I started this blog sometime last century because I wanted to write about the dangers of consumerism and the woeful response of the church. The goal was to think about ‘ways we could live well as Christians in a consumer age’. Somewhere along the way, that focus has been diluted as I’ve thought about ‘ways we could live well in a social media age’ or ‘ways we could live well in a sexually confused age’ and so on.
But despite all that, I remain convinced that consumerism is an enemy of the Christian faith and one that we have not sufficiently tackled. Consumerism creates problems because it is a system that creates waste, creates debt, creates discontentment. It is the air we breathe and like the smog in Delhi, is killing us.
We have anxiety consumerism even though we know the insecure and lonely buy more things. Our ability to buy more stuff has not helped us create spaces we feel at home in.
Last year, in a Christmas Eve sermon, the Pope said, We “must not lose our footing or slide into worldliness and consumerism”. but frankly, it’s a bit late for that.
The global-manufacturing apparatus now has the capacity to churn out near-endless stuff. The industry’s output has ballooned 75 percent since 2007 to $35 trillion, according to one analysis, and millions of livelihoods depend on its continued growth.https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2019/05/too-many-options/590185/
A consumer society relies on marketing discontent that can be solved with the swipe (or presence) of your credit card. It sells promises of a good life that does not exist (or only exists for a very few). It requires people to build their identities on things that perish, spoil and fade. It is an alternative gospel and one which Christians have believed as readily as anyone else. Materialism ruins us in multiple ways.
The greatest sign of our capitulation to the spirit of the age, of our defeat by the gods of this world, is Christmas. The single biggest consumeristic orgy mankind has ever known.
The worst offenders are the richest.
In 2017, Americans spent $240 billion—twice as much as they’d spent in 2002—on goods like jewelry, watches, books, luggage, and telephones and related communication equipment, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, which adjusted those numbers for inflation. Over that time, the population grew just 13 percent. Spending on personal care products also doubled over that time period. Americans spent, on average, $971.87 on clothes last year, buying nearly 66 garments, according to the American Apparel and Footwear Association. That’s 20 percent more money than they spent in 2000. The average American bought 7.4 pairs of shoes last year, up from 6.6 pairs in 2000.https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/08/online-shopping-and-accumulation-of-junk/567985/
The most effective opponents to consumerism have come from the environmental lobby but they are fighting licence with legalism for the hearts of men and women. They are unlikely to succeed until a crisis is not just promised but actually arrived for those who do the biggest spending. Ranged against them is the world economy, which as far as vested interests go, is a pretty big one. Greta can afford the trains but there are plenty of people who want the freedom of their flights.
So if you want to reduce the environmental impact of your consumption, the best way to do that is to not manufacture more stuff. In that sense, the best thing you can do is not buy more stuff.https://www.npr.org/2019/12/04/784702588/the-best-thing-you-can-do-is-not-buy-more-stuff-says-secondhand-expert?
Yet as Kathy Keller points out materialism Is easy to decry and hard to avoid. It’s not easy to tell if you’re being greedy. We know the answer: Stop buying so much stuff. You’ll feel better if you do.
My guess is that this article won’t change anything for anyone. Christmas is in too full swing but I’d urge you to consider how this Christmas celebration matches the values you want to stand for. Here are some things that can be considered:
- You could lead the revival of the Society for the Prevention of Useless Giving
- Give better & fewer gifts to fewer people. Give more thoughtfully, give more creatively, give more selectively. If we do the quality of the gifts goes up, the usefulness of the gift goes up and the lifetime of the gift goes up. Usually, the joy of getting such a gift is also increased. because it is genuinely wanted and needed.
- Follow the four steps of the good people at Advent Conspiracy
- Worship Fully
- Spend Less
- Give More
- Love All
- Plan to decrease your spending and increase your giving in the coming year. Everyone wins, especially you.