Michael Craven Christian Blog and Commentary

Consumerism: Want in the Midst of Plenty (Conclusion)

It is possibly this uniquely American phenomenon that may be contributing to so much resentment around the world. We used to export missionaries in unparalleled number and fortunately still do to a large extent but more and more we are exporting consumerist ideology; an ideology that is ultimately at odds with Christianity. My missionary friends tell me that this paradox of American ideological export only adds to their challenges. With "globalization" American corporations now see the world only in terms of markets and consumers. More and more we are telling impoverished peoples in third world countries that they too can have a better life through the acquisition of the right soft drinks, clothing and sneakers. This is powerfully reinforced through the export of Hollywood films which, according to Michael Medved, now receive more than 70 percent of their revenue from countries outside the U.S. This coupled with the sexualized messages common to Hollywood doesn't make for the best representation of American ideals. We have already demonstrated our willingness to separate trade policy from human rights policy in order to gain potential market opportunities as in the case of China. This is why more and more nations consider us so hypocritical - we think we're "good" and everyone should have what we have however, when we turn a blind eye to human suffering and oppression because we are more concerned about economic benefits; we surrender the moral high ground. Again, "things" rise above people and compassion is subverted by profit. If Christians want the world to take seriously the claims of Christ then we must work to advance policies, both foreign and domestic, that prioritize people and moral good over economic desires. This applies to both governmental policies and the personal and corporate practices of the Church. I hasten to add that I do not write as one who is above and therefore immune to the pull of consumerism. Quite the contrary, as a former corporate CEO I confess that I was once very much in the grip of consumerist thinking. I bought into this seduction even to the point of treating my relationship with Christ as a mere "component" of my life. I too, was diligent in my "Christian walk" however I confess that my expectation was, that Christ would "come alongside my life plans and my objectives and 'bless' them." In essence, I was seeking divine blessing of my consumerist lifestyle. Christ did not come to be a "component" of our lives but the all-encompassing purpose and Lord of our lives. I had to subordinate my life, my goals, and my plans to His Lordship and be willing to accept His will no matter what may come. I am not naïve regarding the enormous challenges associated with breaking out of the grip of consumerism; it has taken time along with numerous practical and often difficult steps to simplify my life. I had to discover that my satisfaction and being was entirely in Him. Practically, this involved downsizing homes and cars, generally reducing all expenses, eliminating consumer debt, credit cards, ridding my home of cable television (a major distraction from meaningful things), and carefully guarding mine and my family's time. The bottom line is that we must be willing to embrace a form of Christian asceticism. Before you panic, I am not speaking in the same degree as a 12th century monk but rather the pursuit of simplicity in all things. This includes how and on what we spend our money, our time, and our energy. We must reorient our priorities toward growing in the knowledge of and devotion to God; being content with financial sufficiency and no longer always yearning for more and borrowing to buy what we have not earned; devoting ourselves to our spouses; the nurture and training of our children; abandoning a sense of self that is rooted in the thoughts of others and instead finding our "self" in the imitation of Christ and His character. The Christian life compels us to respond to God's love by imitating the self-emptying love of Christ daily. Through self-denial the Christian turns away from the nonessential desires of his will and his flesh, being content with God's will for his life. Through prayer he seeks deeper communion with God and the grace to persevere in the narrow path of self-sacrificial love. Through works of mercy and charity the Christian not only shares material goods with others, he pours himself out on their behalf. It is only when we, Christians, abandon the lure of the world and its empty promises and unreservedly commit ourselves to the higher call of Christ that the world will see the glory of God in and through his church. G.K. Chesterton wrote, "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." In the case of consumerism the Christian ideal is indeed difficult especially when the whole current of our age combines to press us in the never-ending quest to desire, acquire, and accomplish. In such and age it is difficult to "be still and know that He is God."


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