REBELLION INSTITUTIONALIZED A Dogmatic View of Religious Dogmatism AUSTIN This will be a dogmatic column against religious dogmatism. Readers are warned not to expect qualifying clauses such as “I think” \(since it is difficult to imagine saying something without implying, at least, that one people who do not kneel when they pray, something on the order of “Begging you Unitarians’ pardon.” Religion is a very personal matter; the Oxford Union has long had a rule it should not be discussed in public. It ought to be discussed in public, but with an especially scrupulous observance of the predicate of every serious discussion, “You’re as entitled to your position as I to mine.” WORDS CAN MEAN whatever we make them mean. What does “religion” mean? And what, “Christianity?” Religion is a much broader term, of course; there are the. religions of the world, Christianity is one of them. There are Christians evangelizing in the United States today who want to Christianize the world by making nuclear war on communism. Some Christians. The Christian religion has been losing ground in the modern world for many reasons. One of them is the fact that when most ministers are confronted with certain auestions of personal P nd national morality, they turn chicken. The Observer 1 indertook a few months back to interview a lot of big-time Texas Christians, bishops and the like. on nuclear war. They mealy-mouthed worse than Texas politicians. They, also, are politicians, and they are protecting their big expensive churches and their own sinecures ; or they do not want to split their churches by voicing controversial ideas ; or they do not think about these things, for fear where their thoughts would lead them. In personal life the people have moved far ahead of the politicians and the ministers, as a general thing. What Darwin did to Christian ontogeny Kinsey did to Christian morality and Camus and the existentialists did to Christian ontology. The rules are shot to hell. People improvise. Let a minister around an advanced university community try to give out with the Virgin Mary, Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery, and Do Not Curse Even with Variations of the Bad Words, and he simply will not be listened to. What the new ones want to know is : how can I be a good person when I feel so much evil working inside me? What does “being responsible to another” mean? How much can I consider myself without considering myself too much? What does it mean, the fact that the net results of all the labors of the statesmen, the preachers, the prophets, the nations, the civilizations, is a world about to blow itself entirely away? Among, as Camus says, “those who understand,” politics and public life have changed, too. You look for a man who talks the real issues and you look almost in vain, because the population generally do not look for such a man. They look for the older forms of men, and they find them in abundance. They find them in the political halls and they find them in the pulpits. There have always been avant garde movements in religion, of course; Unitarianism goes back a long. way. It is a little ironic to listen to a Unitarian at once proclaim his modernism and his religion’s distinguished founders in American history, but who is not proud of a distinguished antecedent? I am so proud of the fact that Rob Roy McGregor fathered one of our line, my wife and I have named our son in the robber’s honor. There does, however, seem to have been an especially vigorous skepticism in the country lately. Unitarianism has grown somewhat. NITARIANISM means many things and an outsider hardly dares say a word about it, but it seems obvious that the most important characteristic of the activity is the absence of any dogmatic requirements for participation. Some Unitarians believe in God, meaning a person-like Ruler of the Universe, and some do not. The divinity of Jesus? If you’re a Unitarian, take it or leave it. The Unitarians come together and seek their own ethical truths. Theosophically surveying the past, they try to think out how to act in different situations. They concern themselves courageously with morality in public affairs. Generally they are good people. But if some Unitarians are Christians, others are not. It is not a requirement. This is the crux of the matter. Many of the modernists have chosen to use words like “church” and “Christianity” and “faith” when what they mean by these words is not what the traditional Christian means. The,, have done this for many understandable expedient reasons. They need to raise their children in a church but don’t want to submit them to the old coercive dogmas. They perceive that Christianity is a most potent force in the community and, rather than abandoning it to the traditionalists, wish to convert it to their own modern purposes. Why let the old dogs define “faith” and “God”? Let’s broaden these noble words to include us! One cannot say what happened to the Christian Faith and Life Community in Austin last week. That Cornmunity is very complex ; probably many things happened to it, and even if only one thing did, there are so many intellectuals over there, you’d get 50 different explanations. But underneath the dismissal of Joe Matthews and the resignation of eight of his colleagues in modern religion there was this same difficulty the Unitarians have : the difficulty of trying to use traditional words for untraditional ideas. WHATEVER the message of the Community was, it was not Christianity as most Christians understand Christianity. It was a message of love, of understanding, of compassion. It was a message of courage, of gameness. It was a message of personal responsibility for everything one does or does not do. It was a message of earnest concern for the problems of one’s own self, of others one is with, and of the world at large. But the name of the place was the Christian Faith and Life Community, and it was financed by mostly orthodox Christian churches. That was the basis of the trouble. The Christian Faith and Life Community fell out of the Christian Community which financed it. Its corporate ministry and its students had so fearlessly, so admirably pursued their own thoughts to whatever conclusions they led to, they became a community outside the community of more or less orthodox Christian believers. The resigning nine were spoken for by Don Warren when he said, “It is obvious that we are in a fast moving world and I feel that the program of the church must move forward the same way.” The world is moving too fast for most orthodox Christians if it means pouring out the contents of the words labeled “God” and “faith” and pouring in the new world’s meanings. Nay, let the New World go to the Devil in a Handbasket: for those of the dogmas it is a question of what is True, and that is decided not by evidence or experience but by Faith. Tamper with these things at the peril of eternal damnation. In the long run the orthodox