Consumerism?

For a while now I’ve wanted to write something about the “euro-crisis”, the “credit crunch” and the protests outside St. Paul’s cathedral.  But, to my shame, each time I begin I soon find myself overwhelmed, drowning in the tidal wave of my own confusion.  I mean, how do you even begin to comment on such a huge, incomprehensible problem?  Not only that, but while I, like many of us, have some small glimpse of what the problem is, I feel unable to even begin to approach a solution!  When the whole system seems to be at fault, what do you do?  Especially when no valid alternative system seems to be available? 

Of course, us Christians shouldn’t really be surprised that the system is, or at least will at one point (if we’re lucky maybe 10, 20, 30 years from now), implode in on itself.  A system has been created in which the most important thing is money.  We must consume.  We must buy things.  Greed is not a “deadly sin”, it is a virtue.  He who dies with the most toys wins.  Your worth is based upon what you own.  Our heroes are those who have amounted the most. 

One of the things that I think non-Christians, and some Christians, really don’t understand is that the “rules” that God gives us are not to stop us having fun.  They’re not to make our lives hard.  They’re a loving parent telling us what’s best for us.  Read the ten commandments and you’ll find that they don’t begin, “I’m a mean God, so do what I say or I’ll smite you”.  No!  They begin, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”  (Deut 5:6).  In other words, “Look, I’m your God.  I’m the one who loves you, the one who rescued you.  I’m also the powerful one you saw pull off all those amazing miracles.  I love you and I know what I’m talking about.  So please, my dear children, do what I say and things will go well.”  I don’t tell my children to do things to spoil their fun, but because I love them and I know what will happen if they don’t do them. 

Now, when we understand this, we should also understand that the “rules” he gives are not just for the “religious” people, but that these rules are good for humanity.  That if society implemented these things, it would be good for everyone.  Not that we should ever force these “restrictions” on people, that in itself would be us breaking the “rules” and seeing ourselves as more important.  But we should realise that these things are true and we can get other people to see they’re true because of that. 

This is true for our understanding of money.  Money is NOT all important.  Deep down most people know this.  They don’t live like it, but they know it.  For example, deep down most people realise they should be spending more time with their children.  Instead of just working and working and thinking buying them some nice toys will do the trick (as a recent report said British people are particularly guilty of, see here). 

So first thing’s first.  A friend of mine talked recently about being in a traffic jam and getting really annoyed until he looked up and saw a poster that said, “You’re not in a traffic jam, you are the traffic jam.”  We are not innocent bystanders, we are just as guilty of buying into the lie as anyone else.  We Christians must, must, must repent of the fact that we have brought into the system, that we have spent our time lusting after ever bigger houses, ever bigger cars and every other thing that takes our fancy.  (At least most of us, and I include myself).  We must start modeling a new way.  We must rediscover the traditional Christian virtue of self-denial.  We must stand up and demonstrate the radically counter-cultural life that Jesus calls us to.

Secondly, we must start standing up for these truths in the public world, trusting they are true and will benefit us all.  It is to the churches shame that it wasn’t us who started to call for changes in the system.  It wasn’t us that began to make a big noise about the greed in our society.  Put, thanks be to God, these issues are now being discussed, so, for crying out loud, let’s make sure we give a godly imput to the discussions.  Let’s fight for justice, for the poor, for the family.  Let’s fight for the recognition that there are much more important things in life than money.  Justice, mercy, kindness, compassion. 

So many of the politicians seem to tell us that the only solution to the problem is to get the economy going again.  In other words, while greed caused the problem, it’s actually the solution!  IT WON’T WORK!!  Our society is based on fundamentally flawed principles and, because the church is called to care, we must highlight this and call for change.  And let’s make sure they can’t shut us up. 

I don’t know what the solution is, but I do know that what we’ve been doing in my lifetime isn’t working and if we insist on sticking with it, it will collapse under our feet.  I know that I’m confused, but it’s too late in the game to be scared of drowning under the tidal wave of confusion.  We all need to wade into those deep waters and start figuring out what we’re going to do.  Thank God, we’re finaly ready for the discussion.

