Are you sure the chocolate in the Easter eggs you’re buying has not been harvested by an eight year old slave?
No, no I am not one hundred per cent sure of that, World Vision, but thank you for alerting me to the possibility that it might have been, here. Would it taste bitter (read more cocoa-content -Ed) if it did? I am unsure.
I am also unsure whether the running shoes I bought recently (on-line at half price from the US) were stitched by under-paid workers in the Third World. I am not convinced about the presence or otherwise of destructively-harvested palm oil in the hot cross buns I consumed recently. The Persian rug in our lounge room looks suspiciously and nimbly hand-stitched with a dexterity that only a small child could have managed, whilst the tuna in my cheese and tuna melt at lunch time may well have been harvested using a drift net.
What I am sure about is how guilty a lot of this makes me feel. Every buy-ethical campaign tells me that it only takes a little time to check out the ethical nature of the product. True, but multiply that by a thousand products and Coles and Woolies recently-introduced 9pm closing time (in Hicksville Perth at least – uber-urban Ed) seems a little churlish, given the package research one has to do these days in order to feel satisfied that nothing or no one has been hurt in the process of food and clothing production.
So what is one to do? As usual there are extremes. On one hand you may be paralysed by a fear that you are doing the wrong thing, or puffed up with a pride that you are getting it right; that you are an enlightened Westerner, who, though able to enjoy luxurious products, do not do so at the expense of the rest of the world (at least through products we regard as luxurious).
On the other hand you may choose the path of wilful ignorance; it’s too hard to figure it all out, life is too busy to burrow into details about who made what, where and under which circumstances. You’re just trying to keep up the pace in an increasingly tearaway culture of school runs, netball games and work deadlines. And besides, rich well-meaning Westerners just love to pile guilt up (split infinitive surely – Grammar Nazi Ed) on the market-economy, don’t they?
Not very surprisingly, the division has become yet another “left” and “right” issue, one in which both groups fire shots across the heads of an increasingly confused middle ground. The left will poke a picture of a child slave in front of the right’s nose and condemn modern secular culture’s consumer mentality, whilst the right will counter with a picture of a 20 week old aborted foetus and condemn err… modern secular culture’s consumer mentality.
Both are absolutely correct. Let me go out on a limb and say that modern secular culture is consuming people at a rate of knots, whether in utero or ex utero.
So is there a solution to all of this? I believe that Paul in 1Corinthians 8-10 displays both a level of freedom and a level of responsibility that all Christians should emulate.
The same Paul that says in 1Cor 10:25
Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience.
also states, just as emphatically in 10:19
What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons.
So what is it Paul? Is it meat or no meat? Is it left or right? Is it the worst of times or is it the best of times? It can’t be both unless you are Charles Dickens! Is Paul saying “Read the fine print on the label.”, or is he saying “Throw it into the trolley with impunity.”?
Here’s what it is for Paul: love. Love. Not knowledge. Why? Because love builds up, whereas knowledge only puffs up (8:1-3). By the time Paul gets to the definitive L-O-V-E love passage (ch13) he will have built up a case for two competing systems; one that is defined by this-world’s knowledge, and is hence locked into “this age”, and one that is defined by divine love, and which is a proleptic expression of the “the age to come”. Knowledge, quite simply, will not do what only love can do. Knowledge is from within the system that has engendered both child-slavery and unethical food production, and an abortion industry well beyond what Roe vs Wade ever imagined (including 331 million in China since 1971).
Besides, no amount of knowledge will change people’s deep seated desires to continue doing what they want to do (plain-wrap cigarette anyone? – Ed). In fact, knowledge simply entrenches you in your position. Knowledge alone will lead to placards and protests, in which competing lobby groups seek to control and confound their rivals with ever increasing layers of knowledge: graphic pictures, statistics, surveys, documentaries, all backing up their position. Yet, ironically, behemoth multi-nationals make it their job to know where their product is produced. Abortionists are scientifically-minded enough to know that what was said in the late 60s-early 70s – that the foetus was more or less a piece of skin attached to a woman’s body – is not, never was, and never will be the case. It is not the knowing that is the issue in both these examples, it is that the overriding concern/ideology in each trumps every other consideration: company profitability on one hand, or an individual’s right to choice on the other. Both, funnily enough, are key indicators of late modernity and hence the left and the right are wings of the same bird.
Now read this:
4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Now read it again slightly differently:
4 Jesus is patient and kind; Jesus does not envy or boast; Jesus is not arrogant 5 or rude. Jesus does not insist on his own way; Jesus is not irritable or resentful; 6 Jesus does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Jesus bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
In the face of love like that, love that led Jesus to the cross that first Easter, what knowledge, left or right, can stand puffed up and proud? In the face of love like that, what in utero or ex utero human can be sacrificed on the altar of our individualist choices? Jesus humbled himself to become a slave, the first Easter slave, to enable us – free from the guilt of breaking law, and released from the false pride of keeping law – to live lives of other-person-centred love, nameless slaves and nameless foetuses alike.
I totally understand what you mean about knowledge puffing up and having the potential to turn people into jerks. Nevertheless this should not be an excuse for wilful ignorance. How about combining knowledge with love? How loving is it if we ignore the fact that there are children working under slavery conditions, especially for something as trivial as chocolate?
So I understand that attempting to shop ethically can be confusing, time consuming and expensive but is this a good excuse? Love is sacrificial. I don’t think we would be so glib about this if it were our children on the line (I like to think of that as a reality trip rather than a guilt trip).
It is possible to be motivated by love for the people who suffer in other countries and to provide education not to guilt trip or hate on others but to help them to make better choices. I think that if you do this some people will still regard you as a goody two shoes because of their where their own hearts are at. So? Do good anyway.
I’m not about trying to achieve perfection/salvation through consumer choices and looking down the nose at those who fail to feel better about ourselves. It is impossible to do everything perfectly (unless perhaps you are Amish) and so remembering that can help to keep a good level of humility.However I think that we do have a lot of responsibility as Westerners. We need to make an effort. God is not neutral about the plight of the poor- as in James 5
“Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. 2 Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. 4 Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. 5 You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.[a] 6 You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.”
That’s all pretty dramatic I know and I doubt any of us have murdered or withheld wages from people personally. But are we withholding wages indirectly through our lust for bargains and cheap things?
Yep – I agree that we should make that effort. I wouldn’t want us to think that we shouldn’t. Love will ensure that we do. So not so much “knowledge” as in information, but transformative knowing, so to speak, which is based on love. There is a very real chance in the over-flow of knowledge today that people turn off to the message because they are swamped by it.
Perhaps too, I’m getting at the fact that we should be advocates of issues on both the “left” and the “right” of the spectrum. Tim Keller deals with this issue when he talks about the culture wars and how Christians can usurp both sides. The problem is that the best knowledge campaigns utilise technologies that are accessible to them simply because thousands of Chinese people who will never see an iPad completed, are assembling their components for less than minimum wage. I used a current issue to highlight that difficulty, but I don’t want to be blase about a very real problem, that’s for sure.
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