Religion Today

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How Chocolate Pioneered Suburbia

From Thanksgiving to Christmas, America embarks on a month-long obsession with food. And not just any food, but the food of feasting, of special times. One of those foods is chocolate.

In my youth, chocolate-covered cherries and chocolate Santas were the rule, but now European chocolate has become popular. Terry's Chocolate Oranges, Toblerone and Ferrero Roche are now common. My favorites come from the English firm of Cadbury's, whether it is bars of Bourneville and Dairy Milk or gooey Cream Eggs. And it was the two Cadbury brothers who took over their father's failing cocoa factory in 1860 and pioneered a new way of living for factory workers, away from city slums.

Richard and George Cadbury were Quakers. In fact, the three leading makers of English drinking chocolate in the 19th century were Quaker families: Cadbury, Rowntree and Fry. This was not unusual, for at the time, 10 percent of England were practicing Quakers, and Quaker religious discipline carried over into good business practices. Indeed, many Quakers were trusted bankers, founding institutions such as Barclays and Lloyds banks.

In 1860, the cocoa bean was difficult to work with. Manufacturers had not yet learned how to separate out the bean's oil in the manufacturing process, so the resulting drink had an unpleasant scum and it was cut with additives to absorb it. In the search for an enjoyable drink, many mixtures were tried, including tapioca, lichen, and brick dust.

By 1867, the Cadbury brothers became the first English chocolate makers to perfect a procedure for removing the oil and thus were the first to sell pure, unadulterated cocoa. This product turned around the company's fortunes and demand skyrocketed.

As Quakers, Richard and George were quite concerned about the rapid increase of urban poor during the industrial age. Most of their workers lived near their Birmingham factory in rather squalid conditions. Families with several children occupied apartments of just one or two rooms, with no private toilets or water. There was no schooling, health care or recreational facilities.

Quaker beliefs emphasized two key points. First, believers should have a personal relationship with God; they should listen to the "still, small voice" of the Spirit guiding them. To hear that voice, their worship services were often silent. Second, they should make this relationship known through their good works, their actions to help their fellow human beings. At different times, this has led Quakers into anti-slavery movements, anti-poverty work, and pacifism.

So when the Cadburys needed to build a new factory in the 1870s, they did not build it in the city. Instead, they located a rural site about five miles outside Birmingham. The brothers believed that factories did not have to be dark and cramped to be profitable. This went against current business practices and was widely expected to fail. But instead it helped spur the chocolateers' success.

As the factory's staff grew, the two brothers decided to build a model town to house them. This would be a village, not a city, with wide streets, tasteful and affordable houses on lots large enough to have a garden, accompanied by schools and playgrounds, trees and parks. As the new town of Bourneville grew, they added recreational grounds which included a cricket pitch, formal gardens, and even a swimming pool. Eventually, the Cadburys created the Bourneville Trust to allow the townsfolk to control the town's common property and got out of "real estate development."

Nearly all of Bourneville's tenants were former slum and city dwellers now working at the Cadbury factory. The success and profits from their cocoa company enabled George and Richard Cadbury to follow their Quaker ideals to establish this model community. This was imitated by other successful British business people, both Quakers and non-Quakers.

In America, even the chocolateer Milton Hershey followed suit. The ideas put into practice in these model factories and towns showed that humans could be happy and productive at the same time; they did not need to be subjected to ill-treatment and poverty wages for a business to be profitable. The suburbs of the 20th century drew heavily on their pioneering efforts.

Note: In case you are wondering, it was not until the early 20th century that the solid chocolate bar, so familiar today, was perfected. This column is based on the book by Deborah Cadbury, Chocolate Wars . New York, 2010.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Greatest Threat to Religious Freedom

What is the biggest threat to religious freedom around the world? Perhaps restrictions on religious dress, such as the banning or requiring of full Islamic dress for women. Or maybe religious hatred, like that which inspires religious riots in India between Hindus and Muslims. Or perhaps it is political, such as the Chinese communist invasion of Tibet and the restrictions they placed on Buddhism.

Before President Obama traveled to India, Indonesia and other Asian countries last week, he received a letter of advice suggesting issues of religious freedom he should raise with those countries' leaders. The letter came from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a little-known commission established by Congress in 1998 to monitor religious freedom around the world and to advise U.S. leaders. What did they identify as threats to religious freedom?

In Indonesia, the USCIRF flagged cross-religious violence and worried that lack of justice against the perpetrators of such violence would lead to further incidents, since the villains would think they could act with impunity. It applauded court sentences against Christian and Muslim perpetrators as a positive step to prevent this. It also flagged a discriminatory law against the Ahmadiyya branch of Islam that banned worship outside of private homes.

For India, the USCIRF noted the country's multi-religious mix (a Hindu majority, with a large Muslim minority, as well as Sikhs and Christians) and the national government's attempt at religious peace. But the commission also noted the continued occasional cross-religious violence that was often poorly contained by local or regional governments.

The USCIRF thus emphasized the problem of religiously motivated violence and the need to develop institutions of civil society to create and maintain conditions for peaceful coexistence.

OK. But what does "institutions of civil society" mean in reality? To over-simplify: The difference between personal belief and religious belief is numbers; an individual's belief is personal while a group of individuals is required to hold a religious belief. And when many people believe the same, they usually want to assemble and express that belief together. That means they need a place to meet, whether it is called a church, a mosque, a synagogue or a temple.

And where in a community would these buildings be built? That is up to that most boring of civil institutions, the planning commission. These commissions -- whether they are called planning commissions, zoning boards, construction permission committees or whatever -- are local committees that determine the location of buildings of public worship, retail shops, industrial factories and so on. They can prevent the free exercise of religion by preventing the erection of a place of worship -- often at great expense to the body of believers involved.

The USCIRF has begun to flag this as a concern. While its publications emphasize violent incidents, they also identify governmental restrictions placed on buildings of worship -- usually carried out by the local equivalent of the planning commission. It is here that questions about sitting, local suitability and congestion are played out.

The convenient point about planning commissions is that religious prejudice can be transformed into debates over traffic, noise and impact on property values. In one small English town, the Christian council members repeatedly refused planning permission to a mosque on the basis of an inadequate exit from the parking lot.
The planning commission is not just a threat abroad, it also plays a role in religious discrimination in the United States. Recently, in Bentonville, Tenn., a mosque was refused permission to build because of the need for a left-turn traffic light.

At least that was the official reason. The real reason is that the 40 families of the congregation were overwhelmed at the hearing by hundreds of boisterous Christians who claimed they did not want Muslims worshipping near them -- even though the mosque was in a rural area. It is not clear how many of the protestors were local residents.

In the end, the planning commission has become a battleground where the members of majority religions try to prevent the building of houses of worship representing minority religions. In Bentonville, it was a mosque. But the same strategy is regularly used to disallow the building of churches of small Christian denominations. Indeed, new church buildings comprise the vast majority of rejected religious buildings. Today, the planning commission may perhaps be the most effective threat to freedom of worship.