Last year, I was frequently jarred by the television commercials CNN ran during breaks in the Tsunami coverage. While watching horrendous pictures of Indonesia’s poor fighting tooth and nail just to survive, it seemed so frivolous to hawk things such as dishwashers, new cars, beer, and every pharmaceutical product you could name from acne creams to wart removers, and depression medication to ED pills. How could anyone be convinced at this moment in time that the proper use of money was to indulge in something to meet a personal need? But we often go shopping to feel better, don’t we? When we do so, we retreat into our personal world of consumerism and forsake the call of God to be a citizen.
Do we see ourselves as autonomous, free, unattached beings who of course, as Christians, seek obedience in matters of piety, but see little connection or calling to serve brothers/sisters/neighbors around the corner or around the world? We have failed to understand the gospel’s message when we sacrifice becoming a Godly Citizen seeking to bring restoration to all the world for the cheap substitute of being a Morally Good Consumer.
So the next time you are seeking to upgrade your computer or cell phone or iPod or house or car, first ask “Can I live without this?” Then ask, “Why am I seeking an upgrade? Is there something missing in who I view myself to be that I believe will be filled if I have this?”
Consumer culture may well be our generation's biggest challenge to Christian faith. The late Pope John Paul II said that consumerism was an ideology "no less pernicious" than other ideologies like Marxism, Nazism and fascism.
It's interesting how much consumer culture shapes our vocabulary and mental categories. At a publishing consultation a few weeks ago, one of the participants mentioned how Christian publishers have fallen into the habit of talking in terms of "consumers" and "products" rather than "readers" and "books." I'm an editor working with authors, not someone who does "product development" with "content providers." So maybe one way of countering our consumer culture is to recover a sense of personhood - we are not merely consumers, we are people. And our fellow human beings are not merely consumers or target markets or demographic audiences - they are our neighbors, whom God has called us to love.