Two Sides of the Coin
The problems that we have discussed this month are not peculiar to Catholicism only—they are present when the followers of any faith allow their religious beliefs to override such primary considerations as the fundamental freedom of man and the right of every individual, in a free society, to practice his own personal moral standards, and to speak, read, write and otherwise communicate with his fellow man without fear of censorship or illegal reprisal.
The Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom, published by the American Library Association, published the following report from a member in its May issue: "Several years ago two nice young men who said they were missionaries of the Mormon Church came to the library. They told me they had looked in the catalog and seen that there were some 50 cards under Mormons and Mormonism but there was a lack of up-to-date material. They offered us a choice from a list of books, and we selected a new pictorial history, a biography or two, and some doctrinal works. A few weeks later they came in with books.... Again an interval, after which they came to see me to say that they noted the books were now cataloged and on the shelves. Now that we had these books which told the truth about their religion, undoubtedly we would like to discard other books in the library which told lies about the Mormon Church. Other libraries they said had been glad to have this pointed out to them.
"I answered that this certainly did seem logical at first. But I asked them to consider my position: Suppose the Christian Scientists asked us to take out medical books, and then the doctors objected to the Christian Science books. Vegetarians might want the meat-cookery books taken out and then the butchers might retaliate on the fruit-and-nut people. What would we be able to say to people who came in and asked us to remove, on the grounds that they were untrue, the very books that they have given us? The young men saw the point and were very nice about it."
Nor are we, in any sense suggesting that the problems we have been discussing this month represent a universal Roman Catholic viewpoint. The men who take the sort of undemocratic action described herein, be they Catholic clergy or laymen, are actually enemies of their Church, whatever they may think to the contrary, for they hurt the cause of Catholicism. No religious minority in America can benefit from a reputation for intolerance or dictatorialism.
Time magazine reported, in its issue of March 29, 1963: "Catholic University in Washington D.C., has a high aim—'to search out truth scientifically, to safeguard it, and to apply it'—qualified in practice by a timid feeling that now and then some of the truth has to be suppressed. The newest case of suppression has the school's faculty in revolt and deeply worries many of the 239 Roman Catholic bishops in the U.S., who are C.U.'s guardians.
"Barred from a student lecture series at C.U. last month were four eminent Catholic intellectuals, including two of the nation's top Jesuit theologians, Father Gustave Weigel and John Courtney Murray; a noted Benedictine liturgical scholar, Father Godfrey Diekmann; and one of the official theologians at the Vatican Counsel, Germany's Father Hans Kung. To Monsignor William J. McDonald, rector of Catholic University of America, giving a forum to these scholars might seem to place his school on the liberal side in debate at the Council—and he did not want the school to be on any side.
"By last week, six major faculty groups had backed resolutions calling on the C.U. administration to rethink its notions of academic freedom. 'Now all this is out in the open,' says one faculty man 'The trustees cannot bypass the situation as it exists.' Rector McDonald himself gave a sign that all the protest was having a telling effect. He announced the appearance at Catholic University next month of a timely guest speaker: Augustin Cardinal Bea, a towering liberal at the Vatican Council. Bea's topic: 'Academic Research and Ecumenicism.'"
On the negative side, a pamphlet being distributed by the San Diego Catholics for Better Libraries lists some 40 authors and illustrators who "have had Communist Front affiliations and/or write against faith, morals and the American way of life," with the suggestion that all Catholics check their own libraries against the list. The book, The Last Temptation of Christ, was removed, last spring, from the Ashland, Wisconsin, public library after a Roman Catholic priest forbade his parishioners to read it on pain of mortal sin. "Furthermore," said the American Library Association Newsletter, "he forbade the parishioner who showed him the book to return it to the library, since it would be a mortal sin to make it available to others. 'I still have the book,' said Father Schneider. 'I'll have to return it to the librarian now and see that it's burned.'"
The Catholic Messenger editorialized against the book's suppression, however. Putting aside the fact that the book's author, Nikos Kazantzakis, "is held in high regard as a serious writer, and that his fictionalized interpretations of religious figures (his recently published St. Francis of Assisi, for instance) have been generally accepted as unorthodox, but reverent"; putting aside also that "precious few of the people attacking the book seem to be familiar with it"—the Messenger pointed out that after the 31-member Arcadia (California) Council of Churches "voted overwhelmingly in favor of forcing the book out of the library, it was established that only three of the 31 members had read the book.
"These facts, as we say, we put aside. As revealing as they are, they do not touch the main issue at stake, and that is the freedom of the public at large to have access to literature that a minority find obnoxious.
"There are probably very few books on the shelves of the average public library that don't irritate some group of people. If the library were to be at the mercy of every pressure group annoyed by a given book, it seems obvious that only the most harmless, least valuable books would be available through library facilities.
"Quite clearly this is not the function of a public library. It must open its shelves to books reflecting the free interplay of ideas, and if a given book irritates a given group, the group has an easy recourse: not to read the book. Why it should not be able to do, just as clearly, is to keep the rest of the public from reading it, and this is the kind of suppression that the California clergymen [and the Wisconsin priest] are trying to practice at the moment."
