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In her new book on consumption, Laura Hartman opens with a panicky scene: Hartman standing frozen in front of fresh vegetables—overwhelmed with the choices and moral dilemmas (e.g., "Where, how, and by whom was this made?" "Is it right to spend so much more for organic?" "Do I really need this at all?") presented in each of them.

It's a scene that she suggests is common for those of us who care about "consumption ethics." In fact, Hartman says she wrote The Christian Consumer: Living Faithfully in a Fragile World because of scenes like that one—because we live in a time and place where the consumption choices are "mind-boggling" yet "morally important."

Hartman, who is a religion professor at Augustana College (Illinois), found that most existing literature on consumerism focuses on what is wrong with consumption rather than illuminating what good consumption can look like. Author Caryn Rivadeneira spoke with Hartman on why she offers a vision of consumption ethics.

You suggest that a good view of Christian consumption needs four distinctives: avoid sin, embrace creation, love the neighbor, and envision the future. How do you suggest we keep these considerations from being more noises in our heads?

Ultimately these four categories are habits of thought, which can lead to habits of action. I want to encourage people to spend time discerning their consumption habits more broadly and measure those habits against these four categories.

These are sort of long-term decisions and I think that they are best made in times of reflection rather than in times of decision-making or quick choices. Once we are accustomed to thinking in those ways, then it'll come naturally. We won't have to dance back and forth inside the grocery ...

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The Christian Consumer: Living Faithfully in a Fragile World
Oxford University Press
2011-11-29
272 pp., $33.95
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