Commentary: Materialism Run Amok

Wal-Mart customers in Valley Stream, NY wait outside the store, moments before trampling a Wal-Mart employee to death.

I wanted to say a few words about what happened at a Wal-Mart in Valley Stream, NY this morning. A crowd of 200 people waiting outside of Wal-Mart for Black Friday bargains, broke the doors down and trampled a 34-year-old male employee to death in their rush to get first shot at cheap consumer goods.

A short explanation to readers outside the US: The Friday after Thanksgiving is traditionally the biggest shopping day of the year, as people flock to stores and shopping malls to buy Christmas presents. This day has been called Black Friday, a term which dates back to the mid-1960’s when Philadelphia police officers looked upon the day and it’s attendant traffic jams and problems with dread. More recently, the term came to be linked with the day in the year that retailers began to make money (black ink vs. red ink).

Retailers have taken advantage of the day by offering special sales with deep discounts (sometimes offering limited quantities) and opening their doors very early in the morning. This has had the effect of creating long lines. Every year, newspapers carry stories about stampeding customers shoving, punching, and knocking down other customers in their rush to get to the sale items.

This morning’s death should be a wake up call. Enough is enough. This situation was created by society’s demand that people need to spend exorbitant amounts of money on Christmas gifts, whether they can afford it or not (just charge it on the credit card). This demand is fueled by advertisers who have turned people into murderous automatons.

I think it’s fair to say that you don’t see people in wealthy neighborhoods queuing up in front of the local department store and killing people in their frenzy to save a few dollars on crappy consumer goods. Gift-giving is wonderful, but if you have limited funds, you can probably get a couple of good books for your kids at a local used bookstore for under $10. Your kids aren’t going to love you more because you bought them the latest toy or video game unit. They’ll love you if you’re a good parent.

If you teach your kids that there’s no shame in not being wealthy and teach them to live within their means, you’ll be doing them a bigger favor than if you waited on some long line to save a few dollars for gifts that you can’t afford.

The only way to be truly free is to reject the message created by corporations and spread by advertising and popular culture that Christmas is about spending money on lavish gifts. Jesus said,“Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke 12:15). How can anyone profess to honor Jesus by rejecting his teachings? It’s as ludicrous as honoring pacifism by murdering people.

How must it feel to hand over the latest Nintendo game to your kid, knowing that you trampled someone to death in order to get it? How can anyone do this and call himself human?

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