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. The 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.’”
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”, 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.” 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.” The way we buy and sell has a direct impact on others who will either benefit or suffer form our choices.
 Vincent Jude Miller, Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture (New York: Continuum, 2004), 15.
 William T. Cavanaugh, Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2008), 27.
 Ibid., 21.
 Ibid., vii.