Why Christians should resist Black Friday

Parker Michels-Boyce AP From left, Mark Pugh, Frankie and Pam Davis, and Jamie Pugh look over the discounts that await … Continued

Parker Michels-Boyce

AP

From left, Mark Pugh, Frankie and Pam Davis, and Jamie Pugh look over the discounts that await them when Best Buy’s doors open at midnight, at the Wards Crossing Shopping Center in Lynchburg, Va., Thursday, Nov. 24, 2011. Mark Pugh was first in line at Best Buy, arriving at 5:15 a.m., beating the next arrivals by about 15 minutes.

Many church-going folks love to shop. Heck, I’m one of the organizers of a campaign called Buy Nothing Christmas, and I still find a perverse pleasure in looking at prices comparing features and, yes, even paying for products at stores.

But, as one inspired by the teachings of Jesus, not shopping has become an important expression of my faith. Let me explain:

Empty pilgrimage

To me, Black Friday is essentially our version of a religious pilgrimage. We worship in the mega stores, make schedules around holiday deals, display allegiance to brands and low prices, offer tithes to the cashiers. Masses of people swarm the stores with hype and fervor. But where’s the meaning? The deep meaning?

We know we’re placating the gods. Which is why Christians need to pull back from the biggest shopping day of the year. Retail products occupy too much space in our homes and hearts.

It’s not that there’s something more important than the economy, it’s that the economy needs to be re-fashioned. Jesus acknowledged wealth and power (give to Caesar what his Caesar’s) and sought to undermine it (woe to the rich, blessed are the poor).

By resisting the impulse to shop for deals on Black Friday we stand at the feet of the retail titans and, with the power of non-cooperation, we challenge the injustices of poor labor conditions, exploitative hiring practices, unfair monopolies, and irresponsible resource extraction.

It’s dumb to say it this way, but Jesus was like Gandhi before Gandhi was Gandhi. He came alongside the poor masses and gave them hope because he stood up to the enforcers of empire.

Fractures community

Worship of the deal is the way of the rich; it’s also the way of out-sourcing labor to Mexico, China and probably the moon. Chasing the deal fractures our communities.

Christians resist Black Friday because they want to build community by giving gifts that are hand-made, home-baked, bartered among friends or obtained from a locally-owned, fair-trade retailer who (obviously) can’t afford to (and doesn’t want to) cut prices to keep up with the cut-throat practices of industry.

Deep rewards

It’s deeply rewarding to cultivate the discipline to say “no” to the best deal or the newest gadget. When you take a consumer fast from Black Friday, you develop the personal power to resist temptations.

Okay, this is not sexy. But it’s character building. It’s also a step towards spiritual fulfillment — that great and noble goal which ads can only mimic and possessions can dilute.

Mark Lennihan

AP

Nov. 23, 2010, a woman looks at a DKNY holiday window display, in New York.

Seven reasons to resist Black Friday

To conclude, I offer seven incentives for Christians to resist Black Friday.

1. Save money. Sure, this is a crass appeal to your inner pocketbook. But it’s true! You can save money if you shift your Christmas gift giving habits. Give a few very special things: a family heirloom, a scrapbook of memories or fond thoughts, a favorite meal or celebration. And hey, Jesus didn’t shop to show his love, he gave a buffet of bread and fish and provided home-made wine.

2. Find inner peace. Away from the din of deals and under the clutter of gadgets is a sense of serenity available to you. It sounds like fortune cookie wisdom but it’s true: quiet resistance to consumer culture is the way to personal peace.

3. Celebrate non-material joy. This might sound boring, but for those who already have the basics (and I don’t mean a second car and TV for every room), the secret of joy and happiness lies in developing non-material riches: build relationships, foster generosity, acquire skills, volunteer in the community.

4. Practice social justice. Jesus challenged the powers of his day (Roman rulers and religious overlords) and chose solidarity with people at the lowest ranks. We can challenge economic powers with what we buy, who made the goods and who profits from them. Most of the deals on Black Friday won’t qualify as fair-trade items. So stay home and support other shops another day.

5. Teach kids new values. Let’s teach children to show love in the most precious way: through kindness, loyalty, creativity, affection, self-sacrifice, humor and devotion. Let’s not associate love with the size or price tag of a present. Besides running the risk of emotional bribery, it fosters low self-esteem when the purchasing power wanes. Elevate the splendid, intangible riches of love and we well equip our kids for whatever comes.

6. Suffer a little. To stay home on Black Friday is to be counter cultural, out of synch. You might even miss out on some special prices for gifts you want to buy. Principled restraint welcomes solidarity with those who have less. Voluntary poverty is the way of the Christ. Voluntary simplicity is an appropriate lifestyle for those caught in the web of a global super power.

7. Incarnate love. Imagine you are a chaplain on Black Friday. Don’t enter the frenzy, be a calming presence and show an alternate way.

_____

Aiden Enns is the co-founder of buynothingchristmas.org and the founder and editor of Geez magzine in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. He holds graduate degrees in religion and journalism. Each year he and his partner make Christmas gifts for their 18 nieces and nephews.

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  • kpharri

    Might I offer two alternative points here? First, Black Friday is just one day in the year. If you want Christians to care less about shopping, you should encourage them to make a more general, lasting change, rather than ask them to avoid one particular day of spending.

