For the past four months, BreakPoint and its listeners have benefited from a partnership with, which boasts of being "your online source for books, CDs, DVDs, and a whole lot more." Well, that "whole lot more" turned out to be morally offensive—and has made it impossible for BreakPoint to continue its partnership with But the story illustrates well some of the challenges we face in an age of e-commerce. Our partnership with was a great service to listeners, allowing visitors to the BreakPointweb site to purchase books that were recommended in the broadcasts. One book I recommended last summer, called How To Stay Christian In College by J. Budziszewski, even made's best seller list, largely thanks to BreakPoint listeners. So you can imagine our dismay when we discovered that, in addition to selling such wonderful books, also sells titles like Varieties of Man/Boy Love, a book promoting pedophilia. has sold an astonishing 114,000 copies of this revolting tome. Even worse, it has sold a total of half a million books on the subject of pedophilia—which, remember, is a crime in all fifty states. We contacted, and told them that their carrying this kind of material made it impossible for us to continue our partnership. Their response was, in effect, we're sorry you feel that way, but is committed to serving all of our customers. Now, Amazon's decision was no doubt influenced by the money to be made from catering to a market that buys half a million books. But more than profits are going on here. is a perfect illustration of a cultural attitude that can arise in a free market economy: If there's a market, why not sell to it.'s decision teaches us two important lessons. First, it illustrates how important moral restraints are to capitalism. Capitalism is the freest and best economic system known, but without respect for moral truth, it can quickly degenerate into a system of pure avarice. In today's relativistic environment, these moral restraints are being weakened—and thus capitalism, as in this case, becomes exploitative. The second lesson is a warning of what can happen thanks to the way e-commerce is insulated from the consumer. Consider: Just a few years ago, Barnes and Noble carried a book called The Age of Innocence, depicting young children in sexually suggestive poses. Many of these stores immediately became the objects of vocal protests. People disrupted business by entering the bookstores, buying a copy of the book, and tearing it up in front of other customers. They wanted customers to know what kind of trash the bookstore was carrying, and hoped to shame Barnes and Noble into declining to carry it. But on-line bookstores like don't have to worry about outraged customers. No flesh and blood customers ever come in through its doors, and it can quietly sell whatever garbage it chooses. It's hard to imagine a clearer example of the challenges posed by the Information Age. Computers have brought an enormous increase in convenience and access to information—but these tools can be put in the service of either vice or virtue. The principle of stewardship of our resources means we should learn everything we can about the practices of retailers we patronize, whether on-line or off, and avoid buying from those who work against our values. Lots of stores can sell us "books and compact discs." It's that "whole lot more" we have to worry about.


Chuck Colson



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