One of the difficult aspects of our approach to religion, and one that hinders progress in it, is the element of flavor of sanctity which we attach to the magic name “religion.” A person whom most of you know, and whom I call “great” in his religious thinking and approach, Dr. William Rigell, pastor emeritus of Central Baptist Church here, and now professor at State College, once put it this way to me: “When you students enter classrooms, your minds are open to conviction; you are willing to examine and accept evidence, and draw your conclusions.” “But,” he said, “when you enter the church, your minds are already made up, and what most of you wish is for the preacher to say only things that will square with your preconceived opinions.”
It is this unwillingness, perhaps the cultivated inability, to approach religious matters on a thought rather than an emotional basis that has been largely responsible for lack of progress in the field over the centuries. The simple fact is that Orthodox Christianity has operated in different forms for over 19 centuries. It has failed to convert the inhabitants of this world to a peaceful happy life on this earth and has no evidence that it has affected the state of the dead. It has spent more time talking about … an abstract, intricately developed theology that provides an excellent exercise in theological semantics. But all this does not appear to have had much relevance to reality; that is, the reality of the known nature of man and his environment.
Dr. George B. Stoddard, in a statement that reached me this week, points out what he calls five fallacies in religion:
- That there is a mysterious world beyond the physical;
- That simply to appease a god is a desirable human state, and to praise him is a sign of virtue;
- That a god of vengeance represents the highest point in human aspiration;
- That the supernatural, the superstitious, the magical are permanent in human affairs;
- That piety is the only basis for ethical behavior.
Well, whether you agree or disagree with his labeled fallacies, they strike at the root of gullible swallowing, but not digesting, anything placed before you and labeled good, or religious. It will be noted that these fallacies are directly counter to the scientific approach in the study of human affairs, and it is through the scientific method that concrete results have come about in our understanding of man, his environment, and the end product of their interaction with each other. Some people who sincerely believe their religion attack science as being godless, and allege a conflict between science and religion. What they really mean is between science and the confirmed prejudices they hold about a particular religion. The blunt fact is that in human affairs, if religious ideas and beliefs cannot withstand the critical and empirical test of science, then they will have to suffer. The scientific method is simply a way of discovering truth, and truth should be the basis of all religion. A great religious figure said many years ago that “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Perhaps to find that truth, we need still another commandment, at least need to keep such in mind. It might read something like this: “Doubt all things, search all things, analyze all things. Yea, accept nothing contrary to evidence because people in high places say it is so, or because you read it in an imposing and ancient or even new, volume.” The other approach is like that told about the old Tennessean who said that if there was anything wrong with the Methodist Church and Democratic Party he did not wish to learn about it until he was dead. He was already dead spiritually, but did not know it. If only through knowing the truth we can find freedom, and if freedom is desirable, why not seek truth, regardless of where it leads or what false little gods we have erected it destroys? I know this is not orthodox, but it was not intended to be.
It was a pagan – if that is the appropriate term by which to designate non-Christians– who said that “Man’s inhumanity to man has made countless millions mourn,” and it is hardly likely that many of you would challenge the accuracy of that statement. A great Galilean spent his life being human toward men. Furthermore, if you are attending adult classes now in your church (Protestant) school, you know the theme of the current lessons is “Religion Applied to Society.” For this reporter, and he presumes to speak for nobody else, that is the only justification for the existence of a religion in today’s world. Anyway, it may well do us some good now and then to take a brief inventory to see how we are doing in this matter of application.
A heartening note came from Mississippi’s Governor Coleman, even, who recently said, in arguing for a new VA hospital, that “To deny medical facilities for veterans to preserve segregation … is just a little unrealistic.”
But out in Oklahoma the legislature recently enacted what it called an emergency law creating a state literature commission to censor all kinds of publications. Despite the alleged emergency the state attorney general has attacked the law as unworkable and invalid; the commission is having trouble getting financed; and no complaints have been registered yet regarding publications distributed in the state.
Up in Connecticut the State Civil Rights Commission complained to Governor Ribicoff that it is virtually impossible for a Negro to rent in a white neighborhood. At the same time, Alabama State Senator George Little recently charged that some white plantation owners were holding Negroes in virtual peonage through manipulation of welfare funds.
And the Pentagon has revealed that security clearance procedures have been applied to a review of an 1879 book by a Confederate general dealing with the Civil War – we might page George Orwell on that one.
And it is heartening to note that just this last summer the last of six Salem witches was cleared when Governor Furcolo signed a resolution absolving them – only 265 years after they were hanged.
And Texas, being what it is, probably deserves a position of prominence on this last item. The school board of Houston has eliminated from its grammar school curriculum virtually all courses dealing with history and geography – other than Texan. I guess that will learn those blankety-blank Yankees that they can’t hoodwink Houston children by other-world ideas and nonsense.
The American Jewish Congress has just published a pamphlet entitled Assault Upon Freedom of Association: A Study of the Southern Attack on the NAACP. It is well worth reading, whatever the complexion of your ideas on the organization is.
Finally, for most of us, it is only human to be human, and this reporter trusts that he is no exception. It was [Alexander] Pope who said that to err is human; to forgive, divine. If that is true, this reporter has been more than human more than once, but he always regrets his errors. Anyway, the human breaks through in that, like all of you, he cannot help but have a special feeling and regard for the small group related to him or close to him, or those he wishes were close to him. The point of all this is that a person very important to him is observing her birthday anniversary next Wednesday. It will not be the kind of observance I would wish for her, but I am not selfish enough to neglect to wish that it be the kind that she wishes for herself. So, to that special person, may I use this medium of conveying to her sincere wishes not only for a happy observance of that day, but of all the days to come?