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Some Questions for the Catholic Consumer

06/05/2012 Comments (170)

The Bishops are investigating the ties between the Girl Scouts and Planned Parenthood. Our family is too busy for Girl Scouts anyway (and when you look up "overrated" in the dictionary, there's a picture of Thin Mints). But for many people, Girl Scouts is central to childhood and beyond, and it would be a significant sacrifice to sever ties with it.

Even if it turns out there really is a strong and problematic association, does that mean that Catholics should shun Girl Scouts? Would it be a sin to participate? Most faithful Catholics would never support Planned Parenthood directly, but where do we draw the line to avoid indirect support? A reader writes:

We do our best but I can't simply cut out every single place [that contributes money to Planned Parenthood]. Have you been to the grocery store? Do you purchase products from Procter and Gamble or ConAgra or any of the ginormous conglomerates that own the majority of the brands? These companies may or may not support PP directly or through another venture that does support them directly. It is impossible not to support some entity that has ties to an entity that financially supports Planned Parenthood.

She's right:  the list of organizations which support PP directly is extensive; and corporate ties are impossible to untangle. My reader plaintively explains further:

f I buy anything made in China, then technically I am supporting a government that forces abortion PLUS more than likely the product was made by someone making very unfair wages and working in awful conditions ... [and] if I decide to eat at the local pizza place, how do I know the owner doesn't himself support abortion and by eating there I am giving him the means to support it more? What if the owner simply had an Obama sticker on his car and by eating there I give him the money to support Obama who vehemently supports abortion?

I think we can all agree that we don't have to take bumper stickers into account. But what about if Local Pizza announced that Planned Parenthood gets 10 cents for every slice sold? Or what if J.C. Penney makes a point of normalizing homosexual parenthood; or Target introduces a line of "Pride" products to benefit the Family Equality Council? Or what if Pepsi's R&D arm may or may not be using fetal cells to test flavors? Or if Nestle's business practices contribute to the deaths of thousands of poor babies?

I will admit, our family does not have a consistent policy about this kind of thing. We make decision based on our noses: if it smells bad enough, we back away. But too often, we participate in boycotts when they're hot news, but forget about them once the story blows over. And there are large swaths of the "material support of evil" problem that we just kind of choose to ignore: boycotting goods made in China, for instance. Shopping for a household of 11 on a limited budget is already very close to overwhelming for me, so I just don't think about where things are made, except to occasionally feel guilty.  (Priestswife encourages at least boycotting Christmas lights made in China, because it's CHRISTMAS).

For the typical consumer whose personal financial clout is negligible, the actual money is probably the least significant part of the question (although large and well-organized boycotts are often effective). But what about . . .

  • Social support: Does your participation lend legitimacy, in the eyes of the community, to something which is evil? I would not, for instance, send my child to a Legionaries of Christ summer camp, even if I trusted the local leader implicitly. Even if my own child were not in danger, I would not want to be a part of helping the organization thrive or appear legitimate.
     
  • Effects on the individual family: Making monetary decisions based on morals reminds us that, as Catholics, we're supposed to go against the stream. But we're not supposed to be Mrs. Jellyby, neglecting our own family's true needs in order to benefit strangers. Also, ethical consumerism is a field ripe for scrupulosity, and a miserable, hysterical, paranoid mother can't follow her vocation.
     
  • Local vs. National: Sometimes a national organization is repugnant, but the local branches are close to independent. I can see joining Girl Scouts if you know the local leader personally and trust that she will keep the activities entirely wholesome and unobjectionable. But I can also see refusing to join as a way of sending a message to the national organization.
     
  • Your real motives: Are you actually trying to decrease the evil in the world, or at least refusing to contribute to evil? Or are you just being a spiritual elitist? Or, are you offering up your behavior in the spirit of sacrifice -- which is beneficial to your own soul and may be efficacious, in the economy of grace, in actually making the world better?
     
  • Your overall experience of your Faith: Do you also do positive things to support and advance the societal good, or are you mainly Catholic in the things you don't do? Do you find yourself feeling superior for keeping your hands clean? Are you simply trying to pass off laziness as honesty or practicality?

Lots to think about. I do believe that every Catholic ought to be making some sort of sacrifice as a consumer. If you never stop to assess your behavior as a consumer, then there may be a problem. But if your entire experience of the faith is drawing back and saying No, then that is a problem, too.

How about you, readers? How do you navigate these questions?

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About Simcha Fisher

Simcha Fisher
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Simcha Fisher, author of The Sinner's Guide to Natural Family Planning writes for several publications and blogs at I Have to Sit Down. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and nine children. Without supernatural aid, she would hardly be a human being.