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October 2, 2012

Rethinking our World

This past week, something significant came to my attention. I watched on TV as scores of people were camping out in thestreets in sleeping bags and tents, just like the millions of homeless here in the United States. However, unlike the homeless, these people were not harassed or vacated. They were allowed to stay, as they had a home to return to and money in their pockets.

They were camping out, not out of desperation or need, but out of mindless consumerism for the new iPhone 5. You see, here in the US, as long as you own or rent a home and want to spend money you can sleep wherever you wish and are admired by most. As soon as you lose that home and have no money to spend, you are looked down upon, and in some cases abused by authorities. How did this happen?
We live in this world of mindless consumerism, even those of us who are conscious of it and wish to change. We contribute to the system every day. How, you ask? When we decided to shop at CostCo or Wal-Mart instead of the local farmers’ market, for instance. We intend to save our money and be more frugal perhaps. However, while we do save money, we do it at the expense of other people around the world. We all know why the clothing and the food are so cheap. We know why corporation after corporation ships their manufacturing overseas. They do it for the cheap, dare I say slave, labor. We know that the people who make our tennis shoes do not receive a living wage, especially not in the conditions that we would expect. If we were expected to work the number of hours for the amount of pay under inhumane conditions, we would be outraged and quit. Yet we somehow feel that the person making our iPhone 5 in Asia must be doing OK, that is, if we think of them at all. We must think that the person in Mexico or Guatemala, who picks the produce that comes into the Wal-Mart stores, is receiving a fair wage. Otherwise, why would we be so outraged that the farmers’ market, which produces local, organic food and supports our local farmers, charges enough to allow the workers to have a living wage under conditions that we have come to expect?

Perhaps the time is long due to rethink our world. Are we willing to live with less and pay more for it, if that means that the person on the other end is able to have food each and every day? Are we willing to make do with three pairs of shoes instead of fifteen, if it will support a sustainable environment and a livable wage? If we are not, then perhaps the time has come to recognize where we are. We have deadened our moral conscience, easily done when the suffering of other people that WE are allowing to continue, goes unseen. We need to recognize that we as Christians have fallen into the trap of consumerism, one that is necessary for the stability of our current system of capitalism. I mean, imagine if we all quit buying things we don’t need today. The whole economy would collapse.

This is our system. The question is: can we keep on going contently in such a system and call it good? Or has the time come to rethink how we approach our world? Perhaps an entire change is needed, from an individualist culture to one where the needs of the other are taken into consideration, because when we all are able to feel secure and have the necessities of life, we all will excel. Would paying more for food and clothing be worth it if everyone involved could live with life’s necessities? Can I do with less so that everyone can have something? Am I willing to perhaps pay more or wait longer for healthcare if this means that everyone will be covered and treated with human dignity? Is this not what our God expects from us?
I long for the day when as much energy will be put into finding ways to end hunger, slavery and neglect as go into the production of new and better phones. What would happen if we all woke up one day and realized that we would do just fine with a regular, cheaper phone, and gave the money instead to a charity that would help other people? We might be out of a new phone, but I bet we would be feeling a lot better about our day. It is time to end our mindless consumerism. It begins with each of us making conscious efforts and choices in what we buy and use. It means that we must learn to be a little Buddhist and be content with what we have in life and recognize that we do not need more. The void we are seeking to fill is not phone-shaped, but God-shaped. And what is interesting to see is how that shape of God morphs into the shape of each and every person we meet each day. The love we show to other people by making conscious choices that help them bring much greater satisfaction and joy to our lives. What I am finding is that I don’t need fancy clothes, lots of electronics or fancy restaurants to make me happy. I find that I am already happy when I decide to stop wanting more. If we would all do that, we may soon find that there is enough for all of us to live happily ever after.
by Seminarian Jonathan Hill

1 comment:

Fr John Eybel said...

Jon, your appeal is well made. Even so, forgive us our phones.