Is Consumerism Evil?

For the last four years I have extensively taught, spoken and written about the effects of consumerism on our culture and our faith. I have found that one of the main questions that people ask me is “Is consumerism evil?”. My answer is no. Taken at its most basic definition, a consumer is someone who buys goods or services.

If I were to start a business selling hammers, I obviously would need to communicate to the public as to why my hammers are worth buying. I would need to extol my products virtues. I would need to communicate that they are well made and that they perform the function for which they were designed. This type of basic consumerism sells products on the basis of the merits of their function.

However today most of the advertising that we encounter sells products not on the basis of their function but rather applies various layers of meanings that appeal to human needs, wants and desires; we are now dealing with what I term hyper-consumerism.

Advertising today, uses sex, maternal instincts, our need for community, our desire for power and status, our need for meaning, and even our religious desires in order to coerce us to buy. Many of these messages are placed in advertising without the consumer ever being aware. To me this is the kind of hyper consumerism that I abhor.

One of the reasons that we have arrived at this point is that our secular culture no longer has a greater authority to appeal to in order to bring restraint upon our consumer desires. Fascinatingly throughout history Christians have developed various checks and balances in order to keep consumerism from running wild.

During the middle ages the Northern city states of Italy began to prosper immensely. This new found wealth created a problem of conspicuous consumption. In order to deal with this problem a lay lead movement begun called the Humilitari, in which ordinary people took on various vows of poverty in order to avoid the spiritual negatives that came with economic growth.

A similar movement began in The Netherlands as the spice trade brought incredible wealth to the Dutch in the 17th century. The Dutch Puritans encouraged enterprise and trade, yet also instigated various practices in order to ensure that their wealth did not erode their spirituality.

However today in our secular culture, there are no bigger stories that point to a reality beyond consuming goods and experiences. We are even encouraged to construct our identities from the things that we consume. In the past faith shaped consumerism, today consumerism shapes faith.

Faith gives us resources that point beyond a reality that is only shaped by consumption. As believers we can offer messages of meaning that are not just ruses to sell more stuff. Therefore it essential that we as Christians again need to explore creative ways to live faithful lives in a culture of consumerism.

Is the Sex and the City movie the last hurrah of the economic golden times?

Was chatting to my friend Ben this week, and we were discussing the almost unprecedented media blitz over Sex and the City. Ben after seeing the film asked if the film was the lash hurrah of the economic boom times that we have been experiencing for the last ten years. I think he may be right.

Sex and the City has proved to be one of the most insidious marketing machines of modern times. It pioneered and mastered a new kind of advertising where companies paid for their products to appear in the show. Whole storyline were sold to companies, the writers behind SATC wrote episodes around products such as a certain vodka.

The show created a kind of glitzy, bling world for women. When the girls on the show talked about men in the same manner as they spoke of products; it embodied hyperconsumerism par excellance. SATC echoed Swedish economists Kjell Nordström and Jonas Ridderstråle sentiment that all that there is left in western culture is sex and shopping.  

The many luxury brands that have supported the show are being hit hard as the current credit crisis eats away at the contents of Louis Vuitton purses both real and fake. So they are pulling out all of the stops to save the sinking ship. Her Majesty the Queen of America Oprah Winfrey has decreed that all women must go out and support this film (um like it needs it?). Queen Oprah may wish her four girl pals well as they head off on their cinematic adventures, but someone better tell them about the economic iceberg in their path. 

Reasons Why Young Adults Leave the Church: Reason 5 Commitmentphobia

Last time we spoke about the effect of the worldview of consumerism on the spiritual lives of Young Adults. One of the flow on effects of the worldview of consumerism is that it has a caustic, corrosive effect upon our ability to commit. I remember as a kid seeing a shirt that I wanted to buy, I had my money, and was ready to head to the cash register, when my mother taught me a key tactic known to every shopper, that is shopping around for a better bargain. We headed off to the others stores to see if the same shirt was on sale for a cheaper price. Read More.

Why Young Adults Leave Church: Reason 4 Consumerist Spirituality

Today young adults worldview is deeply shaped by consumerism; it shapes how we purchase, how we relate, and how we shape our identities. In my research into why young adults leave church, I found consumerism to be one of the most dominant themes to emerge again and again. Many people had written excellent books on how Christians should be responding to the economic and justice issues raised by consumerism. But very few Christians seemed to be examining how consumerism was affecting out spirituality. Read More.


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