Every Christmas, we have to think about the kind of goods we buy. Not much after Christmas is the outcry over textile industry and all of its unsafe practices in the third-world. I have friends in the textile industry. Some of them are very good Christians who try their best to make sure their business practices are just.
I’ve also been writing articles on Revelation for the HK Christian daily, Christian Times. It seems that we’ve made Satan so irrelevant that we no longer see him and his work in our everyday life. But he does work in mighty and disturbing ways through the imperial system established by powerful people. In Rev. 12-13, Satan’s work was manifested through the two beasts. Some traditional churches try to see these beasts in the EU or some other entity. As Scripture functions like analogy, I prefer to see these beasts as systems represented first of all by Roman power, now manifest in every part of history. The moral is not to identify ONE particular power as the anti-Christ (e.g. Obama comes to mind for the conservative Christian). The moral is to identify all such satanic powers and expose them. The wisdom behind John’s vision surface in the climax of his vision at Rev. 13.18, the economy hegemony of such a power that affects buying and selling.
Back to Christmas shopping. Our household has been trying to take advantage of the sales so that we won’t have to spend so much the rest of the year. Discussion comes around on jeans. We’ve discovered that more expensive fabrics are probably manufactured in more humane ways. The problem is, we also want to save money. So, instead of getting a cheap pair of Calvin Klein, maybe I need to get a pair of Diesel or True Religion. The poor would end up buying cheaper products made without humane treatment of other poor workers in different countries. The problem of poverty doesn’t just plague the poor. It plagues the middle class like us also. The only people who aren’t plagued by such a problem are the truly rich folks who control the trade of these products.
When reading the Bible and especially Revelation, the wisdom of the book doesn’t lie in the superficial reading of a verse here and there. The wisdom comes in the broad narrative that exposes the satanic forces hurting the entire humanity. The force doesn’t have a singular figure. Rather, it has a system with real people sitting up top. Everyone else is a victim of the system. Many middle class Christians may not agree with me because they too can afford to fork out for a pair of True Religion. To them, I would ask, “Have you ever ridden in a Rolls Royce where you don’t have to worry about how much to spend on a pair of jeans or on your kid’s college tuition because you make multiple millions of USD a year?” Will you ever, through honest hard work, get to sit in that Rolls Royce and have that kind of money? Most of us will answer with a definitive “No”. The satanic system has its elite. It will continue to eat up the rest of humanity. In many places, it already is. In HK where I teach, the city is owned by four major real estate corporations. When one of the local Catholic fathers called out this fact in colorful language, even the Catholic church had to apologize to one of the corporate bosses Li Kar Sing, in fear of reprisal. In Tibet, Chinese real estate moguls bought up most of the land in its capital Lhasa and renting to Tibetans with outrageous prices. These are just the more blatant ones.
As Christians and as leaders of the church, we may find ourselves feeling helpless. It is difficult to fight the system but we should at least be aware that Satan exists in such systems. We need to call out the evil and think about what to do. The status quo was never an option in the Bible. Neither is it an option now.
PS. Some of the stores such as H & M, Tommy Hilfiger, or Marks and Spencer use Better Cotton Initiative products or fair trade cotton products. These stores probably deserve our support more than other stores. Of course, this is only a small part of the big puzzle.