November 1990

Roadblocks to Economic Democracy

John Cort pleads for a democratic business system in his September column, "If Not Communism or Capitalism, What?" I too would like to see a more democratic, and humane, business structure. Unfortunately, I foresee major roadblocks in implementing economic democracy at large corporations.

It was one thing for the workers of Weirton Steel in West Virginia to buy out their bankrupt company a few years back. It would be another matter altogether to wrestle control of a successful company. Conglomerates sometimes find it convenient to dump a faltering business division on frightened employees, who hope to buy their sinking company and save their jobs. Likewise, corporations might be willing to establish limited Employee Stock Ownership Plans to foster loyalty and productivity motivation, or to discourage hostile takeovers. But it would be a grand delusion to believe that major corporations, with worldviews based on self-interest and hierarchical control, would ever willingly concede one person/one vote shareholder power to ESOP participants. It would take a leveraged buy-out by employees, or a revolution, to attain such a concession.

We will see more of the limited ESOPs in coming years, but outright democratic ownership on a large scale is unlikely. The new internationalized corporation has learned how to beat the unions, and it is not about to turn around now and offer employees economic democracy.

Realistic Catholic intellectuals (particularly those of the personalist variety) would do well to concentrate their energies less on economic democracy in big business and more on small co-operatives in their own neighborhoods. The Church, in fact, is in an ideal position to experiment with cooperatives on the parish level, much as it already has with parish credit unions.

Matthew Markovic
Lakewood, Ohio




Fullness of Gratitude for the Joy of Life

While Victoria Safford finds Sheldon Vanauken's "Discovery" article (June) disturbing, I find her letter (Sept.) disturbing. Although not an adoptee myself, I work with several wonderful, well-adjusted teenage children who are, so I feel indirectly qualified to make the statements that follow.

While Safford, an adoptee, feels "compassion" for her birth mother, she states that she does not feel "gratitude" to her birth mother for not having had an abortion. She also says that, "Any 'gratitude' I feel for the joy of life is directed to a larger source of that life [go on, you can say God] than the woman who chose to bear me." However, any act of birth, no matter how the life it represents was conceived, is an act of co-operation and co-creation with God. Therefore, gratitude, while certainly belonging to God, also belongs to the birth mother, for without her yes the wonder of life would not be brought forth.

I get the impression that this wonder of life is not fully experienced by Safford. I sense a relativism that reduces the joy and enthusiasm that life could have for her.

Safford states that one source of the compassion she feels for her birth mother is her "having to decide alone about a pregnancy she did not create alone." This assumes that Safford's mother, on discovering a surprise pregnancy, was abandoned by the father and left to make her own choices. However, since Safford has not met her birth mother, how does she know that the decision was made alone? It is possible that her father made every effort to be as supportive as he was able.

In addition, Safford's support of a woman's right to choose (for abortion) assumes that the woman is the only victim and the man does not care. Except in the extreme cases of rape and incest, the act leading to conception is a choice by two people. No matter how complicated the circumstances surrounding the act of intercourse, and no matter the amount of real love present (or absent), it is this first choice that leads to the beginning of a new life -- a choice involving both the man and the woman. While many times a woman may be abandoned (either literally or figuratively) as the result of a surprise pregnancy (in or out of marriage), there are also many times when the father, also making a choice, does not abandon the mother to the situation.

However, Safford, while expressing empathy for "the women (and I among them) who have chosen a different...way [i.e., to have an abortion]" implies that it is only women who should face the "lonely choice," when in fact the father may desire to be involved in the decisions affecting the developing life he helped create. A woman may be called to make a decision alone (although she is never truly alone; God is always with her), but it cannot be assumed that this is always the case or that it should always be the case.

Finally, Safford states that she believes a woman "can be for choosing -- honestly, humanly...fearfully -- what our reason and faith and hearts tell us is right." However, I must ask Safford, what is honest, human, and right about abortion, about the taking of a helpless and innocent unborn life? And what authentic faith would lead to an act that involved the taking of an innocent human life? Safford goes on to state that while she may never know her mother, she "want[s] to believe…that as we stood separately before the same terrible, lonely choice, she and I faced our choosing in the same spirit." It is in these statements that her relativism manifests itself. She implies that if people follow their heart -- no matter how it may mislead them -- if they make choices between life and death with a "right" spirit, it is a right choice. While the law of our land may give us the right to choose for an abortion, exercising that legal right -- no matter what spirit you invoke -- does not make that choice right.

