Ann Landers, who is Mrs. Jules Lederer of Chicago, writes one of the most widely read syndicated newspaper columns in the world. She is Jewish, and her principal appeal to the Decalogue in offering advice has won her the respect of many church and lay people. She attended Morningside College and holds an honorary doctorate from that school.
Question. Why do you think people come to you for advice rather than seek the counsel of a clergyman?

Answer. My readers actually answer this question in the opening sentence of their letters. For example: “Please don’t tell me to see my clergyman about this problem. I’m ashamed to let anyone know we are having this kind of trouble in our family.” “It is easier for me to write to you because you do not know us.”

Q. What are the most frequent spiritual problems that people bring to you?

A. Often I am asked, “If there is a God in heaven, why does he allow such terrible things to happen? Where was God when a five-year-old child was raped by a mentally deficient gardener? Where was God when all the horrible things we read about in the newspaper occurred?” Recently, I dealt with this question in the column. One of the readers provided me with a superb answer. Here it is: God was there. He warned people before it happened, but they paid no attention. They failed to see themselves as God’s instruments. They didn’t realize the power they had. God can work his miracles only through you and me. Countless tragedies have been prevented because somebody listened with his heart. These are the incidents we never hear or read about. How many accident victims would be alive today if someone had shut off the liquor at the party or driven the drunk home instead of allowing him to drive his own car? Those who say, “It’s none of my business,” are no better than the heartless breed who turn their backs on people in trouble and ignore the helpless victim’s cry for help. Commitment, compassion, and involvement are virtues that can’t be overdone. God doesn’t let things happen. It’s you and you and you.

Q. What kind of problem gives you the most difficulty?

A. Letters from homosexuals are the most disturbing to me, because I can give them so little hope for a cure. I always suggest therapy, although I am well aware that therapy fails to produce the desired results in the majority of cases.

Another type of problem that gives me a great deal of trouble is the one involving Catholics who have very poor marriages and stay together because of the church. “The priest told me that I must keep the family together at all costs.” In many instances, there is alcoholism, brutality, and non-support. Some of these letters are heart-breaking. I always recommend counseling, although in my heart I feel that the woman would be better off if she took the children and left-or kicked the bum out!

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Q. What factor more than any other seems to cause young people to go morally astray?

A. Young people go astray morally because their parents failed to discipline them properly. And they failed, also, to give their child a feeling of self-responsibility and personal worth.

Q. How much mail do you receive? Is it all answered?

A. I receive approximately 1,000 letters a day. Every letter that has a name and address receives a personal reply in the mail. I have eleven well-trained secretaries who assist me with this enormous work load.

Q. Do many of the people who write you about their problems complain about their own clergymen? Or about their particular churches?

A. I’m sorry to say I do get some letters of complaint against clergymen. I am well aware, however, that not all these complaints are justified. The most frequent criticism is, “He didn’t give me enough time. I got a quick brushoff.”

Q. Do many clergymen write in to dispute your advice?

A. I receive a great many letters from clergymen, and I am pleased to say that most of them are complimentary.

Q. Your replies to questions are often sprightly little sermons. How do you account for their popularity in view of the unpopularity of so much preaching today?

A. I believe the humor in my column makes some of my stern counsel acceptable.

Q. Do clergymen or psychiatrists ever write to you for help?

A. Both clergymen and psychiatrists have written to me for help. Far more numerous are letters from wives of psychiatrists and clergymen. The wives of clergymen resent the criticism of women from the congregation. If they dress in style the word is, “She has no right to look like a fashion model.” If the clergyman’s wife underdresses, she is harpooned for “looking dowdy.”

Q. Since you began your column in 1955, has there been any appreciable change in moral attitudes? Has the new morality had an effect toward more permissiveness?

A. In the fifteen years I have been writing this column, I have noticed definite trends in permissiveness on the part of parents. They seem to have given up somehow. Perhaps a better word is abdicated. I do not feel there is a “new morality.” In my opinion, this is a fancy phrase for an old weakness. It must be understood, however, that there is some sexual precociousness among teen-agers. My medical consultants tell me that children today mature between two and a half and three years earlier because of better nutrition and super drugs. Today the thirteen-year-old is as physically mature as the fifteen and-a-half-year-old in the 1940s. In other words, boys and girls thirteen years of age are behaving in the same way that sixteen-year-olds behaved thirty years ago.

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Q. What effect has the pill had on moral standards?

A. I believe the pill has provided a shade more promiscuity but not to the degree that one might think. Actually, the girls who are on the pill would be using another type of contraceptive. The one problem the pill has created, however, is an increase in venereal disease. For your information, VD has reached epidemic proportions in this country over the last six years.

Q. What prompted you to begin the column?

A. I started to write the column because it occurred to me that this type of counsel in a large number of newspapers could be immensely helpful to a great number of people. My hunch was right. My daily column, it is estimated, is read by 54 million people every day.

Q. Have you ever seriously regretted some advice you have given?

A. Yes. I seriously regret that I admitted in print that I was unable to make a successful gelatin mold! The following weeks brought me approximately 14,000 “sure-fire, failure-proof” gelatin recipes. This column appeared two years ago and I am still receiving helpful hints. I also regret having told a young bride that she should be gracious and allow her in-laws to join her in Honolulu for her Viet Nam husband’s R and R. I received thousands of letters from angry women who reminded me that when a man marries, his wife should come first. I finally reversed my advice and told the folks to unpack and stay home.

Q. What word do you have for the clergy of North America?

A. My advice to the clergy is: Try to understand how desperately people need love, compassion, understanding, and, most of all, someone to talk to. Try to understand, too, that the clergyman occupies a very special place in the lives of a great many people. He is looked up to, admired, thought of as enlightened, gifted, and a messenger of God’s word. When a clergyman disappoints his parishioners, he tarnishes the image for all clergymen.

Q. You are in effect a substitute pastor. Do you ever feel you would actually like to be one?

A. Thank you for the compliment, but “no.” Because of my religious affiliation, I would have to be a rabbi. I do not believe there are any female rabbis in existence, and I have no desire to be the first!

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