Monday, May 5, 2003

Another issue is the relationship that people who preach morality and religion to the money they make from that activity.

To me, that's a really important part of this story that a lot of people ignore, treating Bennett just as a rich guy who can do what he wants with his money. Well, there's more to it than that- it's how he's made his money and the root of his fame (not that he wasn't accomplished in other ways before he came to fame as Drug Czar and got into the Virtue Business, but the money has come from his renown in those activities).

I'm interested in this, obviously, because it strikes home.

Ever since I have been writing on religion, I have struggled with the issue of making money off of it. Well, maybe not when I was getting $25 a column from the Florida Catholic, but since I've started writing books. Not that I make a lot, mind you - I mean, it would take Bill Bennett less than half an hour to gamble away what I make in a year, probably. But it still seems to me not quite right - hoping for more sales, negotiating for a favorable advance, trying to think of an idea that will perhaps get the attention, not just of a Catholic publisher, but of a secular publisher that can distribute more widely and therefore make us more money...

Now, there are good reasons for hoping for good sales and wider distribution: you believe in what you're doing and want more people to benefit from it. Up to this point, I've written books mostly for Catholic kids and youth, and I get good feedback, and people tell me good is happening because of what I've written in the books they've bought. Hooray.But I still make money from it, and although it's money that we need, I still have to constantly clarify my motives and keep myself on course.

An example.

Last fall, I wrote something. It took me about an hour to write it, and it's published. My name isn't on it, but it's a ..thing...that's out there. I wrote it for a flat fee, and wasn't really in a position, for various reasons, to push for a royalty agreement, and the fee was good enough - more than enough for an hour's work.

Well, that ...thing..has made scads of money. It's at the point that if I had taken a standard royalty on it, I would have made as much from six months' of sales on that hours' work as I did on all the books, columns and articles I wrote all of last year. Every once in a while Michael comes home and ruefully tells me how much it's made, and sometimes, I get ticked off that I didn't get more agressive and go for royalties. But then, I think...that's just so...wrong.. to make that kind of money from one hour's work. It's just not proportionate. I'd probably feel like Tammy Bakker if I was sitting here raking in money for a thing that's supposed to be helping people in their spiritual growth, something that took so little effort on my part.

But then again...the company's getting the money, and they're not complaining. But of course - again - the profit is used to further promote and create more stuff that's supposed to be spreading the Good News...


My point is that the relationship between commerce and religion (or morality) is slippery. Making a living off of religion or the preaching of morality is a treacherous path. People who do so should always be scraping their consciences and willingly allowing those consciences to be pricked. Do I want this to sell so more people can get the message or so I can make more money? What responsibility do I have towards the money I make as I talk about spiritual and moral issues? And - always - is my life matching up to what I'm saying?