My Girlfriend Wants a Real Diamond Ring. Can It Be Lab-Grown Instead?

My girlfriend and I have been dating for over two years, and I’m seriously considering proposing to her. In researching different types of engagement rings, I’ve begun to see, no pun intended, clear-cut differences between lab-grown and natural diamonds. While natural diamonds fall under a classic aesthetic, lab-grown diamonds are better for the environment and a better value (I could afford a larger carat) and don’t perpetuate the cruel abuses that take place during their mining.

For these reasons, I’m leaning heavily toward a lab-grown diamond. But I know that my girlfriend is only interested in a large natural diamond and would be extremely angry if given a lab diamond. I’ve considered telling her it’s a natural diamond, as the only way of being exposed is by a jeweler with an expensive loupe — or when she gets the ring appraised for insurance, which is, admittedly, a large risk. What should I do? — Name Withheld

From the Ethicist:

First, let’s acknowledge that there is disagreement about the environmental virtues of lab-grown diamonds; they’re often made in China, using electricity that comes mainly from coal. And you can source natural diamonds from places that regulate working conditions. Even if your assumptions were correct, though, the worldly consequences of your individual purchase, by itself, would not be significant. What is significant is your willingness to consecrate your union with a lie.

The giver of a ring should be concerned, foremost, with what the ring means to the recipient. You’re free to tell your girlfriend that you’re unwilling to buy a natural diamond. But the deception you’re contemplating would be deeply disrespectful of her and her desires — and a wildly inauspicious step toward marriage. That ring is a promise, and you would be establishing that you can’t be trusted to keep one.

For 40 years I’ve worked as a purser for one of the world’s largest airlines. Nothing in my career has troubled me as much as the recent requirement to push the company credit card on passengers. On every flight, we are made to read frequent announcements and walk through the cabin shilling the applications. I feel that Americans are already up to their eyeballs in debt and pushing more debt onto them is usurious and unethical. Don’t many of the world’s religions forbid acting in a way to enslave your fellow man with debt? I’ve stopped making the tedious announcements but imagine the day will come when I’m called in by management to explain my failure to provide this ‘‘service.’’ Any thoughts? — Name Withheld

From the Ethicist:

Certain religious traditions do object to lending at interest, which was the original meaning of usury. Shariah-compliant banks, which don’t charge interest, can instead charge fees, take an ownership stake in a property, enter into leasing arrangements with loan recipients and so on. But most people, it seems, aren’t bothered by credit as such; they know that money lending is a business, which depends on charging more than the amount necessary to cover inflation, operating costs and credit risk (which is especially high with unsecured loans). What bothers them are lenders who exploit the needy and unwary through excessive charges.

Credit cards can indeed be very costly for borrowers — and, in turn, very profitable for lenders. The real reason major airlines are pushing credit cards, after all, is that payments from the banks with which they partner have become among their biggest sources of revenue.

Are these promotions intrinsically problematic? The airline cards have annual fees and interest rates — roughly between 20 and nearly 30 percent, based on credit scores — that are within the usual range. This usual range is, of course, high: A slender majority of cardholders don’t carry a balance from month to month, but those interest rates can certainly be crippling to those who do. So there’s a basis for your unease. Experts say that most customers would probably do better with a 2 percent cash-rebate card than with a mileage-awarding one, especially given that airlines can decide to reduce the value of those ‘‘miles.’’ At the same time, your average passenger is neither poor nor unfamiliar with credit. And for some customers — those who travel regularly with a particular airline, use their card a lot and pay their card off monthly — perks like early boarding or free baggage checking might make it worth it. Given that these cards aren’t much worse than the typical card for their users, you could fairly conclude that pushing them is tacky but not really wicked.

The previous column’s question was from a reader with terminal cancer who is uncomfortable with her religious sister’s decision to pray the illness away. She wrote: “My sister, whom I love very much, is part of a fundamentalist Christian church and is one of their top ‘prayer warriors.’ … She implores me to pray with her and says that if I just believe that God will cure me, he will. … I’ve told her as tactfully as I can that her praying for me and expecting me to pray with her for my cure is upsetting to me. What do I say to my sister without belittling her beliefs?”

In his response, the Ethicist noted: “Even the staunchest of believers struggle with doubt, and your prayer-warrior sister may also be having a hard time accepting your mortality. The idea that she can’t do anything about it may pain her. Whatever the explanation, though, you may have to tell her that if she calls to pray with you, you are just going to put the phone down. Your situation is already difficult. Your sister’s convictions — and her love for you — don’t entitle her to make it worse.” (Reread the full question and answer here.)

The Ethicist was right on! Rather than put the phone down, I would lovingly tell my sister that my beliefs and hers clash, especially about the prayers over the phone. I would ask her to pray privately at home or her place of worship, alone or with others, but not to my ears. This is my request that I would like her to honor! Call only to talk with me, but take the prayers from her to God on her own. — Barbara

As a pastor, I would tell the evangelical sister to leave her sister alone. We don’t know why God answers some prayers and not others. That’s why we have faith. We get glimmers of the fullness of life to come, but we were never meant to achieve that fullness completely here. That is what eternal life is for. For which we have hope. The best way to love her sister is to put her faith and hope in God’s hands. Rev. Nancy

I disagree with one of the Ethicist’s observations in this piece. Someone acting “out of love” would not act as the religious-fanatic sister does. Richard

As a person with an incurable neurological condition, I tell everyone this simple statement has gotten me through the worst parts of my disability: “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” I think this is the kind of prayer the sister wants her sister with cancer to understand. She isn’t praying to cure her sister; she’s praying to give her a little bit of strength. And faith carries a lot of strength. Alyson

I am an atheist who was raised Catholic. Some years ago, I was suffering from heart failure and was not expected to live. My partner notified the hospital that I did not want a visit by clergy. However, my sister, who lives out of town, called on a priest to perform last rites. I was far too weak to protest. I have since recovered fully, and she now claims the priest’s ministrations began a miracle that cured me. I know that some smart medical choices made by my cardiology team brought me back from the brink, but my sister thinks I’m now indebted to her and her deity. I find her actions to be a form of assault, and her taking credit for my relatively good health since to be an ongoing insult, and I have told her (and others) as much. Unfortunately, she still doesn’t understand what she did was wrong. Cliff

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