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April 12, 1956
The Current Scene

An Eye For Detail

I don't know whether the Westinghouse workers lifted their voices in prayer or not, but their strike ran a long time--certainly too long for any of them to have the price of a current best seller called, "Your Prayers Are Always Answered." And since the title states the proposition flatly, "always," not "sometimes," not "now and then," but always, one wonders why more folks in a fix don't take advantage of the offer.

A full-page advertisement in the New York Times book supplement devotes four columns of small type to this latest revelation on the concern of the Almighty with the American way of life. The come-on is irresistible, for you are assured that "the next 7 minutes may be the most important of your life."

Having taken worse offers than that, I read on and discovered that here, in full, was one of the "true" stories offered as proof that "your prayers are always answered." It concerns the fortunes of John and Jessie Fernald, who invested their last cent--or almost their last, for they did turn up a little nest-egg later on--in some seashore property in the State of Oregon. They planted a vast crop of daffodil bulbs, and one night their whole investment was washed out by a torrential rainstorm.

As they stood there in understandable sorrow, surveying the destruction, Jessie said, "It's time to pray, John. We've neglected God's direction long enough."

While they prayed, they lit a fire of driftwood to keep warm with, and seeing the bright colors of the salt-soaked wood, Jessie got the idea of selling chemically-impregnated firewood. So they invested what they had left in firewood, made a tidy thing of it, and the devil take the daffodils. Whereby, I am ready to respect the Fernalds and their willingness to keep on trying, but I also know that the economy can take just so much firewood, and after enough people have read the book and tried their hand at driftwood, the Fernalds may find the going a little rough.

* * *
I DON'T KNOW how an honest ordained cleric would react to all this, but the few minutes it took me to read the story of the Fernalds were definitely not the most important of my life. I will admit that it is comforting to think of God as having an eye for detail and being aware of each falling leaf, but sometimes I am soured a little by His infinite concern for successful business. In Bengal, in 1945, I saw men and women and children and suckling infants die by the thousands, die more quickly than their bodies could be dragged away--yes, I saw them carpet the avenues with their bodies, die on the streets and on the road and in the fields, their arms clenched with love for each other, their staring eyes filled with unspoken prayers--and I also saw, at the same time, the mountains of rice, millions of pounds of it, put away in the warehouses by the rice dealers, who watched the price go up, up, up, and muttered their own prayers.I suppose it's a question of whose prayers, and possibly even whose God; and I am willing to admit that the Hon. James A. Farley, chairman of the board of Coca Cola Export Corporation, might have found the story of the Fernalds inspiring indeed. For recently, in a speech to the American Marketing Association, Mr. Farley spelled out his own picture of God in the following terms:

"How heartening it is for a world traveler to see the widespread distribution of American products... Maybe it's a pack of Luckies, jealously hoarded by a Nile boatman at Cairo, or a Hershey bar held in the tight fist of a hungry little child in West Germany. When we speak to a man in another country about democracy, he may or may not understand us. But when you give him a ride in you Buick, Ford or Chrysler, or offer him a Chesterfield, Lucky Strike, Camel or Old Gold or a Coke, he can easily judge for himself. This is America, with its hard fist in the eye of greedy ideology. This is the Lord, the image of man spreading subsistence, comfort and joy."

* * *
MR. FARLEY NEGLECTED to point out that the Divinity according to Mr. Farley, takes a neat profit in the course of spreading Coca Cola among mankind; but I suppose that would be ungrateful of Mr. Farley, whose prayers have apparently been answered. Nor is the growing confusion, among captains of industry and finance, of themselves with the Almighty anything new under the sun. It is a logical development and was widely practiced in ancient Rome among other places. I am sure that if it occurred to some of them, as the new warship, the Forrestal, was launched, that God could do the same thing if He only had enough money, they were not indulging in irreverence.

Mr. Farley might have mentioned that among other tidbits we export, there is the evangelist, Billy Graham, who is currently the hottest thing in selling the American Way to the less favored of mankind. Mr. Graham talks to the high and the low, to kings and queens as well as ordinary run of the mill sinners like you and me; and when he's doing the Dulles Circuit, he turns an elegant phrase as well as the next one and backs up all that Coca Cola and cigarettes with a good, sound ideological message. But here at home, speaking to sinners who earn their livelihoods with their own two hands, he gave the what for as follows:

"Maybe you think nobody knows what you did in that parked car last night, but God knows... Sex is running rampant!"

* * *
WELL, THERE YOU are--an eye for details; and if some poor working stiff is out for an evening with his girl and dares to whisper that he would like to be president of General Motors, he'll likely enough get laid off and a kick in the pants in the bargain for stealing a hug and a kiss. As our beloved Shaw said, "Your middle-class morality ain't worth tuppence."