Friday, May 27, 2011

The Moral Perils of the Consumer Church

The stuff appearing in The Lead on the Episcopal Cafe is often mostly useful in tracking clericalist interest in (a) homosexuality and (b) making sure that the rest of the communion can't tell them what to do, but other little tidbits do manage to squeeze their way in. So in a collection of various links they come up with the following story from the Financial Post: Fair-trade coffee producers often end up poorer.

What's going on here? Well, here we have upper-middles, SWPLs if you like, who want to make sure that they aren't exploiting anyone in the addiction to caffeine, nor contributing to world pesticide and fertilizer usage. So we have all this certification corporate bureaucracy to assure them that their choice of Organic Gumutindo from Uganda is more virtuous than (say) Maxwell House or Safeway store brand grown who knows where. Well. Really poor farmers can't afford pesticides or fertilizer, so what they grow is organic by default. They also can't afford the certification fees required so that they can get that all-reassuring claim to be organic. Meanwhile the fair trade label typically involves membership in a cooperative or some other corporation whose administrative mouths need to be fed too, thus siphoning off profit which otherwise could go to the farmer. And you should not be surprised to learn that the certification and cooperative organizations are not free of corruption. The upshot of this is that on the average small farmers who stay away from the whole fair-trade/organic market are actually seeing better income than those who participate.

So in the end, what we have here is a little industry whose whole purpose is the assuage the guilty consciences of the exploitative classes--by exploiting the very people that are supposed to be helped by the program! It's like a Marxist parody made real. It's also a testimony to the upper-middle worship of credentials, but that's a whole 'nother class of sinning.

And so here we are, expected to "seek and serve Christ in all persons", to "strive for justice and peace among all people," and to "respect the dignity of every human being," in short, to love our neighbor as ourselves, and instead we get a program which isn't about that. It's about reassuring us that we are good people, or at least superior to the Baptists. Our church doesn't really have a place for the poor and troubled but it's oh so easy to find room for fair trade programs and other "think locally, act globally" ineffectualities. Lawrence Solomon writes above of trying to explain to the representative of some church group how the fair trade certification doesn't really help the farmers, to no avail:
After a long pause, the church official replied something like: “I still think the parishioners would feel better knowing that they were drinking fair-trade coffee.”
Yep, feeling better about yourself: that's what loving your neighbor is all about.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Redde Mihi Stolam Immortalitatis

For the most part the Bad Vestments blog is a testament to I don't know what, some hideous convergence of bad taste and slovenliness and maybe color-blindness. This one, however, defies easy categorization.

Easter Sunday, in the Episcopal cathedral in Memphis, Tennessee, one of the canons was vested thusly:

And lest you think this is a stunt picture having nothing to do with the liturgy, you may see her again at the left edge of this picture taken during Easter Sunday's baptismal rite:

Honestly, I cannot fathom this. Does anyone have any good explanation?