Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Supreme Faith

“Somebody finally moved into that house two doors down--the one that’s been empty for almost a year,” Patty said while we were eating dinner.

“Thank goodness,” I said.  “It’s about time.  Did you meet them?”

“No, all I saw were the movers.  They have a strange assortment of furniture, though.  A lot of file cabinets, computer equipment, printers, and that kind of thing.  No beds or dining room sets or couches or end tables.”

“Huh,” I said, “that’s odd.  This neighborhood is zoned for residential use only.  Maybe one of them works at home, and the rest of their stuff is coming in another moving van.”

Patty looked a little doubtful.  “Could be, I guess,” she said.  “Anyway, I baked a gooseberry pie to welcome them.  Why don’t you take it over after supper and introduce yourself?  Maybe you can find out more about them.”

So after supper Patty set the pie in a little cardboard box, and I walked up to the new neighbor’s door, with the scent of warm gooseberries and cinnamon rising from the box in my hands.  My mouth was watering, even though she’d baked two, and I had finished off half of ours for dessert.

I managed to press the doorbell with my elbow, and after a small delay a file cabinet opened the door.  “Oh, hi,” I said.  “We live up the street and just wanted to say hello and welcome you to the neighborhood.  My wife Patty sent along this pie for you.”

“Why thanks so much!  We appreciate the thoughtfulness,” said the file cabinet, its top drawer sliding back and forth like a jaw opening and closing.  “It smells wonderful.  I’m sure the family will love it.”

“How big is your family, if you don’t mind my asking?” 

“We’re a family of fifteen at the moment,” it said.  “I’m the parent company, with fourteen subsidiaries.  But I’m buying, selling, merging, and wiping out subsidiaries all the time, so the number of family members varies from year to year.”

“You buy new family members?”

“Our acquisition department is always looking for attractive, undervalued companies out there.”

“And you kill off some of the family members?” I asked. 

“When I’ve stripped them of their assets, or they’re not performing up to expectations,” it said.

“Hmm.  Kevin didn’t make the honor role this last grading period,” I said, making a chopping motion with my hand, and we both laughed.

“Say, while you’re here, could you tell me where the nearest Episcopal Church is?” it asked.  “I never miss a Sunday service.”

“You’re an Episcopalian?”   

“Born and raised,” it said proudly.  “Figuratively speaking.  Or maybe literally.  I'm not sure how far the Court's rulings extend.”

“I have to confess that I didn’t know that for-profit corporations had a faith or religious beliefs,” I said.  

“No need to apologize,” said the file cabinet.  “It takes time.  Why, even the Supreme Court didn’t notice it until this week.  But their Hobby Lobby decision put religion in the heart of corporations where it belongs.” 

“I’m a little vague on that ruling,” I said.  “I heard ‘Hobby Lobby’ mentioned, and I thought maybe it was a doll company or something.”

“Heavens no,” it said.  “The Court ruled, in its usual 5-4 wisdom, that commercial enterprises, including corporations, along with partnerships and sole proprietorships, can opt out of any law they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs, except for tax laws.”

“Holy cow!  That’s really a sweeping decision,” I marveled.  “Is everybody in your corporation Episcopalian then?”

“Lord no,” it laughed.  “We’re an international firm.  We have Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, and a boatload of Catholics and Baptists, as well as Mormons, Methodists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, you name it.”

“So how do you go about making decisions based on your faith when the people in your corporation come from such a variety of religious traditions?” I asked.

It waved a drawer dismissively.  “Our employees’ faith isn’t a factor,” it said.  “The corporate conscience is what matters.  Our Board of Directors and our legal department will designate our articles of faith on a case-by-case basis.”

“I remember having to memorize Joyce Kilmer’s poem ‘Trees’ when I was in grade school,’ I said slowly.  “It ended ‘Poems are made by fools like me, / But only God can make a tree’.  Now it turns out that the Supreme Court can make people out of corporations and then endow them with souls and consciences.  And I thought all this time you just existed to make money.”

“You’re forgiven,” it said, swaying its second drawer from side to side in what I took to be a sign of benediction. “And thanks for the pie.”
© Tony Russell, 2014

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