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Illustration by Krieg Barrie

A new front in the war

Radicalism | Moving from the politics of corporate America to the politics of academic America, and trying to publish so as not to perish. Part eight of a pilgrim's slow progress

Issue: "Do the math," Nov. 7, 2009

At the end of segment seven (Aug. 29) I was 31, upwardly mobile, and deciding whether to accept a promotion at the DuPont Company. I was troubled by the company's success in deflecting press attention from cases of chemical-caused bladder cancer at a New Jersey plant, juxtaposed against my father's coming down with . . . bladder cancer. But more than that was going on.

Opening up before me was a vista of the good life. The triptych in one of DuPont's central buildings-left panel, past poverty; middle panel, the god of chemistry; right panel, future prosperity-could become my own story. Had I been a chemist or engineer I could have fulfilled my calling at DuPont, which indeed made better things for better living. Sure, we all sometimes make those things rather than God the center of our lives, but that's a problem deeper than any corporate wizard can solve.

So I didn't recoil in 1981 and 1982 from corporate purpose generally: What bugged me was the public relations part of it. DuPont, like many other industry leaders, had made its peace with big government and much of the left. Its governmental affairs department lobbied for regulations as long as they would hurt competitors more than DuPont. Its public affairs department appeased liberals by donating money to pro-abortion groups and supporting ineffective anti-poverty programs.

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Much giving was counterproductive. In environmental areas, DuPont and other companies typically backed groups emphasizing litigation and regulation rather than those developing market approaches to protect threatened land and wildlife. Some corporations funded leftist groups like the Center for Community Change, which trained community organizers to file legal challenges to banks that turned down individuals with bad credit ratings. Many large companies banned or restricted contributions to religious groups while supporting organizations of the left such as People for the American Way.

Similarly, companies underwrote the budgets of radical feminist groups like the National Organization for Women and the Ms. Foundation, and minority groups like the NAACP and the Urban League-even though these organizations pushed to increase government power, warred on judicial conservatives, and pressured companies to emphasize racial, ethnic, or gender identities instead of looking at people as individuals. The civil-rights groups had made important contributions during the 1950s and 1960s, but by the 1980s they were creating new animosities by embracing reverse discrimination.

I had joined DuPont with the idea of defending free enterprise against the left: Now I found it and other large companies appeasing the left. That, along with the partial cover-up of bladder cancers resulting from earlier use of dangerous chemicals, bothered me. A personal question also grated: Did I want my life story to be one of God bringing me out of Marxism so that I could garner a mansion, a country club membership, and a boat?

I knew that the good life materially could also be a godly life: It's good for Christians to use wealth to help others and big homes as meeting places for church groups. I wondered, though, whether that was a heroic life. Ken Kesey's Sometimes a Great Notion was the novel that had prompted me, in my atheism, to bicycle across the country. What great notion now prompted me as a Christian? Could I best accomplish it by remaining at DuPont? Or should my story have more chapters?

With that mishmash of concerns scrambling my brain, I said no to the offer of promotion. This was unheard of. It revealed to DuPont executives my other loyalties. Then I took a vacation day to give a speech to New York City corporate foundation officers that criticized the "anti-religion bias in contributions policies of most large corporations, and the pro-abortion bias of some." I noted that most individual giving goes to religious organizations or causes, but corporations gave only 0.2 percent of contributions to faith-based groups.

During a vacation week in 1982 I wrote an article for Fortune that criticized liberal foundations, and then had an open door to suggest other pieces-if editors liked them, they might offer me a full-time job. I had just read a Christian book that superbly summarized America's recent past and present, Herb Schlossberg's Idols for Destruction. A Fortune editor agreed to my proposal for a full-scale review of the book, but when the review emphasized its theological underpinnings, he said no: "Too much religion."

Life wasn't all work. As my oldest son turned 5 we played Tortoise and Hare in a park nearby and boccer (a mix of basketball and soccer) in our basement. Bedtime reading for him and our 2-year-old included books ranging from Goodnight Moon and Go Dog Go to Sylvia Plath's The Bed Book and the beginning of our Chronicles of Narnia reading. Bedtime singing included "Go Down Moses" and lots of made-up songs. But in the back of my mind was an imperative: It was time to look for a position that would allow me to write freely as a Christian.

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