Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Are Americans and Western Christians Consumeristic Swine?

Western Christianity has had its fair share of criticism. We're too this and not enough of that. There's always room for constructive criticism, but no matter how hard Christians try, they will always be criticized on this earth. But one of the books I'm reading for my Doctorate with George Fox University takes an interesting look at this issue in the United States among the culture as a whole.
Nation of Rebels: Why Counterculture Became Consumer Culture is a book about this issue. It deals with consumerism as it is related to American values and whether or not we've all been duped by the man and turned into a mindless group of buyers. We consume and consume because we are a me-centered culture. Brian Regan has a great parody on this called, "The Me Monster." Beware, it is hilarious:

"Unlike religion, which promised paradise after death, advertising promised paradise right around the next corner: through purchase of a new car, a suburban home or a labor saving appliance. Consumer goods had become the new opiate of the people-real life 'soma.' To Marxists, it seemed that advertising was not just promotion for specific goods, it was propaganda for the capitalist system. It created what came to be known as 'consumerism.' (p. 27)
Consumerism is how millions of American have found happiness, although only temporarily. Not feeling good? Treat yourself to some new clothes or a new gadget. Certainly you will feel better.
So the countercultural movement has come on strong to oppose these so-called 'values.' You see them in movies like, Fight Club and American Beauty (wouldn't watch that and don't recommend it), The WTO (World Trade Organization) protests, The Green Movement, etc., books such as Fast Food Nation, No Logo, and Culture Jam. These are all examples of countercultural rebellion.
But does this do any good to combat consumerism? The authors don't think so. In fact, they say, "What if countercultural rebellion, rather that being a consequence of intensified consumerism, were actually a contributing factor? Wouldn't that be ironic?" (p. 99)
The best example of this in the book is the "organic food" movement. Instead of it being a countercultural rebellion to 'go green' and support local farmers, it's become a place only affordable to the cultural elite. Have you seen how expensive it is to shop at Whole Foods?!! So the cultural divide between the rich and poor is even wider from these kinds of movements. The only way to fight consumerism is to spend less money - period.
We're stuck in consumerism and no matter how hard we try, there's nothing we can do about it. Or is there?
From a Christian perspective, reading this book forced me to ask questions about myself. What do I spend my money on and why? Am I a part of the problem? Is there something different I can do with my spending that really does help the poor and honors the words of Jesus? What about you? Have you found ways to live more Biblically as it relates to consumerism?
Tom Davis


  1. I think we need to define "consumerism." Our economy depends upon the production and consumption of goods and services. If no one buys anything, we're into the Great Depression. Not good for anyone. I agree that we must be cautious of greed, but I don't want the farmer down the road or the mill across town to go out of production. Many have adopted the 100 mile diet as a way to "save" the earth, but what does that do for agriculture in underdeveloped countries? If we don't buy coffee or cocoa, what happens to the coffee picker in Columbia? I don't see hording as an answer to the world's ills.

  2. Tom, fascinating post! LOL at 'The Me Monster' clip :)

    I agree with Alice, that our local economy and the world economy needs consumers to buy a certain level of goods and services.

    We're bombarded with advertising that tells us we 'need' to buy all this stuff, that it's almost essential to our survival and well being to own all these things. Our challenge is to think about why we're buying something - do we really need it, or is going to collect dust in our closet? Is it really a good deal if we're not likely to use it? If the old version of a product still works, do we have to upgrade to the latest version? Also, can we really afford to buy it? It can be too easy to hand over the plastic card and worry about how to pay for it later.

    Thanks for challenging us to think about how we spend our money.

  3. Thought provoking post, Tom. Going along with the crowd isn't necessarily good for us. I live a simple life and only go shopping when I need an item. The hype in shopping centres is can be overwhelming for me. I buy my food at the local market and only go to a shopping centre once every three or four months. I prefer to spend my time in other ways than being at the shops. Thanks for the reminder of why we spend our money.