This is a semi-review of a book I got in the mail recently.
The book is Enough: Contentment in an Age of Excess, and in it, Will Samson adds his voice to an ever-growing number of books addressing the issue of consumerism in Western society. It seems to be the topic du jour, and probably for good reason. It is a good thing when Christians begin to think theologically and critically about the cultural milieu they find themselves in, and more and more people are realizing that consumerism is the predominant cultural force in the Western world today. Samson's topic is also of personal interest to me, in that I recently wrote an essay on consumerism for the Master's degree I'm working on.
Samson defines consumerism as "a way of thinking about stuff that believes the consumption of things–food, cars, ideas in books, new models of church–is what will really, finally, make us content." This is always a bad thing, Samson claims, as opposed to simple consumption (the act of using something), which can be good or bad, depending on the context.
Where does consumerism come from? Samson points to our desire to possess what we do not have, tracing it from Adam and Eve's sin in the Garden of Eden on though to colonial Western expansion. This is probably too simplistic, but this is also a short, easy-to-read book, not a comprehensive academic tome on consumerism!
After spending some time critiquing some of the "inherited beliefs" of American Christianity, Samson turns his attention to contrasting consumerism with "being consumed with Jesus." His thoughts on the Eucharist in relationship to consumerism remind me of William Cavanaugh's book Being Consumed. He uses several ideas/metaphors and many practical suggestions to present a very compelling vision of what a contented life might look like. Here are a few of the ideas I found interesting/challenging.
- Planting a Garden as a way of cultivating an awareness that food does not come from nowhere
- Eating together to cultivate a resistance to immediate gratification
- "Most of the [economic] growth of the past twenty-eight years has not been a triumph of capitalism, but rather a triumph of government spending."
- Interest rates are not the only factor we ought to consider when investing our money.
- The fragmented communities of the West contribute greatly to the blight of consumerism.
- Often we need to act our way into new thinking instead of assuming we need to change our thoughts first.
- Cultivate generosity and gratitude.
Bravo to Samson for writing this little book! By the way, I know it's a long ways off, but Will will be speaking at a conference in Indianapolis on November 13-14 called Through the Consuming Fire, along with Shane Claiborne, Kelly Johnson, David Fitch, and others.
Our group just came off a 4 week reflective study on contentment and consumerism. As much as ideas seem to spread slowly, it seems as if the contrast of being consumed with Christ actually resonates with this generation. People were wrestling tough questions. Nothing is sweeter than when a mirror is held up to a sinner and he actually sees what he has become. I think the silent assumptions that have long slighted well meaning Christians are being exposed. I don’t know if optimism is the right word but I am definitely encouraged by what I’m seeing in our little community.
I will say I was intrigued by Samson’s definition of consumerism including ideas and church models. I wonder if blog consumption falls into this category :)..j/k..but a good reminder for me of what(or who) to ultimately focus on.