Commentary Magazine


Church and State

To the Editor:

I am most grateful to COMMENTARY for the printing of Will Herberg’s clear, impartial, and authoritative article. As the son and grandson of Protestant clergymen, this problem is one that has long worried me. I was delighted to see that Life used the article as the subject for an editorial. While my own views differ somewhat from Mr. Herberg’s, the article can, I think, only do good, and COMMENTARY is to be congratulated for publishing it.

Donald Egbert
Princeton University
Princeton, New Jersey

_____________

 

To the Editor:

There are several objections to the introduction of religious instruction into the public school curriculum.

The teaching of doctrinaire religion, especially in the primary grades, is antithetical to the concept of the modern school, whose basic purpose is to guide its pupils in achieving the qualities of independent reasoning, in that religion necessarily demands the acceptance of dogmatic and mystically derived truths.

By this it must not be misunderstood that the modern school is now, or was ever, intended to become an atheistic institution. Mr. Herberg and others who are apparently otherwise persuaded, would do well to understand the difference between the prefixes “non” and “un,” especially when these. syllables are placed before the word “religious.” Further, the “liberal” welcomes the studying of the great texts of the Judeo-Christian religions in the public schools. He urges his children to thoroughly read and understand them. He deems that his children will in that manner achieve a higher and finer degree of faith and morality, than by chanting and memorizing prayers with his “co-religionists” in specially allocated classrooms of the public school.

Mr. Herberg tends toward naivety if he thinks the opposition to the furnishing of bus service to Roman Catholic schools is petty. If such “auxiliary aids” are condoned, there seems to be no consistent reason why eventually the public treasury should not pay for the very “seat in a Catholic school for every Catholic child.” . . .

Herbert H. Neuer
Tomah, Wisconsin

_____________

 

To the Editor:

As members of staff daily concerned with problems arising in the church-state area, we would want readers of COMMENTARY to be aware of the abyss between the views in Mr. Herberg’s “The Sectarian Conflict Over Church and State” and the policies consistently followed by the American Jewish Committee.

We recognize that Mr. Herberg’s purpose was to introduce a modicum of rationality into the current conflict over the doctrine of separation of church and state. We believe he failed because many of his postulates are faulty. For example, it would appear that basic to Mr. Herberg’s concept of separation is his conviction that religion is a public concern. Most people would dispute this, holding with Jefferson that “I am a sect by myself,” and with the long and successful struggle of many of the others among the nation’s founders to establish that religion is a matter between man and his conscience. James Madison’s famous Remonstrance against religious assessments (1785) opposed every form and degree of official relation between religion and civil authority because: “The religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.”

However, even if Mr. Herberg’s thesis were justified, namely, that religion is a public concern, there is much in the relevant history of the First Amendment that he has overlooked. Mr. Justice Black’s opinion in the Zorach released-time case reviews some of that history:

It was precisely because Eighteenth Century Americans were a religious people divided into many fighting sects that we were given the constitutional mandate to keep church and state completely separate. Colonial history had already shown that, here as elsewhere, zealous sectarians entrusted with governmental power to further their causes, would sometimes torture, maim and kill those they branded ‘heretics,’ ‘atheists’ or ‘agnostics.’ The First Amendment was therefore to insure that no one powerful sect or combination of sects could use political or governmental power to punish dissenters whom they could not convert to their faith. Now as then, it is only by wholly isolating the state from the religious sphere and compelling it to be completely neutral, that the freedom of each and every denomination and of all non-believers can be maintained.

Having thus rested briefly on one shaky premise, Mr. Herberg next chooses a straw-man definition of “secularism” which happens to suit his purpose. Out of the (literally) dozens of meanings attributed to this much-abused word he might have selected one not quite so partisan: “Belonging to the state as distinguished from the church; non-ecclesiastical; civil” (Webster’s New International Dictionary, 2d Edition, Unabridged). Had he tried this definition out for size he might have arrived at altogether different conclusions. It might then have been comprehensible to him why the courts, the schools, and other public institutions ought to be secular. He might have understood why government must be neutral in matters of religion. It would have been understandable that, because an institution is secular, it is not necessarily anti-religious. He could have seen clearly why there is insistence in Jewish circles that the furtherance of religion is the obligation of the church, the synagogue, and the home, and not of the public schools. Here, incidentally, and contrary to the impression created by Mr. Herberg, with rare exception there is unanimity among all branches of Judaism, Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform. Referring to the attacks on secularism, Dr. Winfred E. Garrison, Literary Editor of the Christian Century, once wrote: “In some circles the indiscriminate damning of everything that can be called secular is deemed a mark of piety.”