Christians are right from their point of view. It might as well be said right out. What the Unitarians and the modern ministers like the nine who resigned from the Austin Experiment this week are trying to doas one of the nine said one dayis to promote a new Reformation from within Christianity. Its substance would re place the substance of ordinary, orthodox Christianity. It would simply jettison the dogmas. In place of these there would be an attempt to develop satisfaction sufficient to life from the human virtues like love, gentleness, kindness, responsibility, honesty, candor, integrity, courage. Lest there be any doubt, I prefer the modern message to the orthodox, but I cannot blame the orthodox for regarding the moderns as interlopers and at worst as hypocrites. If they have new meanings they should use new words for them. They should not appear to be trying to trick the community into believing they are are like all the other Christians. Perhaps they must. Rebellion, to become the future, has to be institutionalized, one way or another, and transitions are difficult. But let us at least get straight among ourselves, us moderns, what we are arguing about, why we are differing. There are those who would use the old forms, and there are those who would not use them. The world is DALLAS To an outsider, and that means anyone who came to South Louisiana after World War II, the battle between Archbishop Joseph Francis Rummel and the militant segregationists may seem a strange and remote thing, but to the people of the New Orleans area it is very serious business. As the situation concerns Archbishop Rummel, it is unfair to call it a battle. The 85-year-old prelate is simply doing his job as he sees it, and in this Catholic area the job carries a lot of weight. THE ARCHBISHOP is not a native Louisianian. In fact, his appointment years ago came as a disappointment in many quarters and was said to have caused the death of a local clergyman who felt he was in line for the throne. But over the years he has become a respected, even revered figure. As an institution in the Catholic Church he stands just behind St. Louis Cathedral and several other ancient local institutions. Nearly three generations of graduates of Catholic high schools have complained about the length of his messages delivered on graduation night, but it is significant that he seldom missed one in a city with almost as many students in parochial schools as in public. He is a gentle man, and few would question his piety and devotion to duty. His local esteem has long been recognized by his superiors. A recent biography of Cardinal Spellman revealed that Rummel was one of those considered for Spellman’s job. This, then, is the man who excommunicated Leander Perez and two bit players for their criticism of his ruling that parochial schools must desegregate. What about the other side? The unfortunate Mrs. Guillot and the hateful Jackson B. Ricau do not deserve much consideration. Mrs. Guillot claims that the Bible demands segregation of the races. This line of thinking would seem more familiar to primitive religious philosophy in the clay-eating belt than to the dominant church in the South’s most sophisticated city. Ricau seems to be more dedicated to the White Citizens Council than anything else. The fact that he was more persistent in this noble calling than most other folks accounts for his present difficulties. THE THIRD FIGURE in the piece is the financier and prophet, Leander Perez, absolute Tsar of Plaquemines Parish, and spiritual and physical monarch of St. Bernard Parish. large and complex enough for each of our kinds to have our effects within it, but just as the reformers who do not band together under old flags put to new causes must bear the they are egotists, have inflated ideas of their individual importance, cannot take their ideals seriously since they are so prodigal with their energies, why, so must the reformers from within recognize and scruple against the weaknesses of their own positions. THE ARGUMENT that we should stick together and spare each other our candid opinions would shrivel up the modern community: we would bore each other. We feel embattled down here in Texas and figure we have to act like conspirators to survive, but come on, now : we’re probably the new orthodox. The question is, how will our kind keep the human race from reverting to barbarism as soon as large quantities of it suspect with us that the invisible gods were dreamed up in fear and witchcraft? R.D. Perez once was district attorney of these two domains, but he handed the job over to his son when he decided to devote all of his energies to fighting integration, which he naturally blames on communism, the National Council of Churches, and Jews. To Perez there isn’t much difference. Leander’s authority in Plaquemines is absolute. In his excellent book on . Earl Long, A. J. Liebling described his unique position as having only one counterpart in the world : Kuwait, the feudal shiekdom sitting on its mighty reservoir of oil. Most of the oil revenue goes to Leander. He can finance any sort of mass idiocy he desires. The demonstrations in New Orleans in the fall of 1960 were good examples of his handicraft. He is a ruthless man and his word is law. He decides who is black and who is white in a parish filled with every conceivable racial mixture. There have been serious questions about some of Leander’s racial decisions and about his policy on just who can vote, but in Plaquemines Parish they are not given much thought. His influence in St. Bernard is not as great, since that parish has taken a large amount of overflow from New Orleans. But again these are much the same people who were in the school picket lines. Their racial feelings are well known. Leander does not confine his activities to his shiekdoms. Once a great supporter of the Long clan, he feuded with Uncle Earl in the latter years, and that grand and obscene old man fought him bitterly. The state now proudly possesses Gov. Jimmie H. Davis, a palamino horse, a hillbilly band, and a whopping deficit. This political menagerie was placed in office with the full sanction and financial backing of Leander Perez. “You Are My Sunshine” is but small consolation. It is hard to say where the present fight will lead, but this is an area where life centers around the Catholic Church. The Cathedral of St. Louis was there a long time before Leander’s first oil well. People who are perfectly willing to spit on a Protestant minister and his small daughter and to call the mayor of New Orleans a Nigger-luvvin’ communist may ‘take a different attitude toward their own archbishop. AND IT MAY at long last bring out the feelings of many who have been reluctant to speak before. Many feel that the New Orleans demonstrators were a small minority. Perhaps the archbishop’s actions will prove they are right. E.C. * * * Tsar vs. Archbishop
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