Gateway to ideas; 17; Spiritual Poverty
Gateway to ideas. 22 ideas a new series of conversations in which ideas are discussed in relation to reading. Today's program. Spiritual poverty is moderated by Leo rust an author and special advisor to the editors of Look magazine. We're going to discuss spiritual poverty and I'd like to make it clear at once that by spiritual We do not necessarily mean anything limited to religion or the things we ordinarily call spiritual I think our discussion will range much more widely than that. We have to discuss this today. Bill Hubbard who is 17 years old a scholarship student at Columbia University and who recently had a play produced which was a dramatization of a story of Richard Wright's called a man of all work.
Our second guest is the Reverend William Van Meter who is executive secretary of the department of Christian social relations at the Protestant Council of the city of New York. Why don't we open the discussion in this way. More and more people claim that today there is a widespread feeling of apathy or hopelessness or cynicism particularly among the young but by no means limited to them which tends to reject traditional values and tends to be cynical about values tends to assume that our values are all accidental or materialistic and things really don't matter. And in this way of talking about life I think people tend to think that we are in some sort of a psychological or moral abyss that there is a diminution of the kind of respect and dignity and aspiration that once characterized America. Well father Van Meter What do you think about this point of view. I'd be very reluctant to make any kind of comparative judgment
but I think we you know we need to have a historical perspective you've got to see this new setting I went to see Tom Jones Saturday night. And after that I can't talk about the moral decadence of the 20th century. Really compared to the 18th century I mean where are we. Well what do you think about the widespread opinion that much apathy helplessness hopelessness cynicism characterizes say your generation. I deplore it as a stifling trend of thought actually. I don't I don't think it gets us anywhere and I haven't observed that too much. I think some of this is prevalent. It's a sad thing that there is some limited basis for it. For this argument but I wouldn't generally say that apathetic in any way. You know I see the apathy all over the place. Yes but you're right I'm just reluctant to say more or less what I think you know. I'm in a passion going over an old book
because I think it helps with a perspective as to was see how things look. Who are our grandparents. Well I'm reading age of confidence by Henry Sydell Canby. And it appears then that that period the only thing that people saw to do was to accept the situation around them the idea of working together to change the social economic structure just didn't seem to occur to very many people. But I am very much distressed. By this preview about why it would scale large scale apathy. Well if there is not any more apathy or helplessness then we might say that more people think there is our coming to planet and could that be because it has been a tightening in our own sensitivity as to what we think people ought to do and what values they ought to maintain. I think that this is a large part of it. Age is one where actually there is. More freedom and
where there are so many more possibilities. And yet it seems that this freedom doesn't really exist. And a sense it is a greater problem today because the people are being processed so much we say that's because there are so many out one way things and people tend to become passive buckets on the receiving end of so many large and complex things. People are more aware of the world as a complex unit something which they can't really understand and. There's a great tendency to just go into a shell and say What can I do. It's a psychology of beaten people battling things as they are. You think this is more true than it was say a hundred years ago. We are more aware of it. It it is a greater problem today. I think you had said that you think this may be in part a function of greater freedom. I wonder whether you would say that the recent enormous
concentration in the drama that is in theatre in movies and fiction on the themes of hopelessness or despair or indifference. Let's suggest to you that this is more true among intellectuals or the people who do write that it once was. I think this is I think this is accurate. I think there has been a you had a change in literary treatment of the themes of human life at least I think there is a maybe very subject you. Do you think it's better or worse. I think that we're probably getting closer to reality. You know the old stereotype book of my childhood which is a quote The Pollyanna type thing when they kind of things which I think all went along very well. He wrote married a heroine to me and everybody lived happily ever after. I tend to I think that a play tonight now an old play or a death of a Salesman I think is terribly helpful in helping us to see the kind of problems that we
really face. Well I don't think we necessarily have to look at the book or the play to present us with a solution. I think it's terribly important that we get one thing and to feel that we have a part we can play and we can do something in things like the death of the salesman and many of the novels that appeared say 20 and 30 years ago although they addressed themselves to tragic problems or to the fate of people who were caught in economic or social crises. There nevertheless was a very strong affirmation of certain values about human dignity and the rights of people. What I was talking about is the whole stream of literature that's characterized as a say by all Samuel Beckett in the theater or kamu in the novel or Celine or today Jenae a professed thief and a moral scoundrel who is exalted by some as a great genius. There is a whole body of writing
both for a novel and for theatre of a kind that we I don't think have had before in Western civilization. Do you feel this at all Bill. Yes I would agree and I I think this is encouraging. I see. The breakdown of the traditional values and and standards isn't a is is strictly an inversion. So many of the traditional moral concepts although he is one who believes and order and there is an order to his works in the same sense that there isn't one layer. It's a theological world except that in everything is inverted. With this breakdown and you've seen that writing are very readable necessarily indicates that the one writing about evil realizes that it is evil and therefore he realizes that there is something called moral or better. Yes. The primary thing in Janae I think is he
recognizes that there is an absolute of good I think. One of the most interesting novels I've read in connection with this thing and it relates the themes of materialistic poverty and spiritual poverty is our mind has Stephan will. And there's a section in there where Maria this is a German novel. Yes. And Maria is talking to the protagonist. She says that life is not a heroic poem in the sense that if he tries to make it that it's actually just a small room where most of the people are simply content to eat and sleep and that are still there. They have to go on. The protagonist. Having his spiritual torment and she is and her materialistic poverty although she realizes that there is something else.