To be sure, Mr. Herberg concedes that “The practical difficulties in the way of any acceptable program of religion in the schools are quite insuperable”; that many have “very properly criticized as impracticable and ineffective” the “plans and programs” to which he himself refers; and, again, that he has “yet to see a plan [for teaching religion in the public schools] that seems [to him] wise or practicable.” What, then, are the critics of these “plans and programs” to do? “Don’t be negative; don’t reject out of hand all solutions that are offered” is the sum of his advice. But where does he get the notion that this is the case? On the contrary, the very opposite is true. Representatives of religious groups have often met across the conference table and, hopefully, will continue to do so, in an effort to seek solutions to these very complex problems.

But Mr. Herberg’s hinted “solution” is not one of these. Impartial government aid must inevitably lead to a huge expansion of the church schools and the resultant weakening or even the disintegration of the already undernourished public school. Nor should those who recognize the inherent danger in Mr. Herberg’s thesis be admonished to maintain a respectful silence in the face of concerted efforts to inject religious subject matter into the secular curriculum. Rather, we have a moral duty to point up the indiscriminate tampering with the secular program, for here is the blueprint for the return of the religious conflicts which pockmarked public education before the dawn of the secular school of today.

Philip Jacobson
Morris N. Kertzer
E. J. Lukas
Theodore Leskes
American Jewish Committee
New York City

_____________

 

To the Editor:

I read with considerable interest and enthusiasm Will Herberg’s splendid, forthright article on the problems of separation of church and state. . . .

No doubt his article will antagonize many who pride themselves on standing in the forefront of “liberalism.” It is important for you to know that for all those who react antagonistically to this article, there are many others of us who have been waiting eagerly to find a spokesman who would speak out honestly on the issues at stake, free from any position which smacks of either pro- or anti-Catholicism. Herberg has hit the center and no doubt will be caught in the crossfire—indication of a valid position. . . .

G. W. Webber
Union Theological Seminary
New York City

_____________

 

To the Editor:

I want to congratulate you on the article by Will Herberg in the current issue of COMMENTARY. This seems to me to be one of the best statements that have been made by anyone on the problem of church and state and on the general problem of public education. I think that he has made a great contribution to the thought of Protestants on the subject. I can only speak for them. I know of no better discussion of the Catholic-Protestant conflict in America than this one.

John C. Bennett
Union Theological Seminary
New York City

_____________

 

To the Editor:

Will Herberg and COMMENTARY are to be congratulated for the singular service they have rendered to the American public with the publication of “The Sectarian Conflict Over Church and State.”

No longer can it be said that the debate on church-state relations lacks a status questionis. Mr. Herberg has effectively seen to that. In any future discussion of this thorny subject, we can now expect to be spared the pointless and futile excursions into name-calling and abuse which have characterized past discussions. . . .

(Monsignor) Thomas J. McCarthy
Washington, D.C.

_____________

 

To the Editor:

I was most pleased to read the article of Mr. Will Herberg. To my mind it is the best analysis of the problem of the relationship between church and state which has appeared. Its excellence stems from the fact that Mr. Herberg avoids the clichés which frequently blur the true issues raised by this problem.

(Rabbi) Seymour Siegel
Jewish Theological Seminary of America
New York City

_____________

 

To the Editor:

Did Will Herberg really expect to further “understanding” among religious groups by writing an article which distorts the facts and relies on epithet rather than argument to combat his ideological opponents?

