DMINLGP

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

Time to Give Up

Written by: on February 21, 2018

How could rebellion and non-conformity, the kind espoused by the Church in contrast to the dominant culture, actually be fueling the consumeristic culture it allegedly rails against? If, in fact, Heath and Potter are correct in this argument as found in their book ‘The Rebel Sell’, what efforts could ever unhinge the overpowering influence of the consumeristic culture which surrounds humanity?

There would be few in the world today that have any awareness of life outside their myopia that would argue consumerism has no negative impact on the world. Whether these be oppression of certain labor forces, intense wastefulness, or catastrophic impact on the environment, it is clear that not everyone or everything is a ‘winner’ when assessing the global impact of consumerism. Yet, it seems that at least according to Heath and Potter, the impact of so-called countercultural movements has not only made no visible positive impact but has actually only served to exacerbate the consumerism it argues against. “The critique of mass society has been one of the most powerful forces driving consumerism for the past forty years.”[1] “The counterculture, in all its attempts to be subversive, has done nothing more than create new segments of the market, and thus ends up feeding the very monster of consumerism and conformity it hopes to destroy.”[2] So what hope is there to combat the evident corruptions brought about by this all-powerful force? Probably none. So, I don’t know about you, but I think it’s high time to stop trying. There is not really much point in carrying on with this blog. Have a good day.

Dang, but that’s only 267 words out of the requisite 1000, so while I suggest you stop reading now I will continue writing a whole lot of tripe to meet the necessary requirements. (Now we’re at 304!)

Consumerism at its core is not really of the fear inducing ‘conspicuous’ variety, but for most simply a means of distinguishing oneself from the masses. “In the beginning, it was a system concerned with selling people things they needed. But once those needs had been largely satisfied, in rich countries at least, capitalism became about selling things that would make people feel distinctive.[3] Even the critique of consumerism is little more than a means to set oneself apart so as not to be deemed conformist. “Consumerism, in other words, always seems to be a critique of what other people buy.  This makes it difficult to avoid the impression that the so-called critique of consumerism is just a thinly veiled snobbery or, worse, puritanism.”[4]

And, after the initial and significant change in lifestyle brought about by increased wealth it even ceases to bring about any genuine improvement in the sense of happiness and contentment. “First, it is worth noting that in developing countries, economic growth does an enormous amount to promote overall happiness. It is only once a society has become quite wealthy that growth no longer delivers increased happiness.” [5]

On top of all that we have the apparently unstoppable global movement toward homogenization, where products are almost universally similar despite the geographic region in which one is found. “Every place in the world is starting to look more and more alike.”[6]

But, perhaps despite minor distinctions, that is a consequence of globalization and the greater digital connectivity we have with one another regardless of geographic barriers. We even see evidence of this in our own doctoral program. The movement toward homogenization is not confined to restaurants and clothing retailers. It is evident in the Church (think Saddleback and/or Hillsong), musical tastes, film, technology, even language. Maybe this is more evident of personal preference than it is of a purposeful move toward mono-culturalism. “Not all uniformity is bad uniformity.”[7] And; “homogenization is a consequence of genuine consumer preference.”[8] In their discussion of countercultural tendencies and the development of consumeristic options to satiate those developing desires, Heath and Potter come up with the quote that I think most succinctly recognizes the heart of their argument but also the highlights the likelihood that any human endeavor to alter consumerism will ultimately fail. “No matter what we do, chickens will never be the rugged individualists that we would like them to be.”[9] Are they really talking about ‘free range’ chickens or is that a thinly veiled innuendo about humanity? One can only guess but it seems apropos to human nature and our inability to change much at all.

While Heath and Potter attempt to explain the ideological failures associated with the various counterculture movements and suggest alternatives, it does raise the question as to why they felt the need to write a book about it. I wonder how well the book sold and whether or not its success afforded them opportunities to take on paid speaking engagements, book signings and travel at the expense of others. Did it provide for them some kudos in their work environments or amongst their peers? Were they able to increase savings toward their children’s college funds? I should have thought of this instead of spending money on a doctoral program that will leave me in debt till I die. But, someone at George Fox is probably glad I did.

