March 27, 2013

Chocolate Slaves

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:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 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 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.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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