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

Consumerism

Written by: on February 3, 2020

Scripture and consumerism

Jesus spoke often about the challenge of materialism.  Sure, there weren’t all the advertisements, brands, cosmetics and fashion magazines but he did explain in Luke 12 how things have a way of taking hold of our hearts and becoming our master.  He did talk about how we can so easily give our heart to the wrong grid, define ourselves by our ‘treasure’ and end up serving money.

Paul writes in Romans 12 that we get ‘conformed to the patterns of this world’ without even thinking.  Paul wasn’t writing about consumerism as such, but he was talking about how the dominant values of the empire have a way of molding who we are.  Consumerism, as an advanced cultural expression of materialism, is just a modern institutionalized expression of the same selfishness that has always been the problem. As Christians, we are called to live with a different hope and desire and remember that we are shaped for a greater purpose.

The post-Christian Trinity

Australian author of the book “The Trouble Whit Paris: Following Jesus in a World of Plastic Promises” He argues that faith has been subverted and co-opted by the power of the hyperreal world. What we have now is a kind of hybrid faith that suits the goals of the hyperreal culture. He explains through a diagram (“The Post-Christian Trinity”) in which he attempts to explain the way in which our spiritual beliefs interact with our hyper consumer culture in a post-Christian world that no longer sees Christianity as a viable life choice.

 

“With high religion’s detachment from everyday life, it is then consumerism that speaks into the “every day,” offering us solutions, distractions, and hope that speaks into our pragmatic needs. But with these three elements in place of a distant god, the individual as god, and consumerism as folk religion, a vicious circle is created. With the distant god providing no ethic of living, with the individual ultimately serving self, and with consumerism both reinforcing this message and encouraging the individual to pursue materialism and hedonism without restraint, the individual then falls into a directionless downward spiral or addiction”.

… each of the traditional parameters of social analysis such as class, ethnicity, and gender can be challenged and rethought through the perspective of consumption as a practice (Miller: 53).

POSTMODERNISM AND CONSUMER SOCIETIES

The rise of studies on consumption is also due in good measure to postmodernism, which has claimed a culture of consumption “as proof for the break with modernity. While, in modern conditions, the most important thing for the self-perception of individuals was their situation in the productive labor process, postmodern authors agree that

today “the meaning consciously chosen in the lives of the majority in people comes much more from what they consume than from what they produce.

The increase in expressive rather than functional use of goods means that, in the “postmodern condition”, consumption has replaced production as a principle organized by society and culture. Many are based primarily on consumption, which has reached a symbolic and hyperreal level to the point that “the idea of ​​buying is as important as the act of buying” (Bocock: 1993: 49).

The notion that in contemporary times people define themselves through the messages they transmit to others with the use of goods and practices, is common in the social theories of Ulrich Beck, Anthony Giddens, and Zygmunt Bauman, no doubt three of the more sociologists influential today. Modernity has “unpinned” individuals from their traditional context so that they are situated in society no longer according to their lineage, caste or class but to a personal identity that they themselves must invent and create. That is, individuals are increasingly forced to choose their identity, which in this way becomes a matter of personal selection, and the main channels for communicating identity are material and symbolic goods. Hence the importance of consumption.

Miller, Vincent Jude. Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture. New York: Continuum, 2004.

Sayers, Mark. The Trouble With Paris (p. 110). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

Sayers, Mark. The Trouble With Paris (p. 110). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

Sayers, Mark. The Trouble With Paris (p. 105). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

BOCOCK, Robert. Consumption, London, Nueva York: Routledge, 1993.

MILLER, Daniel (ed.) Acknowledging Consumption. A Review of New Studies. London, Nueva York: Routledge, 1993.

About the Author

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Joe Castillo

7 responses to “Consumerism”

  1. mm Shawn Cramer says:

    Joe, I hadn’t considered consumer culture as a break from modernity, but your last paragraph is helpful. In search of identity in a post-modern world where institutions of identity are lacking, one looks to material and symbolic goods as means of drawing that identity. Did I understand you correctly?

  2. mm Darcy Hansen says:

    Joe,
    How do you invite those you pastor to discover their identity outside of their consumerist constructs , where they are forced to create an identity from the things they buy or do? Loss of identity seems to be a significant consequence of the commodification of culture. Is there a way to reclaim that outside having people memorize bible verses that tell them they are a child of God?

  3. mm Jer Swigart says:

    Joe. I appreciate the idea that “consumption has replaced production.” How would you flesh that out in terms of contemporary discipleship? I wonder how you would reflect on the impact of consumerism on the contemporary understanding and practice of discipleship and mission.

  4. mm John McLarty says:

    I was struck by your last paragraph about choosing our identity and how consumerism plays into that. You expanded my mind with regard to why some brands and products catch on in some communities and cultures. Have you seen examples of culture, consumption, and community intersecting to form both individual and collective identity?

  5. Steven E Wingate says:

    The identity of Christ and surrendering all to him is a tough talk probably no matter where we find ourselves.

    whether in a HillSong, Life Church, or the local congregation with a modest 75 person congregation seeing people put their faith in Christ and not necessarily doing what they were called to do is disheartening.

  6. mm Greg Reich says:

    Joe,
    Thanks for the insight. I was struck by the idea the consumerism creates a new identity for us while it detaches us from our traditional context. I wonder if we were to define our identity by what we own what would it say about us as individuals? As a country? It is easy to tell what a person values based on how they spend their time and how they spend their money. How and what we consume often tells more about us than what we say

  7. mm Chris Pollock says:

    Who needs Jesus now? Co-dependency (ie. neediness) is frowned upon in our culture. Press on, individualism. Thanks for dialing into key indicators of the problem and disconnect, Joe. Insightful.

    As you note, neediness is what gives consumerism its energy. Detachment from a ‘distant’ god and attachment to the thing that physically satisfies, directly according to need. How about an easy-fix, multi-faceted religion for the individualistic consumer of western culture? Let’s talk about Yoga, massage and nature Therapies, Fitness Culture…etc. It’s all there, open and free, anything a consumer might need to fill the void. Unfortunately, the Church has bought in. Compromise has had a detrimental effect on our identity and practise. So, I wonder now about the irrelevance that we offer for our compromise? There’s nothing much different; in the world, yet not of the world. How do we live up to this once again?

    Bless ya, bro. Appreciate you.

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