Buy More Stuff? Great Idea.

Occasionally I will turn on NPR when driving home from work. It helps me pretend that I’m cultured and informed and that I care about what’s going on in the world. Last week, on Wednesday, I decided I should turn it on to hear about the various elections that had occurred the day before. (You’ll notice that I avoided blogging about elections because I am sure what I have to say would only upset some of my constituents, I mean, readers, on both sides of the political spectrum).

After an election update, the news turned to the economy. What I heard made me so angry, I began to fume. I fume rather well. And I turned off the radio. I was still fuming when I got home, and so I spent some time preaching to the choir (that is, J) while we made dinner together.

Did you know that Americans should spend more money? Our government (and a lot of people who know WAY more about economics than I do) really thinks so. In fact, as we find ourselves in the middle of a recession that can arguably be said to be prompted by living beyond our means—heck, maybe even just living beyond our “needs”–we’re being told that the best thing we can do is spend more money. In fact, the powers that be are doing all in their power to keep the interest rates down so that we can spend more money. Buy even more stuff we don’t need. As we are losing jobs, let’s spend more money. As we are looking into the eyes of homeless people on our streets, let’s go buy another pair of jeans at Express or a pair of winter boots at LL Bean. As we look into our grocery carts full of prepackaged and processed foods that are leading to the demise of the small family farm, let’s head on over to Fallmart and buy some more Great Values.

Buy more stuff? That sounds spectacular.

And what’s more, say you decide that you will do your part to help out the economy. Say that our economy suddenly gets “turned around” or “back on track” (notice the quotation marks). Then I’ll be proven wrong and we can go back to our worry-free lives and our good jobs and our safe neighborhoods. Nope. Sadly, that won’t get us off the hook either. When our economy is thriving, when we’re buying and consuming more stuff, we’re exploiting more people around the globe, regardless of how it looks from Wall Street.

Sound like a great idea?

Hooray! We have jobs and more pairs of flip-flops than we could wear out in a lifetime! Who cares about where the rubber came from to make those flip-flops? Or the wars and violence that went into the fuel economy to get them to our big box stores? Or how many children spent back-breaking (near slave) labor bringing them into our Targets and Eddie Bauers and Old Navys?

I’m not trying to be a sky-is-falling Chicken Little here, but our system is broken, people.

And yet (there’s always “and yet”), and yet, we as Christians are quick to make capitalism a “Christian” system, or at least to act that way. Why is that? Why do we talk like this? Why do we think that rich people have been blessed by God more than poor people? There is nothing Christian about violence, exploitation, or consumerism, and that’s what is just under the surface of our current system. (Sometimes it’s barely “under the surface” at all.) There is nothing Christian about it.

Yes, I realize that this is complicated and messy and really hard to wrap our brains around, but let me tell you straight up that I will not back down on this point one bit.

Our souls are at risk, and most of us don’t even know it.