Posted by: Harold Knight | 01/29/2010

Serving God AND Wal-Mart (thank you, Bethany Moreton)

Wednesday evening was the first time in many years I chose not to watch a State of the Union Address, even those of Presidents I did not support. I turned George W. Bush off when he pretended to be a theologian and made his abhorrent “axis of evil” statement. But usually I have thought it was something akin to a patriotic duty to hear what the President says.

I wish I had seen one minute of Mr. Obama’s speech—his calling into question the Supreme Court’s massive undermining of the electoral system—because I would like to have seen Antonin Scalia show his true colors in public. The American people some day will wake up to the danger he is to our nation. I realize that I’m a crackpot and a bigot for worrying that Antonin Scalia can convince four other justices to go along with the dismantling of the humanizing influence of the Supreme Court, and thus, the law.

I chose not to watch Mr. Obama’s speech because I cannot spiritually and emotionally afford any longer to give myself over to the pain of watching our nation lurch toward tyranny.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think Mr. Obama is a tyrant. He inherited all the tyrannical aspects of the Presidency—the most recent and dangerous put in place by Dick Cheney—but Mr. Obama is less tyrannical than most Presidents (although it takes a personal belief that one is an Übermensch to seek the presidency in the first place; please don’t agree or disagree until you have read Nietzsche; the word doesn’t mean what your business marketing teacher told you it means).

Mr. Obama is not by nature a tyrant, but he has no power to go against the tyranny that envelops us. It is not the tyranny of the Presidency.

Unbridled amoral capitalism is the greatest tyranny the world knows. Corporations are not persons. That is a perverted modern capitalistic idea. (Where are they, for example, in Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights?”) By any stretch of the imagination they should not be thought of as having the right of free speech or any other right. But, because corporations are the heart of capitalism, and thus the heart of the “state of the union,” they have any right they declare to be theirs.

The Supreme Court under Antonin Scalia has codified the tyranny corporations have held over freedom in this country almost from the beginning. Thomas Jefferson’s noble but ultimately inconsequential attempt to hold back the tyranny of amoral capitalism in 1776 was the last hurrah. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of “property” is amoral. By the tenets of most spiritual disciplines, it is immoral. Jefferson proclaimed for one brief moment in American history that “property” is not equal to “happiness.” We have the right, because the founding document of American thought declares it, to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—a spiritual world away from Locke’s pursuit of property.

But Antonin Scalia, who believes it is his place to involve himself in politics overtly on national television—not in the background as Supreme Court justices traditionally do—has convinced his conservative brothers (please note that brothers are men) on the court to announce once for all that corporations are equal to human beings.

Corporations will now, with less restraint than ever, control our political process. Their first victory will be to thwart our right to the happiness that proper health care insures (see my previous writing concerning the political contributions of health care corporations to Mitch McConnell who will single-handedly prevent heath care reform).

However, health care is only the latest corporate assault upon our pursuit of happiness.

Increasingly corporations, as “persons,” have preyed upon Americans’ desire for spiritual (that is to say, religious) happiness not only to pile up the huge fortunes they are designed to make for their share-holders but also increasingly to reshape our society so there is no possibility of pursuing happiness over property.

Corporations, acting with all the “rights” of their presumed personhood, have used unsuspecting christians’ most intimate beliefs to advance corporate good (tyranny). They have appropriated the fundamentalist christian ideals of family, of the dominant male role in the household and society, of sex as a tool only for reproduction, of the pursuit of property for the stability of christian living rather than the pursuit of happiness. Corporations have convinced unsuspecting christians that amoral capitalism equals the dictates of Leviticus and the Apostle Paul. Justice Scalia and his ilk will continue this process (with the help of Presidents pretending to be theologians) until the pursuit of happiness is but a fond memory.

Relying on long quotations like the following proves only that I am not a scholar. However, Bethany Moreton is not alone in making these observations. I will prepare a reading list. Until then, suffice it to say that the following partly explains why I chose not to listen to Mr. Obama. The situation is, as I see it, hopeless. We are already beyond redemption. Corporations have perverted (or perhaps brought to fulfillment) the capitalist American dream by producing profit at the expense of every aspect of our society, even the most cherished. (Need I mention the Wall-Street “bailout?”)

Not surprisingly, then, one promising arena in which to look for the historically specific links among sex, conservatism, and religion is in the ethereal new economy itself, especially the transnational corporations that arose after World War II. Perhaps the purest examples are the direct sales organizations like Amway and Mary Kay Cosmetics, [who have a] near-perfect business model of Christian inspiration, family values, and “belief in the moral virtue of entrepreneurialism”. . . . In the 1980s, too, Arkansas-based Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., employed a director of marriage and family living, who instructed managers on principles of “servant leadership” for home and work. [See NOTE 2 below] It was a telling move. The second half of the twentieth century saw an unprecedented feminization of paid work, both in terms of the sex of workers and in terms of the kinds of work to be performed. By the mid-1990s the United States was home to more than twice as many jobs in retail and other services as in mining, manufacturing, and construction combined. In 2002 Wal-Mart passed Exxon-Mobil to become for a time the world’s largest company, the first service provider in history to hold that distinction. Logically, this revaluation of service work ought to have forced a new assessment of the people who had traditionally performed it. The work undertaken in stores, hospitals, schools, and restaurants, after all, is the reproductive labor of the household thrown out into a marketplace, the work of care that reproduces a labor force. (1)

That, of course, is why we must not have health care reform or gay marriage.

( 1) Moreton, Bethany. “Why is there so much sex in Christian conservatism and why do so few historians care anything about it?” Journal of Southern History 75.3 (2009): 717+. Bethany MORETON (Ph.D. Yale University, 2006) is assistant professor of history and women’s studies at the University of Georgia. (Ph.D., Yale University, 2006) She is the author of several articles on globalization, conservative Christianity, and the feminization of work in the service economy. Her dissertation won Yale’s university-wide Theron Rockwell Field Prize and the Southern Historical Association’s C. Vann Woodward Prize among many others. Her book To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise was published by Harvard University Press in May of 2009.

( 2) Transcript of address by Paul Faulkner to Wal-Mart managers’ meeting, February 20, 1987, available through Flagler Productions, Inc., Lenexa, Kans., reference no. 00243A (quotation); profile of Paul Faulkner,; Sam M. Walton, “Message to Associates: Our Focus for ’92,” Wal-Mart World, February 1992, p. 5.


  1. I think you should watch the President on line. He was encouraging as a leader.


    • I thought I made it clear I was not talking about Mr. Obama.
      He is certainly not the problem. The problem is those (like Antonin Scalia)
      who are determined to undermine our social contract by such actions as
      declaring that a corporation has the same rights as you or I. A corporation
      is not a person. Have you ever shaken the hand of Microsoft? Of Citibank?



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