    Second, and perhaps more importantly, Black Friday is one of the few opportunities some families have to afford necessary things for themselves and their homes. This is especially true in today’s economy – a time where most of us need a bit of a break from prices we can’t afford.

  • SODDI

    Christian culture worships money and death. That’s it.

    Actually, hate runs a close third.

  • job22

    Necessary, or what we are told by advertisers and big business (and Visa, MC, AX, DIscover, Chase etc) that we “need”. None of the stuff I see on sale is necessary unless your talking about necessary to keep up with the Joneses.

  • belgianfriar

    The article I’ve been waiting for and wish I had written. But let’s not forget another very important reason for Christians to stay away from Black Friday. It is all done in the name of Christ. It is for Christ’s Mass. We don’t like to admit that, but we have let shopping dictate the beginning of the Christmas season. There can be no greater, true violation of taking the Lord’s Name in vein, if you ask me. As Billy Joel put it, “give us this day our daily discount outlet merchandise/ Raise up a multiplex and we will make a sacrifice”.

  • artieanna52

    I love it. Thank you for stating it so well.

  • artieanna52

    Soddi, not even close.

  • Friendly16Deaf

    I actually agree with this. Although, I have to say, I’d rather be sharing meals with my close friends and family and/or coffee. And the writer is correct, you save more money by buy on other days. Just because they have certain things on low prices, doesn’t mean it will be available.
    I don’t mind used things, I don’t mind homemade things and prefer something I can use, like food and time with people to build a relationship. Materialism doesn’t offer that same opportunity.

  • cats22

    For one to wrap a ‘don’t shop on Black Friday’ message in a religious cloak is like saying, as some Christains surely do, that ‘fixing’ newcomers in a way-too-fast-multiplying companion animal popular is ‘wrong’.
    Semi-same shoppers (excluding those who pepper-spray the opposition) seeking bargains on Black Friday could be working to stretch their resources so more can be devoted to ‘worthy’ causes. For all you know, in doing their crazy bit in getting to stores early and, um, behaving in unChristian manners to win objects oposing shoppers cherish, they could be supporting the crosses hung from their necks with plans to provide more, from their savings, to the poor, the hungry, the homeless, or a nearby restaurant owner who’s business has been suffering because of the economy.
    Such a sceptic you are, to suppose that much of what’s sold off at bargain prices on Black Friday is inferior to stuff one might have bought a day earlier, or a day later, at a ‘normal’ price. That’s like saying chop sticks one takes home from a Chinese buffet resturant are inferior, in performance, to ones one could take from a pay-by-the-dish Chinese eatery.
    In broad terms, ‘main street retailers’ certainly cannot compete, price-wise, with their larger, boxier, cousins. But they are well aware of that, and compensate in other ways: With special, longer-term discounts they demand from suppliers, and, more important, levels of service box stores can’t begin to provide.
    You want to teach kids ‘new values’? How about teaching them ‘OLD values’ — not feeling the need, fad to fad, to have had the latest that, quality and value wise is, frankly, bad? How about bringing them back — hard is this may be, given the pressures of society in general — to the basic concepts of what Christmas is all about: A celebration of a life, a gift to the world, belatedly-given gifts from supposedly ‘wise’ men presenting an infant with ‘gold, frankensence and myrrh’, a long-ignored ‘profit’ who, for two-thirds of his l

  • ladyruth54

    The author of this piece is also the managing editor of the anti-corporate Adbusters magazine, the manipulators of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. While I agree that Christmas has become too materialistic, I see an ulterior motive for this article.

  • atlasusa

    hit a nerve, artieanna52? too close to the truth, artieanna52?
    athiests didn’t put the commercialism and materialism in Christmas….

  • kpharri

    This rings a little hollow, to be honest. Most Christians are avid consumers of retail goods the year round, but we only hear holier-than-thou complaints like yours over the Christmas season. To suddenly take a moral stand during Christmas reeks of hypocrisy.

    If Christians feel queasy about buying things at stores, they should live on farms and make their own food and clothing. Somehow, I don’t envisage many takers.

  • leibowde84

    Wow. I understand your point, but isn’t the national economy and providing jobs for Americans a little more important than some ethical disgust with buying presents for Christmas. It probably isn’t exactly what the early Christians would want, but when you look at the Vatican, it is definitely in line with modern Christian tendencies (and by modern I mean for the past 500 years or so). The Vatican is the most excessively decorated place I have ever seen. People come from far and wide to look at the palace which houses the Pope, his servants, and his Swedish guard. At least black friday creates revenue for struggling businesses and gets people working. It seems hypocritical to try and say that the church should be against something that it so obviously approves of. Plus, I think the church should be in favor of shopping. It drives this fragile economy.

  • thebump

    Fundamentalist Christianity of the kind the author espouses has been preached for a couple of millennia now, but it’s never really been tried outside of the monastery. The poor pray that it never catches on.

    The awkward truth is that the last half-century of godless, avaricious, unbridled global capitalism has improved the material well-being of more millions of wretched human beings than an eternity of Christian charity and asceticism.

    By passing up deals on Black Friday you don’t “challenge injustices”—you just condemn more people to grinding poverty. Hope your precious piety is comfort to you.

    Christians should treasure and support the monastic vocation for those who are so called. We should seek to follow appropriately ascetical practices during the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent, or whenever we need to do penance. And we should take care that on the whole our economic life serves the good of all. But we should ignore the kooks and cranks and thank God for Black Friday bargains.