Fair Trade Los Angeles is an example of how individuals, grounded in their beliefs rather than an ideology, can come together and move toward a good. Coming from various faith traditions, or lack thereof, the organization began with five individuals who were concerned for both the poor and the environment. According to Joan Harper, one of the original founders, the beginnings of the organization was spearheaded by three Catholics, an atheist and a Jew. Though each individual was grounded in their own set of beliefs, these served to move each of them together to create an organization which aimed to empower both ecologically sensitive producers and consumers. Examiner readers looking for an example of how individuals using their beliefs and simple common sense can work toward an economically and ecologically sustainable culture may want to give Fair Trade LA a look.
According to its website, the organization was formed in 2005. It’s described as “an open, democratically-organized group of people who share a common goal to promote social justice and environmental awareness around the world.” The organization’s objectives are:
*To inform the Los Angeles consumer about Fair Trade as an aspect of social justice;
*To bring more Fair Trade products to the Los Angeles area and increase sales of those items;
*To connect members of the L.A. community with others who have similar environmental, social, political and economic concerns.
*To educate young students about fairness in our trade dealings with other countries and engage them in promoting fair trade.
In addition to its great work, the beginnings of the organization serves as an example of how individuals, holding various ‘belief-systems’, can work together while not compromising their beliefs. Often when a belief-system is reduced to an ideology, such a reduction blinds individuals to the truth. The replacement of belief-systems with an ideology often impedes us from seeing how the world actually is, hardens our hearts to the sufferings and needs of others, and isolates us from working with others who may have a different world view. Working from an ideology tends to limit our ability to respond to challenges, and hampers the possibility of finding new solutions. They tend to prevent us from intellectually, spiritually and emotionally developing as human beings. Using religious language, an ideology is a type of idol. As such it prevents us from recognizing our creature-ness, specifically our humanity, hardens our heart while simultaneously isolating us from the rest of Creation.
Today’s popular ideologies, Creationism (instead of Biblical Theology), Darwinism (instead of Evolutionary Biology), Conservatism (instead of fiscal responsibility) and Progressivism (instead of open-mindedness), serve to demonstrate how belief-systems are prone to ideological formulation--to a belief becoming an idol. Even people of faith are not immune from such formulations. We only have to recall how at times `the belief in God’, instead of God himself becomes the object of devotion. To this idol-making tendency, the Hebrew Scriptures admonish us not to create idols, while the Christian Scriptures warn us to be leery of the disingenuous practice of faith due to a belief. In I John 4:20-21, we read that the love for God, who we do not see, lacks authenticity if we fail to love our neighbor who we do see. And again, that before we come to God at the altar, we need to first be reconciled with our neighbor (Matthew 5:23-24).
No belief-system is worthy of the name if it detracts us from our humanity or if it keeps us from compassion. From a Catholic perspective, genuine faith does not detract us from living up to being Imago Dei (in God’s image and likeness) or from seeking communities in which we can feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit the prisoner (Mathew 25:31-45).
Social justice work is difficult, but it can serve as a good place to test our beliefs, and to see if we have not reduced them to idols. However, even here we still need to be leery of The Cause, even one concerning justice, taking precedence over our responsibility and privilege to serve others. Participating in the work of Fair Trade LA serves as a good place to begin examining, testing and growing in our beliefs.
Fair Trade LA invites members of the LA community to come, see, and join in their work.
Their next meeting is:
When: Monday, July 6, 2009 7pm-9pm
Where: USC Catholic Center, 3207 University Ave., LA (parking corner of 32nd St. and Hoover).