Consumerism: Want in the Midst of Plenty - Part II
The American Journal of Sociology states that "since 1969 the time American parents spend with their children has declined by 22 hours per week"! We talk of family values but we evidently do not value family. We value material and career success - we are enslaved to consumerism!
Reflecting upon the post-Christian landscape of the late 20th century, Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer observed that after the "death of God" and the resulting loss of absolute truth and moral values, modern society would be left with only the two terrible "values" of "personal peace and personal prosperity." Schaeffer went on to say that once these values became accepted; Americans would sacrifice everything to protect their personal peace and affluence including their children and their grandchildren. Again it is the "lifestyle" that is desperately sought and must be preserved at all costs and everything revolves around this aim.
Furthermore, consumerism shifts the object of human life from cultivating virtue and character, knowing truth and being content to this artificially constructed and idealized "lifestyle" that is continually reinforced through media, entertainment, and advertising. Again, "things" take priority over persons and "having" supersedes being and in so doing we become a superficial culture filled with distractions that inhibit introspective thought and meaningful relationships.
In commenting on the lack of introspection by men, Blaise Pascal, the 17th century mathematician and Christian apologist wrote: "All they [unbelieving men] know is that when [they] leave this world [they] shall fall forever into oblivion, or into the hands of an angry God, without knowing which of the two will be [their] lot for eternity. The only conclusion [they] can draw from all this is that [they] must pass [their] days without a thought of trying to find out what is going to happen. The only good thing for [such men], therefore, is to be diverted so that [they] will stop thinking about [their] circumstances."
Indeed, we live in a world ripe with distraction especially when one considers that the average American is bombarded with an average of 3,000 product ads per day. According to Barry Schwartz, a psychologist at Swarthmore College and author of The Paradox of Choice, "American life is flooded with too many choices. The result is a society of stressed out and unsatisfied customers." Of course this dissatisfaction is rooted in the misguided pursuit of "things."
Dr. David G. Myers reported in American Psychologist that "Compared with their grandparents, today's young adults have grown up with much more affluence, slightly less happiness and much greater risk of depression and assorted social pathology. ...Our becoming much better off over the last four decades has not been accompanied by one iota of increased subjective well-being."
Consumerism creates and encourages human desire for temporal goods and for the sense of well-being that the acquisition and possession of those goods can provide. We are conditioned never to be satisfied with sufficiency but to "be all that we can be" through the endless development of talent and productivity. Thus, we cannot rest with the good but always want more. Perhaps the strongest expression of this within the Church is the idea that to be content is to "settle for less" which we condemn as lazy, defeatist, and even irresponsible. Some will vigorously defend their devotion to success as "doing all things to the glory of God" or in the name of God-honoring excellence.
There is no question that Christianity teaches personal responsibility and the idea of doing our very best in everything that we do, however, this does not exclude our responsibilities as husbands, wives and parents either. Nor does this preclude our responsibilities as "prophets, priests and kings." Interestingly, those who argue this line of thinking seem to always limit their efforts for excellence to the marketplace.
The consumerist tells himself that if he just works harder he will able to make time for family, leisure and himself later. The religious consumerist is convinced that by working harder he will be able to "make time for God" but fears that any "slacking off" of his manic pace is a failure to "use God's gifts." In an essay on Christian asceticism, Timothy Vaverek, a Catholic priest writes that, "love of God has come to mean giving thanks for His gifts by maximizing productive 'self-actualization' while love of neighbor has come to mean providing them with consumer goods." Contrary to the consumerist adage that says he needs to "be all that he can be" he simply needs to be what God wants him to be.
The result is nation of people overwhelmed by the tyranny of the urgent watching in disbelief as one week goes into the next then one month, then two, then three until years have passed and that promised lifestyle still eludes them. In the end they are left with the realization that their life amounts to nothing more than work; they have drifted apart in their relationships; their children are grown and gone, and they have waited for that elusive goal of "everything accomplished" so they could start "enjoying life" only to realize that life has passed them by.
In living this way we are living less than we were designed to and our focus is in all the wrong areas. For the Christian consumerist their lives are little different from the world and this lack of "counter-cultural" living validates the unbelieving world's rejection of the Gospel. Unbelievers observe that, "Christians don't live any different than I do so how can this Jesus be real if He doesn't make any difference in their lives?"
As Christians we are to resist worldliness and completely reorient our goals, priorities, and thinking. Christians are expected to humanize society by bringing love and hope to a fallen world. They should not be participating in the very dehumanization that results from and is fostered by consumerist thinking and living.
To be continued...
Copyright 2005, National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families. All rights reserved.
S. Michael Craven is the vice president for religion & culture at the National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families and leads the work and ministry of Cultural Apologetics. The Cultural Apologetics ministry works to equip the Church to assert and defend biblical morality and ethics in a manner that is rational, relevant and persuasive in order to recapture the relevance of Christianity to all of life by demonstrating its complete correspondence to reality. For more information on Cultural Apologetics, additional resources and other works by S. Michael Craven visit: www.CulturalApologetics.org
Michael lives in the Dallas area with his wife Carol and their three children.
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