What I'm trying to say maybe let me let me put this another way. There has already has been a great body of protest literature there's always been an exploration on the part of gifted people of the tragedy of individual lives of people who aren't given a fair shake. I mean the people who are poor are dispossessed or have a cast upon them that is in the case of Les Miserables was the cast of The Man Who poor or committed a crime stole something and he had to pay for this entire life for the works of Balzac or the works of the United States of dust Passos or John Steinbeck home address themselves to the kind of problem of the human being caught in social or moral dilemmas from which he found it difficult to escape. What I meant was asking Is this the attitude to this subject matter today seems to be different. The psychologist talk a great deal about alienation it's almost impossible to pick up a newspaper or a magazine today without reading
about the alienation of the individual or the sociologists talk about and all meet. And the impression that is given by them is that there is far more of this going on today than was ever before true. Father Ben meter how do you feel about things like this conception of the alienation of the self the rootlessness of people their detachment from the prevailing moral values. I think we've been shaken up a great deal especially with the translation from the prevailing rural patterns of culture in this country into urban settings into which a person can escape and minus the social controls of the small community. I think it's a very widespread view. I think there's more of this I think there's a real problem I don't I really don't think it matters whether there is Marr or whether there is less I think it is a very serious
problem. The tendency to project and escape from personal responsibility and. I certainly hope that it would be clear that I'm not identified with any kind of political point of view certainly not a far right point of view talk so much about this but I think it's quite misleading and quite beguiling. The come to know your quote about here I came here from Chicago and I was told well you can't do anything in New York it's a jungle. It's unmanageable and everywhere is the feeling well you can't fight city hall you can't change anything you can't do anything. And now locally here in New York when we are very greatly concerned about school problems and I'm sure this is true throughout the whole country. We've taken up the shibboleth of the neighborhood school and we find people who will. It will certainly I'm delighted to have negroes come into our neighborhood to go to school
I think this is probably taking the nation as a whole and quite and lighten that up too. But dig a little deeper and you'll find that as long as you don't bother me it's ok. And I'm not really concerned about anybody else. I won't give up. I think this is a terribly serious problem this problem of self-centeredness. I mean the limit of the world my own experience this is it. Here we have to distinguish between alienation from self and alienation from society which may be. Completely distinct things. It's reflected in literature as it is reflected in literature. I think it's good and I think we have a heightened awareness of it. This sort of thing. Also as you mentioned the struggle of the Negroes for equality is another thing which is forcing people to think about it.
