The task this morning is to follow up on some reasonable questions raised in the comments of the previous post, God’s Bistro. The basic outline of my response will be to grant a point at the center, but to differ as to what the appropriate responses and applications ought to be.
The questions I want to address concern the pervasive force and influence of advertising, questions about justice in the production of food (e.g. fair trade), and the matter of basic health issues and diet.
I quite agree that advertisers and mass marketers have figured out that there are a lot of people out there who are like sheep without a shepherd. They want to prod and steer everybody into various purchases and brand loyalties, and they industriously work at it. This is something we should respond to, but my suggested response would not be to say that people have to choose between Ads and Adbusters, between corporate and fake alternative corporate.
Protesting the new global economy and actually escaping it are two different things.
My response has been to encourage the establishment of Christian schools that teach kids how to think like Christians, how to identify fallacies, how to stand up to group-think, and so on. Nothing is more truly counter-cultural than holiness. There is nothing new about any of this — the choice is the same in every generation, and that choice holiness or the world. There is nothing new under the sun, including the lie that there actually is something new.
So we must not trust in worldly alternatives to the world. That just gets us opting into secular right/left divisions, or becoming a Laurelist instead of a Hardyist. And we can’t fix things by opting for a thin Christian veneer of these right/left distinctions — Sean Hannity or N.T. Wright.
So in trying to lean against this problem of thoughtless brand loyalty, I don’t want to trust the critical outlook of people who would stand in line for three days for the latest iPhone. They might not know what the actual problem is, and so perhaps we should call them iPhoneys.
Full disclosure: I do own an iPhone myself, but I have managed to do this without being one of the cool kids. The issue is not the thing, but rather our approach to the thing. Same as with food. Our temptation is to objectify the problem, trying to locate sin in the stuff — in the tobacco, in the alcohol, in the gun, in the donut — instead of where sin is actually located, which is right under the breastbone.
On matters of gross injustice in the production of my dinner, I quite agree with the principle. In other words, if I knew a restaurant in town with the best-tasting steak got those fantastic results by flogging its cooks out back, cheating its wholesalers, double-crossing the waitresses on the tips, and sending representatives out to the stockyards every month to taunt the cows, I would not patronize that restaurant. I don’t want to bless known scoundrels with my business. So the principle is fine.
But the problem is with that word “known.” To assert injustice is not the same thing as proving it. Much ado is made over the concept of “fair trade,” for example, but largely by people who don’t know what “fair” means, or what “trade” is. In short, I flat don’t believe them. Sometimes the business is run by scoundrels, and other times the agitating protesters are the scoundrels. And going back to the first point, how many people who drink fair trade coffee were stampeded into it by a marketing campaign? A lot more skepticism is in order.
Another question concerns basic health issues. I would take the same general approach here. That is, I would grant the principle, but dispute the plethora of contemporary applications. If we concentrate on the how and why we eat together, and the emphasis is on love, of course a faithful mom is going to make sure her kids get enough citrus to enable them to avoid scurvy. That is all to the good, and is common sense. To my detractors, I would simply say this: I approve of little children not getting scurvy.
The problem here is not what we know, but rather what we think we know — and how quickly we start pressuring and condemning others on the basis of what we think we know. The issue here is that claims about health and well-being are very much like claims about global economics. A lot of what is said just ain’t so. Daniel was willing to put his dietary request to the chamberlain to the test. After ten days, are we ruddier or are they ruddier? After ten days are we fairer and fatter in flesh, or are they (Dan. 1:14-16)? Mom, have your husband run a blind taste test for you – put an organic apple and a regular Safeway apple in the kids’ lunches for ten days, without telling you which one is getting which one. Then after ten days, you tell him which kid has been eating healthier.
But if the claims stand up, as they do with Vitamin C and scurvy, then the point stands. Sure. Everything else being equal, a family should be served a healthy, well-balanced meal. Mom should not let her teen-aged son ruin his dinner by wolfing a bag of chips half an hour before. Marshmallow pop tarts are not the breakfast of champions. My phight against phood pharisaism should not be taken as a ringing endorsement of maple bars with bacon on them . . . although I might try one sometime. It is simply that a lot of the dietary harum-scarum these days is based on statistical hoodoo, galloping fads, shrewd marketing, and crony capitalism (again, see the first point). Again, a bit more skepticism before making any claims about food that reflect on any person’s standing with God.
You don’t need to be so skeptical that you won’t try anything new. You can sell the food options without selling the guilt. In fact, the pastor said, that is what you must do.
And finally, apropos of nothing in particular, but staying on the general theme, I thought I should share with you this short video on how McDonald’s makes their Chicken McNuggets. Bon Appétit!