Virginia Safford, I must in turn express my compassion for what appears to me to be misguided thinking on your part. At the same time, I must express gratitude, to God and to your birth mother, for your life. You are precious simply by being.

Bill Hammock
Longview, Texas




Many Mansions, Yes, but Not All Well-Furnished

I would like to clear up a few matters in regard to William F. Ingogly's letter entitled "Meaty & Thick Protestantism" (Sept.) responding to my guest column (Jul.-Aug.). First, though, I would like to thank him for his list of Protestant literary figures. I discovered Reynolds Price between the submitting of my column and its publication. I was aware of Annie Dillard, but was not clear that she is Protestant. In any case, I look forward to working through Ingogly's list.

I'm afraid Ingogly misconstrued my references to the "thinness" of Protestantism. I specifically defined thinness as lack of mystic depth. I'm not sure exactly where Ingogly sees mystical depth in Protestantism. I grant mystic depth in the Anglo-Catholic tradition and in the sacramentalist aspects of Lutheranism and Methodism. But I have yet to meet up with any Baptists singing Gregorian chant or any nondenominational evangelicals pondering the Real Presence.

I must take issue with Ingogly's analysis of the essential difference between Protestantism and Catholicism. Says he: "The Catholic is answerable to the corporation in matters of faith and morals; the Protestant is answerable directly to God." Actually, the Protestant is answerable to "the corporation" too. When I was a Presbyterian, Presbyterian belief was defined for me from the pulpit. To doubt it and, say, reject the validity of infant baptism was to break with Presbyterianism and become Baptist. So, both Catholics and Protestants take their definitions in matters of faith and morals from their church. If Ingogly doubts my assertion, he will have to explain to me why God speaks "directly" to the Presbyterians one way and the Baptists another.

Ingogly summarily dismisses my faith journey as a product of my temperament. I would feel better about such speculations if Ingogly actually knew the first thing about my temperament. I might as well say Ingogly left the Catholic Church because a priest ran over his dog at age six. Even if Ingogly knew my temperament, does that temperament hamper or aid the discovery of spiritual truth? Or perhaps, as a liberal Protestant, Ingogly is a relativist and doesn't believe in objective religious truth.

I agree with Ingogly that in God's house there are many mansions. But in my experience -- if my temperament doesn't disqualify me -- I find they are not all well-furnished. In the 1500s certain tenants discarded a lot of the furniture. I assure Ingogly that I have met many strong Christians on both sides of the Reformation. But those in the more sacramental traditions have access to a thickness many in the Protestant tradition have discarded.

I would also like to thank Marie Boudreaux for her mention of Milton, who certainly scores as a literary giant and a Protestant -- but I was thinking of modern writers.

James Prothero
San Juan Capistrano, California




"Thick" Catholicism? Not Here

I am writing in response to James Prothero's insightful guest column "Exploring Catholicism" (Jul.-Aug.). I share many of his concerns and struggles, particularly regarding the evangelical Protestant method of "witnessing." I too have spent time with nonreligious friends who have snickered at Swaggart and Bakker and then praised Mother Teresa. But my spiritual journey has led me down a different path from Prothero's.

Like Prothero, I am a high school teacher, but I am an evangelical Protestant who teaches at a Catholic high school in a small Catholic farm town in Iowa. I agree with Prothero that much of Protestantism has slipped and that much modern Christianity may not be Christianity at all. But I have found a great deal of "thickness," as he describes it, in many of the Protestant circles I've been in. Sadly, my experience in a Catholic school and community makes me question some of his conclusions. I have looked here for the deep, mystical elements of Christianity and have had a fruitless search. I do not at all deny the richness of Catholicism that Prothero has found. My point is that in spite of Catholicism's hierarchy, authority, and unity, the way Catholicism manifests itself at the local level may well vary as much as the many forms of Protestantism.

John L. Pearson
Remsen, Iowa



Back to November 1990 Issue


©