John she already said that essence of education is a thing Gage meant of proliferating confusion. And in this and in this sense we're we're making advances. The literature today I think is more aware of it and I think it has a larger audience which in turn affects the turn out of the literature. And you can see today that it's having an effect it's not something it's not a realm apart. I mean writers affect the political scene in every aspect of our life today. Well now there was a time when the spiritual leaders of the community but not at the clergy addressed themselves to the problem of spiritually impoverishment and found that they were the carriers of the culture as it were of the inspirers and the culture. Today there seems to be a larger cleavage between the parish the
parishioners and the clergy than there once was say many clergymen tell me this when you think father Van Meter. Well I think here of my experience as rector of a parish in a moderate sized city in upstate New York in an area which was characterized by none of the problems that beset most of our people today that the people were hourly paid workers factory workers with overall good incomes better than average incomes had no housing problems had no problem no recreational problem no problem play space had two parks and a swimming pool in the neighborhood. No problem about juvenile delinquency and the people didn't even hate negroes in the community they hated Italians that's true instead they hate Negroes because the Italians were there and they were a threat but I look at these people and I've got a twisted an
interpretation of one of the beatitudes that bothers me the beatitude says Blessed are the poor in spirit and I look at these people I ever saw people who were poor in spirit my life these were their. And yet how could they be blasted I mean these were people that you could get a meeting you could get the men together in a meeting anytime in the week. They weren't busy people they were home. They had strong home life terribly strong home life. I got them involved in specific experiences and this had some effect. We came down here to New York to visit the cathedral and we happen to visit the cathedral at the time. HUO Prince's funeral. And Eleanor Steber sang that's how they got culture giving us a picture in a pretty harrowing one I might say of a community of functioning people not unemployed not disavowed good families and all the rest of it and you say that their boundaries their intellectual horizons were so
narrow but you find this true in other communities. I suspect that this is a more common problem throughout America than very many of us would like to and it matched. This is what I meant earlier when I said it may well be that although people really aren't different our insights become sharper. We're looking more closely at things that we used to take for granted you know talking about things that we never used to talk about. And we're finding that among the so-called romanticized sentimental puir as well as among the affluent the wealthy that there is an area that disturbs people to think which for the purposes of this program we call spiritual poverty. It's just those things you are talking about the limited horizon and the lack of ambition or initiative. And today perhaps because we are. At the peak of the prosperity such as the world has never before seen many of the assumptions we made about what would happen to people if they had opportunity
have to be revised. We once thought that if you removed fears of unemployment if you remove starvation if you increased educational opportunities if you increased health opportunities you would get a flourishing of the human spirit and you would have a new Athens and many of the intellectuals find themselves disappointed and frail and that he began to talk about always happen. Well I've been trying to say so I think the problem is that we're giving too much importance to institutions somehow and losing the personal element I know last year I had it I had an opportunity to give a sermon and my church is representing the youth group which is your church. White Plains Presbyterian Church I. Move to White Plains from North Carolina. And I was amazed that a wealthy community in the county seat of was just a county and that the apathy and the sort of spiritual poverty. And so when I took the pulpit I spoke out against this and I
pointed out how the Christian Church has so often been more concerned with its own self-perpetuation. And I used Paul Tillich spatial metaphors of the horizontal and vertical elements of the church and the vertical element of this mystical union the spiritual element of the church that was supported by the horizontal element which was the church in the world. And when the church had so much influence and power before this breakdown of values when it was a world force. It didn't have the spiritual element it didn't do anything positive and we see this with so many institutions I think that intellectual is today I love to deride the mass media. Oh are you lame as a media though they have something in Syria easy to do Bill is is what you're saying something like this. At least let me try to reformulate it. When you give people an
opportunity to quote fulfill themselves when you diminish the burden the burden of time and emotional drain that is involved in earning a living. When you make people better off you are confronted with a problem which I think many people never realized. And the problem might take this form that a surprisingly small number or let us say a smaller number than we would like are not really interested in the kinds of things that we consider to be truly significant in human life that a large number of people are perfectly content to live the way you father Van Meter pointed out. They have security they work they have children and that's it. And what this suggests to me at least is that the human race for one thing is not to have equipped to have a great deal of leisure. A great deal of leisure creates more discontent. Leisure to an intellectual or to a person who is strongly motivated is a wonderful thing
because he can indulge those things he's always wanted to do he can read and travel he can explore his hobbies he can play chess he can garden and so on but there are a great many people to whom this large span of uncommitted time represents a problem. They really don't have senioritis so says I think that the problem and made an effort now to come up with a little better answer the question you put before you know why. Like the problem is the lack of experience in this pattern of living and I think that the opportunities have been available I think a train station but I don't think it comes about automatically I think that it is a responsibility of social groups to make these opportunities available and to help to to guide it through the translation and to. Well let wait a little. A little love with curiosity. I think part of the answer was. Well I read Randall generals and
hearten supermarket and well he's one who loves to do right the mass media and found it very interesting that he he quotes in Forster in there and he says people are being continuously spoon fed and after a while the only thing you learn from being spoon fed is the shape of the spoon. And going back in history you know as a conceptual science rather well I don't know what factual I mean in this case it's difficult to say who you place the blame on I really don't know where that humans as a man as a matter of placing my name it's a matter of locating the forces that well make this happen well human. OK well I want to try another one in terms of the problem that I think we have much too much. I mean quick easy projects you know the problem and say well the newspapers magazines books I mean these and especially television that are awfully good target. I think the industrial system is essentially stultifying
and the level of maybe great uncreative for the management worker all of Bill White didn't think so about the organization and the organization man I think Bill had limited vision I think of Bill would read Max Weber's. I think he'd understood a little better what the problem was people back to this community said would say things to me like I have learned to check my brains when I punched a time clock. And I think the industrial management of this country has got a lot of serious thinking to do in terms of what do you effect of their policies and programs are in their employees in every one of these companies would be the first one to talk about the problem of individual initiative and how we want to develop and so forth and operate their plants in such a way as to make this impossible. It certainly is true that each human advance which is widely widely touted for what it presents problems that are not foreseen and I sometimes like to think that you almost never really solve a human problem. Well you change it.
