SINFUL IN ST. LOUIS

Billy Graham has watched us go to hell for generations

It isn't because he wasn't widely known and admired. Even back in 1953, the Globe referred to Graham as a "34-year-old internationally known evangelist looking more like the popular conception of a matinee idol than a crusading preacher." His rallies were attended by more people (318,000 over a month in 1953 and 224,000 over 10 days in 1973) than the Dome events last week (roughly 200,000).

But even in a competitive situation, the newspapers remained calm and informational. Nothing like "Billy Graham Greets 40,000 Here with Message of Salvation: Thousands Heed Altar Call and Declare Their Commitment to Christ" adorned the top of page one.

Certainly at 80 Graham deserves much personal admiration. Whatever one thinks of his message, there's no doubting his sincerity and courage. But he is talking about Hurricane Irene as a sign of the apocalypse, just like he talked about those demons and all the rest over the years.

He is espousing a philosophy -- as he always has -- that says, at least by implication, that most of the world's people (those who don't see it his way) are going to suffer eternal damnation. Isn't that worth a word of challenge, somewhere?

Bring back the good old days, when the media gave us much more information about what Graham actually had to say but kept it in reasonable perspective. Like the Post did in quoting the evangelist, well inside the front news section, in 1953:

"This is an age of frustration and nervous tension. This is the vitamin capsule age -- long ones, round ones, oblong ones. We take sleeping pills to put us to sleep at night, another pill to wake us up in the morning and aspirin to keep up going....

"Homes are breaking and crumbling. Where it used to be that one marriage in 10 ended in divorce, today the figure is one divorce in every four-and-one-half marriages.

"Everything in our homes is run with a switch except the children."

Oh, to be back in 1953, reading St. Louis newspapers.

They don't make them like that anymore.

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