Black Friday

The beginning of the Christmas Season?

Jim Allen

"With Black Friday behind us, it is fair to say that the holiday season has officially begun. And while the smell of roasted chestnuts and the sound of Christmas carolers fill the air, the holiday season also comes with a heavy dose of holiday shopping nightmares. Unfortunately, this year has been no exception. From the dangling Santa impersonator to the Black Friday robbery, the 2012 holiday shopping season is already full of horror stories that could deter even the most enthusiastic shopper from heading to the mall." [1]

One online reviewer wrote about Black Friday, "Welcome to America...Land of the free...home of the greedy." Another quips, "I have to laugh when someone claims that this is a Christian nation… Greed is clearly the American religion."

Around the middle of the twentieth century, an American by the name of Reinhold Niebuhr said the Kingdom of God was impossible on earth at this time. Niebuhr's ideology was initially influenced by a factory visit during the early twentieth century. During the visit, he wrote in his diary, "We went through one of the big automobile factories today. . . . The foundry interested me particularly. The heat was extreme. The men seemed weary. Here, manual labor is drudgery and toil is slavery. The men cannot possibly find any satisfaction in their work. They simply work to make a living. Their sweat and dull pain are part of the price paid for the fine cars we drive... We are all responsible. We all want the things which the factory produces and none of us is sensitive enough to care how much in human values the efficiency of the modern factory costs." [2]

Some of today's well-known political and religious leaders find themselves nudging up to Niebuhr's "Christian Realism" theology, which has a lose tether to social justice. "The central theme of Christian Realism is to redefine men as selfish and prideful, including those possessing the best of human intention and action. Niebuhr viewed the American institutions (Wall Street, big banks, and big business) guilty of ravaging the world of its natural resources while pretending to be an exceptional country and a liberator of nations. As a consequence, Niebuhr went on to say ‘underprivileged humanity' remains enslaved to serve the exceptional few, we the Americans." [3]

Americans have done much good, but the "unprincipled among us" have done much harm. One example is the "business practice" of using overseas sweat shops, unacceptably difficult or dangerous industrial working environments. The practice indirectly exploits and abuses foreign workers to increase business revenue and reduce manufacturing costs. Foreign workers toil long hours for low pay in deplorable conditions. Most have no benefits. As a result, everyone benefits except the corporate slave workers. This is wrong.

American businesses are ravaging the world of its human and natural resources while giving capitalism a bad name.

The latest example of greed in America is the new business practice of opening retail stores late on Thanksgiving Day, forcing employees in to work after a long day with family and friends. Big box retail stores encourage consumers to camp outside their stores for days in wait for the Black Friday big box bargain inside. Apparently, no sacrifice is too great, causing them to set aside all else to live days on hard concrete in drafty tents, some to the point of missing Thanksgiving Day itself. After the doors are flung open, the dark side of Black Friday comes into full view. Verbal disputes, physical injuries, theft, and even death become disturbing front page horror stories that most now look upon as commonplace. This is idolatry at its 21st century-best.

No, not all of America is greedy. We are still the most generous among nations. Black Friday does not officially begin the Christmas season. However, that day is just another opportunity for corporations and consumers alike to engage in retail practices of greed that benefit the few at the expense of the many. The spirit of greed is alive and well in America, and on this point we can agree with Niebuhr. However, Niebuhr is wrong about God's Kingdom being impossible on earth at this time.

God's Kingdom is possible! True believers experience the love and beauty of the Christmas season every moment of the day throughout the year (Galatians 2:20). True believers do not seek to gain for themselves, because what they have inwardly far exceeds what they could ever want outwardly (Ephesians 1:3). They have Christ who is so much more than what is inside the big box bargain (Philippines 1:21).

[1] Shopping Holiday Nightmares of 2012, The Huffington Post, November 26, 2012
[2] Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic, Reinhold Niebuhr, pp. 79-80
[3] Two Social Ethicists and the National Landscape, New York Times, P. Steinfels, Interview with Gary Dorrien, 2007. (Paraphrased)

Image Credit: Laurie; "Walmart on Black Friday"; Creative Commons

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Published 12-4-12