Do you change its intensity you change its content. But the problem a problem recurs meaning that an answer creates new questions this is what's fun about living this is why I'm not writing it I'm denying it I'm tall have it. The idea that we would somehow get to this mythical utopia in which there were no more problems but I would hope that we wouldn't be fussing and stewing about the same problems for ever. I think new problems new refinements will come in dark time points this out and the attitude attitude toward crime and theological point of view about Sam. You know it would be pleasant argument to encounter some new kinds of sand if they were ever if they ever could occur but we get so tired of saying oh well you can just change the definition if you define sin differently or get a new substance. You had said something earlier about television and it interests me that precisely the things that are being said about television today were said at one time about the movies.
Oh the movies are a terrible thing and they're going to ruin the young and corrupt their morals and kids won't read anymore. Now in fact it works the other way around that you could demonstrate very clearly that when every movie appeared about a given book the circulation of that book would zoom then along came radio. People said all this is terrible they're going to sit home whether mouths agape in their brains turned off and do nothing but listen to this broadcasting let us say of baseball games and this is going to rule in reading a rule in the newspapers that wasn't true either. Now they say the same thing about television and the assumption always is that you can talk about two isolated factors one television and to the person in front of the set as if all other human and social forces cease to exist but that isn't true. The person watching the television set already has a lot of value as he has a father and a mother in a church and a teacher and all the rest of it. And it's the it's the combination of
influences that is meaningful. Bill are you discouraged on the whole by what you find around you in terms of the mental outlook or spiritual atmosphere of kids your age. No I have hope and sense that. I believe one person is a very important thing. That's something I have to cling to so often when I say Where do you get that idea that one person is important. If you were to try to do a quick summary on your own life where did you get that idea do you think. I think back early in my life that's a safe answer of you know you know yeah well I think those are the most important years. Yes but for kind of a farm in North Carolina. Yeah but from what experience did you get this strong conviction which is
at the heart of what we're talking about you see if you believe that the individual is important and that the human self is sacred. And from it can come miracles beyond belief. Then you will have the strongest antidote to something called spiritual poverty that God ever could give you or society. I was curious because I was sure you were going to tell me from my father a mother a preacher or a school or just say well that's that's the way we were raised which is of course the way I was right. Well it's not quite that simple right. I almost wish I wish it were but it was. It was come by the hard way because I've gone through this. This general breakdown I mean because I didn't really have to go to church. And of course now away on my own in college and I see so many other other boys my age that they don't have the same sort of thing. Sorry we can't go on as I should like to know you've been listening to a discussion of spiritual
poverty with Bill Hubbard 17 freshman at Columbia University who comes from North Carolina and came to Columbia on a scholarship and William Van Meter executive secretary of the department of Christian social relations of the Protestant Council My name is Leo Roston thanks for listening to us. You've been listening to gateway to ideas a new series of conversations in which ideas are discussed in relation to reading today's program spiritual poverty has presented William Hubbard Columbia University student the Reverend William Van Meter director of Christian social relations of the Protestant Council of the city of New York. The moderator was Leo Rustum author and special advisor to the editors of Look magazine. His most recent book is The many worlds of Leo Rostand. To extend the dimensions of today's program for you a list of the books mentioned in the discussion as well as others relevant to the subject has been prepared.
- Gateway to ideas
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- Spiritual Poverty
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- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 65-2-17 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- MLA: “Gateway to ideas; 17; Spiritual Poverty.” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. October 23, 2021. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-028pgz15>.
- APA: Gateway to ideas; 17; Spiritual Poverty. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-028pgz15