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  • Fr. Paul MacNeil

November 27, 1st Sunday of Advent

Imagine


I was at a party once, and one of the guests asked me about marriage preparation. Before I could answer, another guest overheard us and said, "O, those Catholics. " So I stood my ground and commented that statistically, couples do significantly better in their marriages when they have gone through a marriage preparation course. Of course, she agreed with me because it made sense. Then she asked me, "you seem to know a lot about this, what do you do for a living?" Imagine her surprise, "I'm a Catholic priest." What do you do for a living? "I'm a divorce lawyer."


Oh.


It's amazing that the default position of our culture is to reject Christianity, and especially catholicism. Our attendance has been way down over the last several decades; we are just not being taken that seriously. But where, as a culture, will we get our moral compass? There is a danger here. We find it in the commercialization of religious values. "Stick with incense, "we hear, "and tell you how to behave."


Consider the fast food industry packaging. Back in the 80s, there was a big advertising push to move from styrofoam packaging damaging the ozone layer to paper. But I remember teaching English in Korea and seeing the plethora of styrofoam packaging all over the place from these same corporations. It hadn't caught on yet there, but my point is the relativity of that message. Styrofoam packaging with fluorocarbons is just as damaging to the ozone layer no matter where we live. "We are all about the environment." Until you go to Asia and see the styrofoam there.


Here's an even better example. A few years ago, an absolutely beautiful commercial for the three musketeers chocolate bar aired, all about acceptance. It's about a new girl in a middle school and how her new peers accept her. What a wonderful message of goodness and values. Except that running through it is a three musketeers chocolate bar with a message on its wrapper, "You are Awesome."


Is three musketeers now teaching us values? There is another side to the story:


"Purchasers of chocolate from Nestle, The Hershey Co. and Mars Inc. have filed three class-action lawsuits against the food companies for allegedly using child labor in the production of their best-selling chocolate candy, including Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups®, Kit Kat®, Twix®, MilkyWay®, Butterfinger®, BabyRuth®, M&Ms® and many others, according to Hagens Berman."


This is from an article I came across in 2015. It continues...


"From 2013 to 2014 more than 1.1 million children in the Ivory Coast were engaged in the most common Worst Forms of Child Labor as recognized by the United Nations, according to the suit, up from 791,181 children from 2008 to 2009. The children subjected to the forced labor allegedly used to make Mars, Hershey’s and Nestle chocolate are victims of hazardous work such as that involving dangerous tools, transport of heavy loads and exposure to toxic substances and the compulsory labor of trafficked children. The suits state that such children are trafficked from countries neighboring the Ivory Coast, sold to plantation owners by brokers and smugglers, and forced to work under conditions of physical violence without pay. According to the World Cocoa Foundation, 47 percent of the total U.S. imports of cocoa beans come from the Ivory Coast. http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20150928006623/en/Hagens-Berman-Consumers-File-Suit-Nestle-Hershey%E2%80%99s

Well, it’s far from over. I came across as similar article on Feb. 12th 2021: Mars, Nestlé and Hershey to face child slavery lawsuit in US (https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/feb/12/mars-nestle-and-hershey-to-face-landmark-child-slavery-lawsuit-in-us)

"Eight children who claim they were used as slave labour on cocoa plantations in Ivory Coast have launched legal action against the world’s biggest chocolate companies. They accuse the corporations of aiding and abetting the illegal enslavement of “thousands” of children on cocoa farms in their supply chains."

The most shocking to me part of this is that they had promised to “reduce” some of the worst forms of child labour by 2005:

"The lawsuit also accuses the companies – whose industry body is the World Cocoa Foundation – of actively misleading the public in the voluntary 2001 Harkin-Engel Protocol, characterised by the complainants as promising to phase out some child labour (“the worst forms”, in the protocol’s words). The original deadline for achieving certain standards was 2005. In 2010, a follow-up framework of action for Ivory Coast and Ghana spoke of aiming for “a significant reduction” in the worst forms by 2020."


I find this a bit disconcerting. I don't have an issue with companies advertising, obviously, but I take issue with the logic of making an emotional connection between obviously Christian values like inclusivity and kindness and linking them with a product that is being sold for profit, and in this case at the expense of the freedom of the very children they marketing to. I understand one possible objection, that these values are just universal "human" values. Ok, but, when Christianity teaches these values, there are no ulterior motives. We are good because we need to be good. And in the Catholic context, it's because we are commanded to be good by the love and mercy of God.


Perhaps our culture doesn’t want us to turn to Christianity for our moral compass. Better, the thinking goes, to get our moral values from a chocolate bar because you're more likely to buy one. On the other hand, Christianity can’t be exploited for this (although it probably has been in the past, I'm thinking, of course, of the worst aspects of colonialism). But at its heart, Christianity is meant to be truly universal. Moral values don’t apply just to one group of people advertising chocolate bars; it applies to the exploitation of children in forced labour. It doesn’t just apply to the exploitation of children if forced labour; it applies even to its own leadership. As one comment I heard back in the day, we don’t break the law; we break ourselves against the law.

And so, my point here. Our culture has its teaching: Why would we want Christianity to be our moral compass when we can link Christian values with a product? It is the commodification of Christian values. We use Christian values to exploit people into buying chocolate bars. And so, we're part of this culture and thoughtlessly buy into the rejection of the Christian religion. "Oh, those Catholics. Let’s do away with religion. Let’s do away with Christ, taking Christ out of Christmas and stopping Christians from displaying religious themes," all in the name of "inclusivity."


You know the refrain, the anthem of atheists:


Imagine there's no heaven

It's easy if you try

No hell below us

Above us only sky


Imagine all the people

Living for today, I

Imagine there's no countries

It isn't hard to do

Nothing to kill or die for

And no religion too

Imagine all the people

Living life in peace


You may say I'm a dreamer

But I'm not the only one

I hope someday you'll join us

And the world will be as one


There is an underlying assumption here that, somehow, religion is the cause of all that ails the world. If we can eliminate religion and imagine there’s no heaven or hell, we’ll have peace. Or we’ll have a lot of chocolate. And the suffering of children will never end.


I wrote another version of that song. You don’t have to change it very much to align it with the teachings of Jesus Christ and his Gospel. Perhaps this is the hope that Christianity offers humanity, and He will be born in Bethlehem in a manger. This is what it means to beat our swords into ploughshares, our spears into pruning hooks:


Imagine there’s no hatred

It’s easy if you try.

No bullying each other

No loneliness or fear.

Imagine all the people

Working together every day

No greed or exploitation

No children used for profit.


Nothing to kill or die for

No oppression, war or violence,

People free to live their lives

To help each other prosper.


You may say that I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one.

I hope someday you’ll follow us

And the world will be as one.

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