Typical of Mr. Herberg’s sleight of hand is the misleading quotation on page 452 attributed to “Jefferson himself.” Actually, the quotation was taken from a passage in the minutes of the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia (of which Jefferson was rector) dated October 7, 1822. As used by Mr. Herberg, the quotation is wrenched out of context to give the impression that Jefferson was advocating “instruction in religious opinion and duties” under public auspices, whereas the truth is that he was opposing that very thing. Following the two sentences which Mr. Herberg quotes, the minutes continue in this vein: “The want of instruction in the various creeds of religious faith existing among our citizens presents, therefore, a chasm in a general institution of the useful sciences. But it was thought that this want and the entrustment to each society of instruction in its own doctrine, were evils of less danger than a permission to the public authorities to dictate modes or principles of religious instruction. . . .”

Mr. Herberg betrays a superficial acquaintance with American history when he expresses doubt that the First Amendment was intended to bar “any and every governmental action extending aid on an equal basis to all religious groups.” The fact is that the Founding Fathers specifically rejected two alternative drafts of the First Amendment which were proposed. They read as follows: “Congress shall make no law establishing one Religious Sect or Society in preference to another. . . .” and “Congress shall make no law establishing any particular denomination of religion in preference to another. . . .” Instead of these, the Founding Fathers adopted a First Amendment which was directed against any kind of religious “establishment,” and not merely against the establishment of a single favored sect or church. . . .

Regrettably, Mr. Herberg seems to be unaware that a derogatory label attached to an idea does not constitute a refutation of that idea. “Secularism,” “mere ethical culture,” “neutralism,” “the enfeebling abstractions of ‘liberalism’ and ‘humanism,’” “negativeness and defensiveness,” “Blanshardism,” and so on—terms used with such relish by Mr. Herberg—contribute nothing to intelligent discussion. . . .

_____________

 

Had Mr. Herberg dealt with the issues on their merits, he might not have made his ill-considered reference to “the rebuke recently administered by American Jesuits to Cardinal Segura of Seville” as evidence of a “reorientation” allegedly under way in the Roman Catholic Church. Exactly two American Jesuits were involved in this exchange, and the facts would indicate that they were on the receiving end of rebukes from Cardinal Segura, a higher-ranking prelate to whom they replied with some restraint, only to be rebuked again in more vehement terms. “It would not be surprising,” said Cardinal Segura as he renewed the assault, “if our pastoral letter should have aroused protests on the part of Protestants, but it is certainly strange that an attempt to oppose our said pastoral letter which laid down the doctrine of the church, should appear precisely in a review published by the Jesuit Order in New York. . . .

“The conduct of this Jesuit review is incomprehensible and we have found it necessary to denounce the grave fact that this review should on its own account judge and criticize a pastoral document published in the official ecclesiastical bulletin by a cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church.” . . . Of course, such a dispute can be settled only by the Pope—and he has remained silent. There is, in the meantime, not the slightest evidence of “reorientation” within the Roman Church. Cardinal Segura still rides high in “Christian” Spain, and the Church pursues its traditional opportunistic policy in countries like America.

What, finally, are Mr. Herberg’s constructive proposals? He has none. “We must rethink the problem of church and state . . .” he says—but he does not indicate how. “On the question of teaching religion in the public schools, I have yet to see a plan that seems to me wise or practicable, and perhaps there is none.” But he continues vigorously to apply his epithets to those who have examined the question on its merits, and found that freedom of conscience cannot survive when religious doctrine is given official sanction in public institutions. . . .

Stanley Lichtenstein
Washington, D.C.

_____________

 

To the Editor:

Will Herberg’s article on church and state in the November issue is one of the most thoughtful pieces on the subject I have ever seen. On a subject seldom considered in an unbiased way, he makes the necessary distinctions, shows himself aware of the complexities, and generally clarifies a confused and emotion-muddled area. Congratulations to you and to him. The piece should be widely known. . . .

Hyatt Waggoner
Kansas City, Mo.

_____________

 

To the Editor:

Just a note to say how grateful I am to Will Herberg and to COMMENTARY for the excellent and refreshing piece in the current issue. It’s rare to find a writer on this subject who can so completely avoid petty partisanship on the one hand and stultifying secularism on the other. And it’s equally rare for a periodical to have the courage to present an unpopular point of view on a subject which is so “touchy,” to so many parties—including the periodical’s own publisher!