There is no real point in over-spiritualizing consumerism. It is a fact of life. Should the Church be aware of the negative impact of consumerism? Of course. The Church’s responsibility is unchanged from its inception until now, much as God’s desire for the people was in the time of the prophets. “For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood I this place, and if you do not go after other gods to our own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place.” (Jeremiah 7:5-7) Keep the focus on those things that matter, and have always mattered, to God.

 

[1] Heath, Joseph, and Andrew Potter. The Rebel Sell: Why the Culture Can’t Be Jammed. Toronto: HarperPerennial, 2005. P. 98

[2] “The Selling of the Counterculture.” The Economist, May 26, 2005. Accessed February 21, 2018. http://www.economist.com/node/4027702.

[3] Beckett, Andy. “Branded for Life.” The Guardian, June 3, 2005. Accessed February 21, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2005/jun/04/highereducation.news1.

[4] Heath, Joseph, and Andrew Potter. The Rebel Sell: Why the Culture Can’t Be Jammed. Toronto: HarperPerennial, 2005. P. 105

[5] Ibid P. 113

[6] Ibid P. 245

[7] Ibid P. 230

[8] Ibid P. 234

[9] Ibid P. 235

 

About the Author

mm

Dan Kreiss

Former director of the Youth Ministry program at King University in Bristol, TN and Dean of the School of Missions. I have worked in youth ministry my entire life most of that time in New Zealand before becoming faculty at King. I love helping people recognize themselves as children of God and helping them engage with the world in all its diversity. I am particularly passionate about encouraging the church to reflect the diversity found in their surrounding community in regard to age, gender, ethnicity, education, economic status, etc. I am a husband, father of 4, graduate of Emmanuel Christian Seminary, an avid cyclist and fly-fisherman still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

6 responses to “Time to Give Up”

  1. mm M Webb says:

    Dan,
    Yes, your “give up” theme fits the “let go and let God” theme of a Evangelical semi-countercultural bias. This book ranks #12,640,725 in the Amazon Best Sellers Ranking. There are several titles linked to these two authors, but the one assigned for our post- The Rebel Sell: How the Counter Culture Became the Consumer Culture has plenty of room for improvement on the ranking list. I also saw where Nation of Rebels is the same book as the one assigned for this week; it was just published in Canada.
    I appreciate your common sense lived theology approach that is not all caught up in the bash this side and bash that side response. When we do that, who wins, the evil one for sure.
    Keep the faith brother, you see things with good eyes, spiritual discernment, and Biblical wisdom.
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

  2. I tend to agree with you about just letting go and accepting our reality, then trying to live life as a follower of Christ within it. To do this, I think will require diligence and open eyes to perceive how we become commodified and how we begin treating other humans with a commodified approach.

    The key is self-sacrificing love that can begin in very small and simple ways. We reach out beyond ourselves, beyond the call of duty, to give of ourselves, not expecting anything in return. Consistently doing this will keep pushing away the way our culture wants us to commodify every emotional transaction and assign a quid pro quo to every good deed.

  3. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Dan,

    You crack me up! And nice try on stopping at word 267. I took you up on your offer and here is my point to add–My problem with non-conformity, especially in the church, is that we are very good at expressing what we are against, but rarely does anyone know what we are for.

    Agreed?

  4. mm Trisha Welstad says:

    Dan, I appreciate your critical thinking, even when a bit bleak, and did have some of the same questions as I read about the authors and if there’s any solution to the all-powerful consumerism. As an idealist and hope-filled follower of Jesus I hate the idea of giving up. I think there has to be a better way, and know there is but the idea of seeing the world transition into a new way of living seems like we have to go pre-Industrial Revolution or have some major world crisis for change. I guess those are bleak thoughts as well. If you could suggest any changes or ways to modify the future of consumerism what would they be?

  5. GA says:

    Always appreciate levity in blogs, especially on the 4 week of consumerism. I kept thinking about how much money was being made by authors like Heath and Potter or even Cavanaugh. It is on thing to rail against the system and another to make money from it. I don’t know if they have truly exloited the topic for gain but it would fit into the theme of the book. Thanks, Dan

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