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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Because They Can

Written by: on March 19, 2015

The books Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture by Vincent Jude Miller and Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire by William T. Cavanaugh did a great job of cutting to the heart of consumerism.

It is easy to miss the key issues related to consumerism and revert to redirecting blame. The consumer blames the marketers for pushing products that we must have even though we don’t need them; What dog wants to wear designer clothes or is impressed that their snacks came from a doggy bakery and look like human food? Most dogs would be happier with free access to a cat’s litter box. MastiffLickingCaseDallasThe marketers blame the consumer. Would they really make caffeinated peppermint soap if the consumer did not want it? The government blames the free market system. Businesses blame the government reminding us that what they are doing is “legal”, (even though many times it isn’t). White collar blames the unions for the outsourcing of jobs. Blue collar blames executives that pay themselves obscene salaries and bonuses. The blame game continues, but few get to the real heart of the matter.

We were created to find communion and fulfillment in a relationship with God. When we reject this relationship that can bring true fulfillment, we seek material means of fulfillment. We never find the fulfillment we were created for when we seek it in any other source than God. As a result, we must have more and more to try to fill the void. Our personal fulfillment becomes the driving force in our life. Pope John Paul II “describes consumerism as an ideology in which ‘the selfish satisfaction of personal aspirations’ becomes the ultimate goal of life, and the resulting ‘negative effects on others are completely irrelevant.’”[1]

This insatiable hunger for more and the resulting disregard for the effects suffered by others help us understand the great disparity we see in the world today. Unlike the Mondragón Cooperative Corporation where “The highest paid employee can make no more than six times what the lowest paid makes”[2], we live in a world where the goal is to get all you can, for as long as you can; even though you have no need for it and others suffer so you can have it.

Cavanaugh both asks and answers two important questions; “Why do executives pay themselves so much? In part, because they can…Why do companies pay such wages? Again, because the can.”[3] The truth is, as long as people can take advantage of others for the fulfillment of their own selfish desires, they will. This not only applies to the rich executive, but this is an attitudinal desire found within the human spirit. Consumerism is a symptom of the real disease. So where does that leave us?

While few of us have the political clout to change laws and systems, we do have the power to live a transformed life. This transformed life affects how we live and how we make decisions. As we understand that true fulfillment is found in being the people we were created to be, we begin to ask whether or not our actions contribute to helping others be the people they were created be. “The key question in every transaction is whether or not the transaction contributes to the flourishing of each person involved, and this question can only be judged, from a theological point of view, according to the end of human life, which is participation in the life of God.”[4] The way we buy and sell has a direct impact on others who will either benefit or suffer form our choices.

 

[1] Vincent Jude Miller, Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture (New York: Continuum, 2004), 15.

[2] William T. Cavanaugh, Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2008), 27.

[3] Ibid., 21.

[4] Ibid., vii.

About the Author

mm

Brian Yost

Brian is a husband and father of three. He works with Free Methodist World Missions and is currently serving in Latin America.

11 responses to “Because They Can”

  1. mm Travis Biglow says:

    Blessings Brian,

    Tranformation is the word. I am doing a lot of my work on this very topic. As a pastor I have to deal with the same spirit of consumerism in the hierchy of our church. Many of them are not trying to change anything they are just perpetuating the same thing. How do we bring change to a society that is not interested in change but getting more and more. It begins with us as an individual. I know that sounds simple but if it is important and it works others will follow. Amen

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      Travis, I agree. If we model what happiness and blessing really are to others, then they will want what we have. If we demonstrate to the world that things make us happier than Christ, then we send the wrong message.

  2. Jon Spellman says:

    Brian. The “blame game” is one where nobody ever really wins…
    You said “Consumerism is a symptom of the real disease”. That’s a keen observation! What would you say is the real problem?
    J

  3. mm Brian Yost says:

    Jon, Sometimes the most obvious answer is the right one. We live in a fallen world and worship false gods. Genesis 3, where humankind rejected God and accepted a false substitute, is still the path of human nature.

  4. mm Nick Martineau says:

    Brian,
    You said…”The truth is, as long as people can take advantage of others for the fulfillment of their own selfish desires, they will.” So true…It’s the fallen world we live in. What I keep going back too is the idea of transformation. What does that really look like? It must be greater and bigger then most Christians currently experience because in many ways I do think the answer is as simple as following Jesus, yet simple doesn’t mean easy. And most Christians seem to stop short of a full transformation.

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      Nick and Brian,

      Great posts! Your post made me ask another question…what does the transformed church look like? I agree that many Christians stop short of allowing Christ to transform them, but I believe the same is true for churches or the corporate body of believers.

  5. mm Dave Young says:

    Brain,
    So we have deep longings, deep desire and while God is the ultimate fulfillment of our deepest desire He still leaves us today with longings. So even when I’m at my closest with God, the next moment I can be looking at something on TV or buying something in the mall that I know isn’t glorifying God. What I’m saying is even when we do find our ultimate fulfillment in God, we still have fleshly, often materialistic desires. So I’m wondering can the void in our soul be filled in a God glorifying way? Or is it more glorifying to learn to live with the void and yet not sin??? wondering

  6. mm Mary Pandiani says:

    Our culture’s focus on acquiring more, especially the amount of money coming in, creates the selfishness of which you speak. My girlfriend is a researcher who has done work some work when people only use the sieve of money as a way to make decisions – it makes them more selfish. Tack on the longings/desires for new products, it’s a recipe for this bondage we live in, including the church. Thinking of your example in Dawnel’s post of the kind of ministry to create, only the kind that make/cost money are the quality ones – it feels somewhat hopeless in the reality that we need money to live.
    Here in your post you talk about transformation as the way through. In light of your recent decision (I’ll be praying for you guys in this transition as I’m sure it is not an easy one), are there some ways you see yourself moving forward as we study consumer Christianity? How does transformation take hold in the midst of your reality and God’s freedom?

  7. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Brian, I love the way to articulated what I would call the Gospel in the popular consumer culture. “We were created to find communion and fulfillment in a relationship with God. When we reject this relationship that can bring true fulfillment, we seek material means of fulfillment. We never find the fulfillment we were created for when we seek it in any other source than God.” It is that simple, yet we stray from this truth so frequently. I wonder what true repentance by the Church looks like for our contribution and involvement in mass consumerism? How much dismantling of the Western Church would we have to do?? It seems, to offer an alternative culture is God plan . . . can the Church be that alternative offer???

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