(Rabbi) Hershel Matt
Temple Beth-El
Troy, New York

_____________

 

To the Editor:

Please accept my very sincere congratulations on Will Herberg’s characteristically incisive analysis of “The Sectarian Conflict Over Church and State” in the November issue of COMMENTARY. I am not sure that I agree with all of Mr. Herberg’s obiter dicta, but I cannot help but admire his complete intellectual honesty in presenting the issue as he sees it. Herberg demonstrates in this article, as he had done earlier in Judaism and Modern Man, that he is one of the most effective critics of secularism in the United States. More power to him, and renewed congratulations to COMMENTARY for its editorial courage in publishing such a thoroughly honest analysis of a problem which is too often discussed very superficially even by the scholars.

(Rev.) George G. Higgins
National Catholic Welfare Conference
Washington, D.C.

_____________

 

To the Editor:

Reading Will Herberg, one finds the head moving in hypnotic agreement. . . . I came out of the trance on page 459, where he states flatly that a de-religionized society cannot endure. This is a scandalous assumption!

He then says that secularized man will always return to some idolatrous substitute, whether racial or political, because autonomy is “intolerable.” Now this belief may be essential to Mr. Herberg’s internal engineering, in which case I can only retire with apologies. But it should be pointed out that it is a belief, and not a statement of fact, and there are many people who hold the opposite belief. I myself believe that until man learns to endure his autonomy, and to live creatively in it, his society will be a series of more or less perilous improvisations tending rather to revert to barbarism than emerge toward anything recognizable as an improvement. I represent a very typical end-product of the dilutional trend in Protestantism, which has so often in this country and England gone through the series starting with fanatical Puritanism, through ever milder sects to rationalist theism and finally vitalist atheism.

According to Mr. Herberg, I and my like are brief aberrant forms of Religious Man. According to ourselves, we are a perfectly viable species which intends not only to endure but if possible to flourish. And we look with some misgivings at the new theological intelligentsia. They are splendid social types, but we have had our troubles with them before. It is becoming noticeably unfashionable to be an atheist. What is unfashionable today may be sinful tomorrow. Which brings up the second point—Mr. Herberg’s reverberating maturity.

They do not conceal anything, these new mature thinkers—rather, they admit everything and then “rethink” it. The ferocious past is detachedly exposed and then somehow magically denatured, abolished from reality. Probability becomes a childish error. Mr. Herberg, for instance, is unwilling to believe that a secular society can do without idols because he has never heard of one, but he is perfectly willing to believe that the Catholic Church will not become militant toward unbelievers—apparently on the grounds that it has done little else. Credo quia absurdum.

_____________

 

I sympathize with Mr. Herberg’s desire that the future should be better and different, but let us equate our probability scales. If we dismiss rational utopianism, may we at least recall Renan’s warning that there is no such thing as a merciful church, and Hoffer’s remark that a sublime religion generates a strong sense of guilt. I do not mean this as referring to Catholicism alone. But Mr. Herberg is unconcerned by Protestantism or neo-paganism or Islam; it is Catholicism which fills him with furor medietatis—otherwise known as the conviction that One Can Always Negotiate With Them. . . . In his concern for his own religion, he will make common cause against secularization.

Again, I sympathize, but I am afraid that he will end either by inserting himself in the capacity of a lamb between the paws of a lion or by becoming a lion himself. And either way the rest of us would suffer. To put it bluntly, three major proselytizing religions can co-exist in peace only within a largely secular matrix. Theologians may deplore secularism, but if they succeeded in eliminating it there would eventually remain only one theologian.

But I know Mr. Herberg will not be warned. The wisdom and composure with which he views this nursery brawl are too great. . . . Mr. Herberg will move on to an ur-reality where better things are true. Splendid! Perhaps he will bring them about. Or again, perhaps he will verify Renan’s prediction that socialism, by mediation with Catholicism, will bring a new Middle Ages.

Alice B. Sheldon
Washington, D.C.

_____________

 

To the Editor:

This is just a note to say that I read Will Herberg’s church and state article in the November COMMENTARY and I think it is absolutely first-rate.

Philip L. Graham
Editor
Washington Post
Washington, D.C.

_____________

 

About the Author