Either preach or sell stuff. Pick one.

When our website first went live, I put a link to it up on the Soapbox at thesabre.com (a cool place, by the way, to discuss politics with a lot of really bright folks, whose politics are all over the map), and asked for comments.  I got a lot of helpful feedback.  I also got the comment that I used to title this post.

My response was that if forced to choose between preaching and selling stuff, I’d choose preaching any day.  But the comment still puzzled me, because I didn’t consider anything on our site to be “preaching.”  Any comments that might qualify as “preaching” were all directly related to the characteristics of the things being sold.  We grow and sell natural, organic food.  We sell our food locally and we farm sustainably.  So naturally our website promotes buying local, organic foods, sustainably produced.  If that qualifies as “preaching,” so be it.

But the reason I haven’t been able to shake this comment from my mind, is that I’m confident that while the person who made it considers the stuff on our site to be “preaching,” he wouldn’t consider the Madison Avenue tactics that manipulate consumer behavior in this country to be “preaching.”  Yet, if an advertiser tries to persuade a consumer that he will be more attractive to women if he drinks a particular brand of beer, is that preaching?  If a corporation runs ads suggesting that “Yogurt Poptarts” are a healthy breakfast food, is that a form of preaching?  If an industrial agribusiness polluter is able to deceive folks, through advertising, into believing that its products come from small organic farms, is that preaching?  My guess is that few people would consider those things to be “preaching.”  Rather, those things are mere advertising.   Those advertisers chose to “sell stuff”, rather than to “preach.”  Put differently, they, and the consumer, are careful to dissociate any moral or ethical questions from the buying decision. 

Because of this division of “preaching” and “selling stuff,” consumers rarely stop to consider the moral or ethical implications of their purchases.   Thus a soft drink company can put tap water into plastic bottles and pass it off as somehow cleaner and safer than other tap water.  The consumer need not know that the billions of dollars spent on bottled tap water increases the non-biodegradeable waste in landfills, and increases our dependency on foreign oil.  The consumer never realizes that he or she makes a moral and ethical decision when buying the water.  Because the producer is only “selling stuff.”  It is not “preaching.”

Maybe we should all insist that some “preaching” accompany “selling stuff.”  Because when we buy things, we’re often also buying into  things.  And I think if we stopped to consider what we’re buying into, we might often choose not to buy at all.

Grace and Peace.