Thursday, 29 December 2011

Buy Nothing Sunday

I'm currently nearly half way through reading "Colossians Remixed" by Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmat.

The book centres around the first century letter from the Apostle Paul to the church in Colossae, which now appears as the book, "Colossians", in the New Testament part of the Christian Bible. Walsh and Keesmat's central premise is that Paul's letter - and the Christian ideology - was deeply subversive to the Roman Empire at the time when it was written, and in the same way it also subverts the Empires of our own time - in particular the "Empire" of consumerist economics.

I often find when I read books like this that it's little throwaway comments that catch me unawares and really make me stop and think. Like this one from Colossians Remixed, which contrasts the life of the nation of Israel in the Old Testament part of the Bible, with that of the empires around it (and of Empire in general):
While the empire is frantically caught up in the management of production and consumption, Israel is called to a sabbath keeping that acknowledges the gift character of its life in the land.
Production and consumption are the mantras of the Free Market - the "Empire" which currently dominates the western world and is fast expanding to take over the rest of it. Walsh and Keesmat have carefully chosen these words in order to emphasise this comparison, but I have to say that I think they have a very important point!

When I was a teenager, most shops didn't open on Sundays and I have vague memories of the "Keep Sunday Special" campaign, which fought tooth and nail to keep it that way. Personally, at the time, I couldn't really see the point and when Sunday trading finally did become "fully" legal (there are still some restrictions) I was as happy to take advantage of it as most other people. Now though, looking back, I wonder if some of those campaigners did actually have a very good point...

I've recently come across "Buy Nothing Day", which is a campaign to persuade everyone, on one day of each year, to buy absolutely nothing. The promoters define this as a "global stand off from consumerism" which is intended to "make people stop and think about what and how much they buy effects the environment and developing countries" (that sentence doesn't quite make sense, but I think you get the idea!). Participants are promised that they will, "feel detoxed from shopping and realise how much it uses up [their] free time" and that "For 24 hours [they] will get [their] life back".

This is a great idea if it really does make people stop and think about what they are buying, why they are buying it and what effect that has on the rest of the world, and in the interests of subverting our global consumerist ideology I have to say that I approve, but it also made me think:  this is only one day a year, but we used to have one of these days every week and it was called "Sunday"!

Nowadays, to not shop or be able to shop for 1 day in every 7 seems unthinkable! What about the inconvenience and - even more importantly perhaps - what would this do to our economic output!? But Sunday was there precisely to remind us that there are more important things in life than this. We don't exist simply as cogs in an economic machine. Life is there for living and not just for producing stuff! The original Sabbath - as celebrated by the Jews - reminded them of this, and of their ultimate dependence on God, rather than their own enterprise and ingenuity, to provide them with what they needed. The Christian celebration of Sunday as "Lord's Day" should remind us of the same things. As a nation which no longer has a "Lord" to celebrate though, we have instead caved in to the "lordship" of the Free Market, which would rather not allow us any rest in our endeavours in its service...

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