Saturday, May 19, 2012
When McCandlish Phillips's The Bible, the Supernatural, and the Jews was first published in 1970, I did not have enough time to read it all. His thesis seemed to me then to be rather outrageous. Moreover, I was amazed that a major publishing house, World Publishing Co., had accepted it. Recently, I found that the title is still in print, only now published by Horizon Books of Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. Today, its thesis seems to me to be less outrageous. Furthermore, the almost subliminal truth which it conveys makes even more believable the fact that its reprint has not been undertaken by a major publisher. This is not a argument that it is not an important book. Indeed, quite the contrary, as a cultural indicator, -- if there can be economic indicators, then can there not be cultural indicators? -- it has greater value than ever before.
McCandlish Phillips, born in Massachusetts in 1927, after a few years in the U.S. Army, joined the staff of The New York Times in 1952 as a "copy boy." His brilliance as an author soon became apparent to his superiors. He became probably the greatest reporter ever to write for the Times. His great strength as a writer was revealed not only in his style, but also in the humane and insightful approach which he took to the subjects upon which he wrote. Even now it is a great pleasure to look into the historical file of the Times and read what Phillips wrote forty years ago.
When Phillips joined the staff of the Times he was almost alone among more than 200 reporters in that he was a devout, fundamentalist Christian, a Baptist in his denominational background, and a believer in "the priesthood of all believers." At his desk at work, he kept a copy of the Bible, which he read during breaks. Yet, he never attempted to impose his religious beliefs on his fellow workers. His beliefs never crept into his work. Reading Phillips's Times stories one would never guess that he was even nominally a Christian. He made himself what his employers wanted him to be: a great reporter, a great writer, a great source of income to them.
Ken Auletta in an essay for The New Yorker, entitled "The Reporter Who Disappeared," gives the fascinating story of the development of McCandlish Phillips. In 1974, not long after he had published The Bible, the Supernatural, and the Jews, Phillips quit the Times and embarked on a career of free-lance writing. Much of his time was devoted to a small sect, the New Testament Missionary Fellowship Church, which some called a cult. When Auletta wrote about Phillips, only a few years ago, he was still active in that church. He concludes his essay on Phillips with a description of one of the church's prayer meetings in a Manhattan apartment, a meeting attended by bankers, a professor of medicine, numerous corporate managers, among other sociologically unlikely attendees.
The thesis of The Bible, the Supernatural, and the Jews is that demons are as real as angels are, an unsurprising proposition to be maintained by a Bible-believing Christian. Demons explain the societal chaos that was emerging in the 1960s, the societal chaos that is even more evident today. One opening into the minds of earthly mortals which is especially open to demons is belief in the supernatural. During the 1960s what is now known as the New Age phenomenon was just beginning. This is what Phillips is alluding to, but he also points to the rise in the number of purported believers in Satan.
A further development of this thesis arises from Phillips's belief that the Jews are still a special people in the eyes of God. Phillips at length outlines the disproportionate influence of Jews in American culture when he was writing in the late 1960s. (Certainly, this Jewish influence has not diminished. In 1960, for example, Jews had only two of their congeners in the U.S. Senate. Now  there are eleven in that body.) Phillips especially focuses on the influence of Jews in the mass media, stressing the anti-Christian impact of the mass media. Phillips believes that the results are especially catastrophic when a Jew becomes demon-possessed. He cites Karl Marx as one such example.
Of course, Phillips insists, the Jews also have an unusual impact when they turn to God, when they deny Satan. Therefore, one cannot argue that Phillips wrote an anti-Semitic book. Yet, under it all, one might suspect a certain ambivalence. Perhaps if anyone reads this comment, they will be moved to find or buy a copy of The Bible, the Supernatural, and the Jews, so that they might make their own decision. Indeed, this book was a fascinating book upon a second reading, and not nearly so preposterous as it seemed to me to be when I first read it, only hastily and partially. It was worthy of being read again, thoroughly and thoughtfully.