Frank Bruni, in yesterday’s powerful NYT opinion piece, “The Church’s Errant Shepherds,” defines perfectly the unspeakable hypocrisy of fundamentalist religion — in this case, the Catholic Church, but his comments are applicable to any and all religions that claim supreme moral authority, i.e., they’re the only ones who can interpret and apply “god’s will.”
Although Bruni is addressing the Church’s ongoing (and perhaps eternal) child sexual abuse criminality (and he is here taking on the far-too-slick Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s deviousness), his words describe, devastatingly, any religion’s pretenses.
…I mean the evil that an entire institution can do, though it supposedly dedicates itself to good.
I mean the way that a religious organization can behave almost precisely as a corporation does, with fudged words, twisted logic and a transcendent instinct for self-protection that frequently trump the principled handling of a specific grievance or a particular victim.
…But over the last few decades we’ve watched an organization that claims a special moral authority in the world pursue many of the same legal and public-relations strategies — shuttling around money, looking for loopholes, tarring accusers, massaging the truth — that are employed by organizations devoted to nothing more than the bottom line.
In this piece, Bruni manages to address and combine not only my anger at the pretenses of all religions to higher moral authority, but also my expressed description of corporations as amoral. It’s a precept I once actually put to Malcolm Forbes, whom I worked for during the ’80s. I think I mentioned that interchange once on Sidebar, but I’ll repeat it.
MSF (his own designation) was working on an editorial praising profit-making corporations that were taking over prison management. “Isn’t it a great idea?” he said to me. As always, his question was rhetorical, but, as occasionally happened, I answered it anyway. “No,” I said, “I don’t think so.”
I went on to define my rationale: prisons belong in the area of law. Since law is our society’s consensus about right and wrong, i.e., morality, prison management cannot be shunted into the area of free enterprise, which is inherently amoral.
That is, the purpose of law and government is the application of its citizens’ notions of morality.
The purpose of corporations is making a profit.
The two dynamics do not (and should not) operate on the same territory.
And just this morning I read a pluperfect quote in George Packer’s terrific May 27, 2013 New Yorker article, “Change the World: Silicon Valley transfers its slogans—and its money—to the realm of politics.”
Packer writes about the vast inequality in, and produced by, the vastly successful West Coast concept called Silicon Valley. But actually, he’s writing about morality and money.
I think he found this quote in the New York Times, when it did its major series on Apple and its Chinese operations. It was a sock-in-the-kisser quote when it appeared in the Times. It hasn’t lost its sock, especially when you append it to Frank Bruni’s piece on religion and morality, and my notion about the sole dynamic of corporations:
It was Steve Jobs … who told President Obama that Apple’s manufacturing jobs would not be coming back from China. Apple’s position on issues like inequality was expressed last year by an executive who said, “We don’t have an obligation to solve America’s problems. Our only obligation is making the best product possible.”
Translation: our only obligation is getting very rich.
That statement should give you a chill. And I believe Apple was so embarrassed by the Times series that it announced it was bringing some manufacturing jobs back to the U.S.
Maybe Frank Bruni will have a similar effect on the Church. But I doubt it.