination, as its name implies, was brought about eight years ago by the Union of the former United Brethren Church and the Evangelical Church. Two retired bishops of the former United Brethren Church have credited the success of the union to the fact that the parties brought out their problems in advance and had most of the answers before they merged. At this convention, this church was reminded, as have been other denominations in recent months, of the growth of urban areas and the implications this growth has for existing and projected churches. The Rev. Marlo N. Berger of Dayton, Ohio, describes this city growth as coming on the American church as a great tidal wave. He went on to urge that home missions and church extension officials must be added in order to meet the spiritual obligations of the church to those newcomers in city areas.
Report of another attempt at united action comes to us this week. The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations has taken notice of what one of its officials terms “reawakened interest” in Jewish religious observance. So the three million member denomination of the Jewish faith will seek to organize 50 new United States congregations in the next two years. Orthodox Union Vice President Benjamin Mandelker of Lynbrook, New York, told of the necessary expansion at the Union’s convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey. One of the key objectives of the new inter-faith program is to put religious forces to work on human problems in the social and civil order. The aim of the movement, incorporating Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Jewish church bodies is to throw up a wall against communism. This program to strengthen the United States’ religious fabric was launched in Washington this week at a National Conference Party instigated by President Eisenhower. He says the new plan “can well take the Bible in one hand and the flag in the other and march ahead.”
In Italy this week, a Protestant sect won full rights to practice its religion without government interference. The Italian Council of State ruled that the Assembly of God churches in Italy are entitled to recognition under the law and their pastors may hold services. The Assembly of God sect has fought a six-year battle to gain a legal standing for its houses of worship. The step was hailed as possibly having beneficial results for other Protestant churches seeking recognition in Italy.
Our final item today deals with a question that is of tremendous importance, but one which many of us find it difficult to think objectively about. That is the apparently increasingly popular habit of regarding religious conformity as a touchstone of loyalty to democratic institutions. Perhaps this is part of the current climate of opinion to which I referred earlier. To those who think realistically about both their government and their religion, recognize that there is not necessarily pervading reason why one cannot be a good citizen without being also a believer in religion. The attempt to establish a 100 percent correlation between loyalty and religion is naturally offensive to patriotic believers. Often in the press or on the street one sees or hears implications that because a given individual does not affiliate with any religion, he is, because of that very fact, a person whose loyalty is to be questioned. Perhaps their logic, or lack of it, goes like this, “Communists are opposed to Christianity. This man is not a Christian. Hence, he must be a communist.”
The Master Himself recognized that there was not any necessary relation between good citizenship and religion. His adroit answer, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s,” in no sense implies that because a person does not formally render to one he cannot render to the other. It is conceivable that one can be a good citizen without being religious; it is hardly conceivable that one could be religious and not be a good citizen. Therein lies the difference. The fact is that we cannot have freedom of religion unless there is always possible freedom from religion, and any imputation that non-believers, per se, are not good citizens is to relate two things that do not have any absolutely necessary relationship.