Saturday, August 4, 2007

Systemic Sin

Matthew over on Global Turtle has a piece on the Mattel toy recall story:

I know I am behind on my blog in relation to home reno pics, writing about the west coast trail, Some Southern Alberta trips, and other things on my mind, but I have to put a comment out there about a sad news story.

Last night Fisher Price (owned by Mattel) has recalled up to 83 different toys that are manufactured in China because of the high likelihood that the paint on them contains large amounts of lead. Read more here.

I really struggle with the issues Matthew raises here. I know that there are people who do everything they can to buy only locally raised food and Canadian made clothing and I really admire that. I don't know how they do it though. I've tried reading labels and it is a nightmare trying to find products that aren't made in China. The young son of a friend of mine started reading all the labels in their clothes and refusing to wear clothes made in China and she had a heck of a time trying to respond without denying the point this seven year old was making about unsafe labour practices in other countries.

Years ago, when I was working at the University of Manitoba with the chaplaincy, I brought Fr. Bert Foliot, S.J. to campus to give a talk on something. I remember he talked about how much he liked hearing confessions because people were honest about themselves. He said that in all his years of hearing confessions though he hadn't heard anyone confess their participation in systemic sins. No one confessed that they ate well and cheaply because farmer workers were paid peanuts. He said that it wasn't possible to remove yourself from these systems of exploitation unless you lived off the land and maybe not even then. But he said that there was value in confessing sins you couldn't stop committing if only it made you more aware of what you were doing.

I've thought about that a lot in the 20+ years since I heard that talk and I do try to do some things to keep from sinning even when I know that they are symbolic gestures. I don't shop at WalMart. I read labels. We use fair trade coffee at church. I shop at 10 Thousand Villages. But truthfully I'm still a far way off from making the changes that Matthew is talking about.

My fault, my fault, my most grievous fault...


Kevin said...

While I agree with most of what you wrote, and believe that consumer choices are an important part of our faith practice as well as our democratic obligation, I wonder if, this too, can fall into legalism.

Theologically, we can change some process but can we change the human heart? What part does "the Law" play in confronting systemic sin, and what does grace look like?

Just askin'


Nancy said...

Good food for thought.

I try not to shop at Walmart but sometimes I run out of places to look for an item that don't require using more gas to drive to a further shopping area.

Erin said...

Kevin, I suppose if you start making rules about what Christians should do that you could fall into a form of legalism. My attempts to become more conscious of the consumer choices I make is an attempt to change my heart - I hope you aren't suggesting that our fallen nature makes it impossible for us to be changed more into the likeness of Christ.
Nancy, I think your comment points to the problem Kevin is raising - what do we do when prohibitions against something causes us to sin in other ways. I think that is what Fr. Foliot meant when he said we can't get ourselves out of the mess we are in.