If there has been one prevailing principle over American society for the last one hundred years it has been unfettered consumerism. Through massive shifts in our cultural undercurrents, over generations we’ve bought into the lies that ‘matter is all that matters’ (aka: materialism) and convenience is the highest good (probably a result of the Industrial Revolution’s emphasis on efficiency as the highest ideal). Out of these shifts was born a nation of sovereign consumers. Today more than ever we are being consumed by Consumerism in subtle and often unseen ways.

The Spiritual Crisis of Consumerism

Is Consumerism our real religion? (montage by J Fowler)

In the realm of church and faith we absorb sermons, buy our Christian books and music (my favorite!), our evangelistic T-shirts and specialty Bibles. We need other people (generally professionals) to tell us what GOD is saying. We need His voice to be pre-processed, shrink-wrapped, quick and made to order. We have bumper stickers, trinkets, conferences, concerts, wall hangings, action-figure Bible characters, and an ocean of other Christian products and experiences that we must have to be good followers of JESUS. But do we see the irony in it all? Maybe Consumerism is the real religion here.

In ancient Israel they couldn’t bear the voice of the LORD because it was so terrifying. Today even though JESUS opened up for us a new and living way in the spirit to directly commune with the Father we are looking for a new Moses to mediate the covenant because GOD’s voice takes far too long to listen to. We need priests and prophets to facilitate the convenience. Consumerism has reshaped our spiritual landscape and not for the better.

The speed of life for many of us means there is no time for getting up close and personal with GOD. We are helpless without our prepackaged, preprocessed spiritual food. And living it takes even more time. Once we’ve taken our devotional protein bars, our theologically manufactured snacks and sometimes our religious salad and yogurt (or burger and fries) to go, we just can’t work off the ‘weight’ (aka: guilt?). So we head to church the way we head to the gym and once having ‘exercised’ for the week through serving, worshiping and praying at church our guilt is ‘atoned for’ and we’re ready for another week of spiritual stagnation. Our life in GOD is being ordered and governed by cultural consumerism and I believe it’s indiscernible to us most of the time.

Even in the realm of the environment and creation care, we buy our compact fluorescent light bulbs, our new eco-friendly sized water bottles, our reusable grocery bags and our carbon neutral organic sugar (just as an example). Somehow we’ve bought the lie that we don’t need to consume less to ‘save the planet’- we just need to buy ‘green’. Let’s face it, the mainstream environmental movement has been co-opted in the same ways the American church has- consumerism is the means to salvation and our primary identity is as faithful consumers. Buy, spend, absorb.

To be balanced I will say that we can’t not consume. Fueling up, eating, drinking, purchasing goods are all normal modes of living. We are not self-sufficient beings (thank GOD!). So my argument is not against consuming in of itself. There are ways to build an equitable economy and spending money can be voting with your dollars. To this I agree. We also need to listen to sermons, read our Bibles, glean insights from teachers and authors,etc. – that’s true. The real issue remains though that we are being wholly governed and ordered by this dominating principle of consumerism.

Christians must ask along with the wacky ‘preacher’/activist Reverend Billy: “What Would Jesus Buy?” In many cases I think the answer is: “nothing”. Do you really need the latest environmentally friendly, water proof, recycled Bible when you already have twenty Bibles sitting on your shelf? Maybe the publisher of that Bible needs to ask that people turn in their other Bibles to be recycled. I know, let’s not get carried away.

Those of us who care about redeeming the earth from environmental devastation need to ask if ‘going green’ really means healing the earth or just merely buying more stuff from a destructive production system that’s cranking out new eco-products to fill our landfills all the same. At least they’ll biodegrade…or will they?

All I can say is: REPENT! And SAVE 10% off your next purchase…

J. Fowler

J. Fowler is the website editor and co-founder, along with his wife Pamela, of the Sustainable Traditions project. The Fowlers live with their seven children on a farm near the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

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