Three who kept the communists at bay in popular culture
When I was young, there were three people of import who held me spellbound when they spoke: William F. Buckley, Jr.; Reverend Billy Graham; and Venerable Bishop Fulton J. Sheen.
Each one of them seemed to hold within himself a palpable, direct line to God. Each one taught lessons that left you leaning back in your chair, contemplating some great life-changing concept that often evoked an epiphany. To top things off, each one spoke with such authority, held such charisma, and exuded such a vibrant personality that nary anyone that drew breath could ignore him.
Recently, I had occasion to recall Bishop Sheen with my friend Sr. Mary. Though I grew up Protestant (and still am), there was always silence in my house when Sheen's television show, Life is Worth Living, came on. It is estimated that his show, which originally ran opposite Milton Berle (then known as "Mr. Television" because of his enormous popularity) on Tuesday nights in the 1950s, drew as many as 10 million viewers. Later, he had another program, The Fulton Sheen Program. (To be clear, I was born well after Sheen's original shows and saw them only in reruns, which continued on broadcast stations through the 1990s. Later, they were shown on EWTN, the global Catholic network.)
What was particularly striking is that although Sheen's shows were taped years before, they always seemed applicable to current events. His subjects were deep and diverse. I can name no one else, for instance, who was talking about Fyodor Dostoyevsky on television in 1956. Sheen taught his audience thus:
In [Dostoyevsky's] works he describes Communism that is to come. He describes it ... in Crime and Punishment. For one of the characters is Raskolnikov, the individual Communist. Raskolnikov does not believe in a distinction between right and wrong; good and bad. But he's interested in the masses. He's concerned about the poor. He wants to build up a social system. He's concerned with the proletariat. And this new social system that loves the masses must be built up; but it in order to build it up ... you have to have money. So he kills an ... old woman pawnbroker to get money to establish his Socialistic state. And he argues, 'She was vermin anyway.' You see the system? You kill one; you aid a thousand of the masses. That's simple arithmetic, and that's Communism. No concern whatever for the individual person. All that matters is the Party-state. The totalitarian structure[.] ... [A]nd as for individuals, wherever they be ... let them be wiped out. All that matters is the regime that professes to love the poor and tramples them.
More than ever in its history, America needs to hear Sheen's words – and others.
They need to hear Billy Graham's Crusades, like this one, where he educated his audience on the Red Guard Revolution in China, telling them, "You'll find a lot of the sayings of Mao Zedong have been taken right out of the Bible and applied to Communism...or to his brand of Communism." (Reverend Graham is 98 years old; his son Franklin has taken over his ministry.)
Sept. 8, 1963. Billy Graham set the all-time record attendance for the L.A. Coliseum: 134,254
They need to watch William F. Buckley, Jr. as he explains the House Un-American Activities Committee routing out Communists in post-WWII Hollywood:
You can't just say, 'Oops I'm sorry that I was supporting Stalin during the period when he killed 15 million people.' You've got to say, 'I am sorry and I want to prove that I'm sorry by cooperating ... and the most concrete way to do that is to show that you are willing to identify ... [for instance] the other Ku Klux members, the other members of the Nazi movement, the other members of the Communist party.
The topics these men covered and the lessons they shared are more important to the welfare of America now than when they were originally spoken. They were all standard-bearers of their time, a time that seems long ago but is still oh, so relevant today.
An old George Jones song laments the loss of so many great country stars. It was titled "Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes?" It also seems an appropriate question when remembering these intellectual and spiritual titans – these three men I admire most, a terrestrial trinity of thinkers who kept the barbarians at bay, at least for a while.
(Note: Sheen passed away in 1979, Buckley in 2008.)
Susan D. Harris can be reached at www.SusanDHarris.com.