I know that I'm told it's my patriotic duty to shop. I know that I'm told 'the terrorists win' if we don't keep the fuels of the economy burning. I know that people's livelihoods are ostensibly at stake if I don't get into the malls today and buy all things that, prior to today, I've lived without but which will undoubtedly make my life so much fuller and richer as soon as I purchase them.
And yet I'm not buying anything today, except perhaps food. I'm trying to make a statement that there is an alternative view to the patriotic shopping and the paranoia of what will happen to the world if we don't buy things we don't need. Our addiction to things has a pretty dark underbelly:
1. our things pollute the earth, both in the production, their use, and their demise. If you still the earth is doing fine while we pump carbon into the air, you're living in a dreamland. One person writes, on the Buy Nothing Day website: Driving hybrid cars and limiting industrial emissions is great‚ but they are band–aid solutions if we don’t address the core problem: we have to consume less. This is the message of Buy Nothing Day
2. while we max credit cards to buy things we don't need, the majority of the world lives in abject poverty. Wouldn't it be more fun, and more meaningful, to invest our wealth in alleviating poverty, both locally and globally. In fact, why not go crazy, and contribute to a water project in Africa this Christmas instead of buying stuff. The growing gap between the rich and the poor is, according to Jimmy Carter and many others, the largest problem on earth. And of course, let's not forget that caring for the poor was the one thing that the apostle held dear as a practical expression of the gospel.
3. the economic model upon which we all depend is, if the truth be told, unsustainable. If you must buy something, maybe invest in a book like Deep Economy, and ponder how we can, both individually, nationally, and locally, change our ways, and what you can do to contribute to that.
4. it's a pity that our shopping habits, and the retailers frenzy to be 'first' now has shops opening at midnight. You're pie not yet digested, you propel yourself into the mall to save $50 on your new flat screen. Wouldn't it be nicer if everyone got enough sleep?
I don't want to sound self-righteous. I'm going to the movies today to watch a prince escape cartoon land, and live out his adventures in New York City. Consumption isn't a zero sum, all or nothing game. It's also not invitation to guilt or stoicism. Rather, it's worth considering, as Chesterton writes, that thrift is joyful, creative, better for the environment, and leads to opportunities to live generously. This is what he says: "Thrift is the really romantic thing; economy is more romantic than extravagance...thrift is poetic because it is creative; waste is unpoetic because it is waste...if a man could undertake to make use of all the things in his dustbin, he would be a broader genius than Shakespeare." --Such living is of course, closer to the spirit of the Jesus whose coming we're intending to celebrate!
Is there anyone else planning a less consumerist Christmas?