Monday, May 05, 2008

Consumerism is dehumanizing, and not just about stuff

I'm in the midst of guest teaching a six-week Sunday school class on my book at a local church, and just this morning I came across this blog post by someone who is also in a class about the book at her church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Here are some of her thoughts about their discussion on consumerism:
Yesterday we discussed the first of two chapters on consumerism. While we all must in some form or fashion consume stuff, the author, Albert Hsu, is speaking about the “-ism” that is an ideology, a way of defining self and understanding the world around us. This understanding of the world makes everything a commodity and we, the consumer, the master who determines the worth of one commodity over against the other. On page 78, Hsu writes, “Consumer commodification enthrones us - the consumer - and makes everything a function of our own choosing.” Everything becomes about “me”, what “I” want, and how something can serve or satisfy “me”. It kind of strikes me as self-worship - I am the most important person, and must be satisfied at all times.

One of the points made in class this morning was the fact that this particular way of looking at life is dehumanizing. People are no longer seen as men and women made in the image of God, but as slaves to the desires of the self, important or valued only the extent that they satisfy these desires. In particular, anyone who stands in the way of my desires ceases to be human in my eyes, and are instead an obstacle that must be removed by whatever means so that my desire can be gratified.

The point from Sunday’s class that I seem to be parking on right now is the idea that consumption is not just about material stuff. When we think of consumerism, we instantly think of malls, brand names, the next new techy gadget that must be bought. But there are many things we can “consume” - knowledge, music, TV, movies, news, the Internet, blogs (*gulp*), books. We “consume” quantities of all of these things - to what extent does that consumption define who we are? And how does our consumption of such things affect our relationships with one another, and the Lord?

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