Everyone at some point enjoys the consumption of a particular good, item and commodity. For example, I consume a certain amount of information weekly as I read the different books assigned in my doctoral program. I think that consuming is not the problem in and of itself’, but it’s extremes to which humanity can be susceptible. Heath and Potter in their book “Rebel Sell: How the Counterculture Became Consumer Culture” successfully articulate the ongoing uneasiness and tensions that accompany the markets, capitalism, consumerism and the challenges of their counter movements. The book tries to draw attention to a consumer’s quest for distinction and not conformity. In fact the authors’ arguments further shade a beaming light of doubt on the radical notion of a countercultural approach to people’s purchasing power. Heath and Potter write:
Over the past half-century, we have seen the complete triumph of the consumer economy at the same time that we have seen the absolute dominance of countercultural thinking in the ‘marketplace of ideas’. Is this a coincidence? Countercultural theorists would like to think that their rebellion is merely a reaction to the evils of the consumer society. But what if countercultural rebellion, rather than being a consequence of intensified consumerism, were actually a contributing factor?
If the above assertion was ratified, then the countercultural school of thought is a case of perhaps a good idea that suffers from arrested development. Where does that leave the Church which in the resent past has tried to wake up to the push and pull of the market and capitalism to which it’s historically tied to the hip? When a countercultural strategy against consumerism arises from a rebellious spirit that is self-defeating, it seems fitting for the church to reach for its biblical values that call it to a spirit of giving. “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.” What a counteracting piece of wisdom!
This reflection is personal because I belong to the Church and have found myself compelled to think about the nature and impact of capitalism and consumerism now that I live in the Northwest. Since I have had the privilege of experiencing a variety of cultures, I should point out that the materialism gap that exists between the United States compared to other contexts is dynamically relative. While a certain church in the West might be concerned about fundraising for new carpet, brighter stage lights and better media equipment, a particular church in Uganda might be concerned with feeding vulnerable children on the village. Such church disparities between the Western Church’s economy and the East African Church’s economy have left me quite ambivalent about the Western Church’s countercultural cry against the Church’s evident attachment to market. I have heard people say to me “I am looking for a church that fits my interests, from worship style to sermon”, “we are as a family are shopping around for a church that has great kids’ programming” and the list goes on. How is that different from what Sandel writes regarding the regular market culture?
Today many commuters can seek to purchase a quick ride in the car pool lane. For fees of up to $10 during rush hour, solo drivers can buy the right to use car pool lanes. San Diego, Minneapolis, Houston, Denver, Miami, Seattle, and San Francisco are among the cities that now sell the right to a faster commute. The toll typically varies according t the traffic-the heavier the traffic, the higher the fee.
Consuming market services is unavoidable and even consumerism is pardonable. I am convinced that the church should be consumed by the desire to share the good news of Jesus Christ, both word and deed with people. The global Church ought to prioritize the generous giving of the majority of its resources towards human flourishing as an expression of God’s love. For what does it profit a church to gain the whole world and lose its central gospel centered purpose?