On the negative side, a Catholic reader misinterpreted remarks we made in the third installment of The Playboy Philosophy, drawn from a story and comments in Newsweek and Harper's, regarding a Post of the Catholic War Veterans in Hartford, Connecticut, that justified a censorship campaign they had undertaken by commenting favorably on a similar book-burning purge in Red China: "We have to hand it to the Communists...who have launched a nationwide campaign against pornographic trash.... Should not this example provoke a simple literary cleanup in our land where the morality of our actions is gauged by service to God and not to an atheistic state?" The reader wrote to a Catholic periodical, the Brooklyn Tablet, with the suggestion that militant action be taken against us for what he considered as a slur: "Incredible to equate Catholicism with communism? Well, Hugh Hefner, publisher of Playboy, in the February issue, on page 46, does just this in an attack on the Catholic War Veterans. It is worth mobilization of effort to uphold Licenses Commissioner O'Connell, who in refusing Hefner a cabaret license recently was ridiculed by some judge."
By this reader's logic, the present installment of this editorial series will be viewed by some as a general tirade against Catholicism, which it is not, of course. It is strenuous opposition to censorship and attempts at totalitarian control by a few within the Catholic religion (and everywhere else these same undemocratic tactics exist) and it is addressed to free men of good will of every religious affiliation—Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and those of no religious affiliation at all.
Another letter was written recently by Reverend Harold J. Drexler, assistant pastor of the Sacred Heart Church, Dubuque, Iowa, to a number of Playboy's advertisers. The letter read: "We have been concerned with certain magazines in our neighborhood stores. We have over 1200 children of school age and like to protect them from harmful reading matter. We found the Playboy magazine in our area and the managements cooperated in their regard.
"However, we noticed your large advertisement in this magazine. We were surprised that such a reputable business firm as yours would advertise in this type of magazine. We hope that you would reconsider your policy of advertising in this type of publication. It is our judgment that you are doing your firm's good name more harm than good by supporting a magazine that treats relations between man and woman as something of a game. Other advertisers whom we have written have acknowledged the soundness of our disapproval. May we hear from you?" A postscript referred to the June-issue arrest "on charges of publishing and circulating an obscene magazine."
The seemingly personal correspondence was actually a form letter sent to a majority of the advertisers in a particular issue of Playboy. We've no notion who those advertisers might be who "acknowledged the soundness of our disapproval," since advertising lineage, like readership, continues to climb at an astounding rate, and we are aware of no advertising cancellations related to this letter. Here, however, are letters of response from a couple of advertisers that we do know about, because they sent us copies of their replies.
A vice president of After Six Formals wrote, "We would like to point out to you that our relationship with Playboy is a business one and that our advertising in the publication does not constitute an endorsement of its editorial contents, any more than an advertisement in a Republican or Democratic newspaper constitutes a political endorsement.
"Playboy magazine is certainly not intended for children and neither are the products advertised therein. Our highest courts have repeatedly held that adults may not be deprived of reading what they want to read, simply on the grounds that the subject is not fit for children.
"We certainly do acknowledge the right that you are entitled to your viewpoint, but we feel sure that as a good American you will permit others to hold a dissenting viewpoint."
An executive of the top advertising agency J. Walter Thompson Co., wrote; "Your letter dated August 6, addressed to our client, Prince Matchabelli, Inc., has come to my attention. I would like to take this opportunity to share with you some of our thoughts concerning the selection of Playboy as one of many magazines that carry Prince Matchabelli advertising.
"As you know, Playboy is purposely edited for the young American male and clearly is not a general or family publication. Reliable studies show that Playboy has become the nation's most popular men's magazine in the span of a few short years and reaches several million young, urban-oriented and well-educated men each month. These men have, of their own choice, elected to purchase a magazine that would seem to be far more acceptable than [a great many other] magazines that have been on sale for decades and have never really been supported by readers or advertisers in any significant numbers. Perhaps this is true because Playboy publishes some of the finest, most thought-provoking fiction, satire, articles, cartoons, service features, art and photography appearing in the magazine world today....
"The result has been the growth of a magazine that effectively reaches a particular audience of consumers who are excellent prospects for hundreds of products.... Prince Matchabelli, incidentally this nation's fastest growing fragrance house, needs to present its advertising story to these young men, so well-reached through Playboy magazine. They are logical prospects for our men's fragrance products, Black Watch, and are important gift-giving purchasers for women's fragrance products....
"I do hope that this summary of our judgment concerning the inclusion of Playboy magazine in our list of magazines for Prince Matchabelli advertising has been of interest to you. We would hope that you might select your favorite fragrance on its merits in much the same spirit as we have attempted to select our advertising media."
And the advertising manager of American Honda Motor Co. wrote: "Thank you for your interest in our selection of advertising media. We are concerned with favorable exposure of our advertising message to American adults with an interest in and a capacity for buying our product. Playboy delivers this exposure.
"If you were surprised that such a reputable business firm as ours, which can hardly have achieved high repute in Dubuque, since we are new to the market [would advertise in Playboy], you must have been truly shocked at the appearance of such old and reputable firms as: [A list of 28 major Playboy advertisers follows.]
"At your suggestion, we have reconsidered our policy of advertising in this publication, and now view the future bravely, hoping that we will be able to continue our support of a truly adult periodical in the face of misguided efforts to reduce the intellectual level of this nation's mass publications to that of school-age children. However, if you will furnish this office with (1) the names of other advertisers to whom you have written who 'have acknowledged the soundness' of your disapproval and/or (2) the content of their replies, we will undertake a review of our policy once again.
"In the meantime, please note our company name, as displayed in Playboy, is 'Honda,' not 'Hondo.' We feel further impelled to point out that the quotation you so thoughtfully included at the bottom of your letter indicates an accusation rather than a conviction. Unlike the tribunals of the Inquisition, the courts of this country do not presume guilt prior to the trial; nor, we are hopeful, do the members of your congregation.
"Finally, I am enclosing, for your disapproval, a list of New York Stock Exchange members who advertise in Playboy and a proof of our next insertion."