About David

I'm the curate at St. Anne's Church, in the parish of Shevington, Standish Lower Ground and Crooke. I'm married to Carole and have two beautiful daughters called Sarah and Anabel
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4 Responses to Consumerism?

  1. Andy says:

    Good blog David. I would debate whether people generally ‘work and work’ for any financial incentive. A small proportion may be paid by the hour but for most the reluctance to leave the desk is either driven by fear of losing the job or not wanting to be labelled as ‘clock watcher’. I agree neither of these are healthy drivers but I wouldn’t equate it with the broader issue of greed you are describing.

    I’m just as confused as you as to what the solution may be, especially as we approach Christmas and everyone is busy writing their Christmas lists and buying kids an ever increasing ridiculous amount of presents which will be forgotten in a matter of days. So one step forward might be to withdraw from all this or have a frugal Christmas but every time I think this way other voices in my head will suggest its all a bit OTT and I am a Scrooge and we should enjoy the material blessings that God has provided us with (which He has). I hate situations where even the wrong answer can be given a “spiritual justification” just as we saw with the temptation of Christ in the wilderness.

    The problem does need a Church response and I think it is easier to make these kind of dramatic changes to our world views when acting together in some way as the Church or a particular group of Christians rather than as an individual response where one can be left feeling quite odd in a Country which as you rightly describe is obsessed with material gain.

    • David says:

      I both agree and disagree with what you say about people “working and working”. I agree that personal greed is not normally the immediate motivation for over work of individuals in our culture. However, I think companies are based on greed, on the idea that the profit margin in all important, much more important than the life/work balance of its workers. This greed creates the environment which you describe. Having said this, I wouldn’t completely rule out personal greed either. Could most of these people get away with “clock-watching”? Ok, so they’d never get promoted, but isn’t the desire to get promoted at least partially fueled by greed? Or could they get a job with less hours and simply work less? I bet most people don’t even consider these options! The question is, why?

  2. Andy says:

    Got me thinking that David! I guess our different takes here are influenced my our different career backgrounds. The only reason why private sector (mine included) companies exist is to make money and as much as possible at that as well. Period! So I think you are right there.

    As for motivation for promotion, phew. I guess I wouldn’t be prepared take on more senior responsibility without further renumeration and employees are expected to be ‘dynamic’ and wanting to progress up the ladder, as far as their abilities allow. I have had three promotions in my career (probably no more to come!) and to be honest I cannot honestly say what the primary driving force behind them was.

    I better gem up on some of Ken Costa’s material on this subject!

    • David says:

      I don’t think there’s any point denying that our different career paths have an effect on how we see this. But I guess I want to defend myself here.
      I’m not actually accusing individual workers within the business sector. I’m blaming the culture/system that we live in, which makes us all (including me) take certain things for granted.
      Take your comment “the only reason why private sector companies exist is to make money”. Again I agree and disagree. I’ve already said that the problem we have is that companies make money the number one thing! But, and here’s the important thing, this never used to be true and doesn’t have to be true. Take a look, for example, at Cadbury’s, not as it is now, but how it used to be. It used to look after its workers, make sure they lived in good homes etc. Because, Cadbury’s does not exist to make money, it exists to make chocolate! Companies can exist to make their product, and make it well. To provide a service and bring some good to society. But none of us even think of that. No the only reason they exist is to make money.
      It’s the same unthought through assumptions that make us all work too much, so that our children are neglected etc. This is just as true for me in my own profession. I can be just as guilty of working too much and getting my priorities wrong, because, while I don’t work in the private sector, I do live in this culture and, as such, soak up these assumptions.
      The same it true of our consumption. We all buy stuff we don’t need, quite often with money we don’t have. It’s as much a part of our culture as queing. The thing is it needs to change. We’re all guilt of greed, but for many of us it’s been an unconscious sin

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