Wineskins Archive

December 5, 2013

Consumer Choices (Oct 2012)

Filed under: — @ 4:01 am and

By Liz Jakimow

Every time we buy something, we make a choice. We choose to purchase one product over another. Or we choose to buy something rather than going without or making do with what we already own. We also make a choice about who gets our money. Is it the locally owned business, the fair trade organization, the charity op shop or the multinational corporation?

We may not think about these choices very carefully. But as they are choices we make often on a daily basis, they deserve our consideration. This is especially the case when we realise that those choices really do matter.

When we think of consumerism, we may picture us handing over money and receiving a product in return. We think of this because it is the visible side to consumerism. We see it and experience it almost every day. Yet it is only a tiny part of the story. And if we are to make our consumer choices wisely, we need to be aware of the whole story.

The products that we buy do not just magically appear on the store’s shelves. They have a production, transportation and retail history. When we choose to buy a product, we are also (even if inadvertently) choosing the history of that product. That history may include unsustainable use of the earth’s resources, large CO2 emissions, inhumane working conditions for those who make the goods and minimal pay for the people who sell the goods.

What happens to the product after we take it home is also part of the story. How we use it, how long we use it for, how we discard of it and how long it remains as landfill are important parts of any consumer purchase.

The money we hand over will also have a story. It doesn’t just disappear when it gets put into the cash register. It goes to someone or something. Or, rather, different percentages of the price we pay go toward different things. These may include manufacturing and transportation costs, running expenses, wages, shareholder dividends, profit for the producer and profit for the retailer.

These percentages are important, but so is the business or company that receives the profit. The entity that receives our money may or may not support the local community, donate money to worthwhile causes or have socially and environmentally responsible practices.

Often we base our consumer choices on nothing more than whether or not we like or want a product. We choose this way because it’s easy. We don’t need to think about what happens to the product before or after we buy it. We just need to think about what we see, whether we want it and whether we can afford it. Often people who will never give money to someone on the streets because “they’ll probably just spend it on drugs or alcohol” will hand over money to a company with no thought at all about what happens to that money once it leaves their hands.

And quite honestly, thinking about the entire story of our consumer purchases is difficult. But Jesus doesn’t call us to an easy life. The way of love, compassion, justice and selflessness is hard. Living a live of integrity, where we seek always to do the right thing, can be costly. That doesn’t mean we just give up. As Christians, we are called to do God’s will, no matter how difficult or costly it becomes.

So does God care about our consumer purchases? The Bible seems to suggest that he does. Throughout the Bible, God continually tells us that he cares about injustice. If our consumer choices are contributing to situations of injustice, then we can be sure God cares about that. Also, the Bible makes it very clear that God cares about unfair economic structures. Many of God’s laws have the purpose of maintaining fairness in economic dealings, and the Prophets often spoke out against economic structures that had become unfair.

Furthermore, God cares about all our choices in all areas of our lives. He does not want us to just have the appearance of making the right choices. Nor does he want us to make the easy choices by shutting our eyes and our minds to anything that might make it difficult. Every action, every choice we make should at least try to be a reflection of God’s will.

Since consumerism is such a large part of our lives; since we make consumer choices all the time; and since those consumer choices do impact the world and the people God loves, we must recognize that those choices are important to God. And if they are important to God, then they must be important to us. As such, we must ensure that we make them carefully, considering the entire story behind the purchases that we make.

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