The Religious Left With Its Mask Off

The religious left still has prestige within academic departments of theology and in parts of the media, but that's about the limit of its influence.

Consider the controversy over the nun dolls made by Blessings, Expressions of Faith, a family-based catalog business in St. Joseph, Michigan. The Cholewa family, five brothers and their ten employees, have been making these 20-inch dolls, dressed in traditional habits, for a decade. The National Coalition of American Nuns has suddenly taken offense. “U.S. nuns would not lend their image to profit a business venture,” this group charges.

Simply untrue. The Cholewa brothers held down other jobs while researching the styles and fabrics used by 32 different religious orders. They called convents and mother houses. Nuns cooperated by sending sample fabrics, pictures of themselves, patterns, and notes of encouragement. Each nun doll has a name, and in many cases it was suggested by the order to honor some particular member.

People whose lives have been touched by a nun enjoy having these dolls around to remind them of an occasion of grace. Families with siblings or children in convents treasure them as reminders of their loved one's decision to devote her life to God. Where's the “exploitation”?

The Cholewas keeps a file of letters from sisters in religious orders to prove that most support their work. For example, Sister Anne Fulwiler, director for Religious of the Order of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, wrote: “You are to be congratulated for the careful exactness with which you made the garments. They are truly works of art.” The left-wing group that is calling for a boycott of the dolls clearly does not represent most nuns.

Nevertheless, the coalition demands that Blessings stop profiting from the sale of nuns' images. Any profits should be handed over to the Retirement Fund for Religious. It claims that it is wrong to profit from the sale of the images.

This may sound like a petty incident, but it shows the religious left in its true, Marxist light. What's really behind the complaint is the philosophical assumption that profit is “exploitation.” Not only is that bad economics, it is also slovenly thinking. The Blessings company is a wonderful illustration of how profit and propagation of religious faith can work together in the market economy.

In their economic ignorance the coalition nuns may have assumed that because the dolls are expensive- prices range from $139 to $199 - the makers must be gouging the public. But the prices partly reflects the high cost involved in the required handiwork. At any rate consumers are willing to pay the prices, meaning that they think the exchange is to their benefit. If the Coalition really wanted to bring Blessings down, these sisters would figure out a way to make dolls cheaper and undercut them on the market by selling dolls themselves.

Those who read or otherwise hear about the proposed boycott would do well to remember that this coalition hardly represents the views of the average nun. Let's examine some of the coalition's other causes. For a quarter century, it has called for women priests, backed federal laws protecting same-sex marriage, and pushed for socialized health care. It's also litigious, filing lawsuits alleging sex discrimination. As its attacks on the Cholewas show, it has ideas about profits and the economy that are considerably out of the mainstream. It calls for a strange new accounting principle: It wants “production costs, including administrative salaries,” to be deducted from gross revenue and the remaining profit returned to the Retirement Fund for Religious.

Whatever and whoever these groups on the religious left may represent, it is not the majority of the faithful. I'm pleased to report that this boycott is boomeranging. The Cholewas' business has improved since the attacks began.