Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Books and Missions

It's textbook-buying season again. I buy almost all of my books at half.com. This can be tricky if you have professors who are sticklers about having specific editions, but this time around I managed to get all the books from my seminar for about $40, which is a really good deal.

The books have started to arrive. Yesterday, I opened one looking for an invoice, and a little card fell out. This card thanked me for purchasing my book, because the funds from the purchase were going to support their missionary work in impoverished nations.

Of course, I was a little upset about this. I just wanted to buy the cheapest book available, not support religious mission work abroad! For one thing, I think I would have serious qualms about missionary work even if I was religious. People in impoverished countries need a combination of financial and technological help, and secular education that will teach them to use and develop technology, so that they will one day be able to help themselves. While some mission organizations do claim to be helping financially or medically, I don't think humanitarian aid should come packaged with religion. It's one thing to try to help people in a famine-ridden country develop new methods of agriculture; it's another to impose on their pre-existing beliefs and try to change them. (Of course, there are some people who claim that "American" interference with medical and industrial technology is just as harmful as attempts at conversion, but I think there's a difference between trying to alter someone's spiritual beliefs, or lack thereof, and trying to keep people from starving or dying of AIDS).

At first, I was annoyed with myself. I wondered if I should have checked up on the seller. All I did was look to see if they had a decent rating, because they had the lowest price on the book I needed. It never occurred to me before to look further and see where the money was going; I didn't think I had to. So today, I went and checked out this particular user's profile. It doesn't say anything about the couple doing the selling being religious, or using the proceeds of their book sales to fund missionary work. Ultimately, I had no way of knowing until the book arrived.

When buying from just about anyone, you don't really have control over where their money goes. Still, I would have liked to know in this case, because I would have bought a more expensive book than contribute funds to something that offended me on a very personal level. But I had no control over that, and I have to accept that.

Ultimately, I'm still deciding what to do about feedback. They're some of the fastest shippers I've ever worked with on Ebay/Half. They were very honest about the book's condition. I feel my feedback should reflect them as sellers, not as religious people. They are great sellers. Still, I don't like that I unwittingly gave money to missionary work. I think ultimately, I'll focus on their selling strong points.