I was watching TV last night, and normally I don’t pay much attention to the commercials, but this one floored me…
"We are a nation of consumers.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.
The trouble is, there’s so much cool stuff, it’s easy to get a little carried away.
But what if more credit card companies were like Discover Card?
What if they actually helped us spend smarter…" (video here)
I stopped listening at this point. I could not believe the audacity of the first two sentences. We are a nation of consumers. And there’s nothing wrong with that. The real problem, you see, is being a stupid consumer. If you are a smart consumer, then everything is okay. Go ahead and consume, derive all your identity and significance from it, just don’t binge, okay?
Which is basically like saying, "We daily consume poisons that threaten to destroy us, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The trouble is, the poison tastes so good, sometimes it’s easy to ingest too much… but what if more poison brokers were like Discover? Helping us consume poison more intelligently…"
The real problem is that poison shouldn’t be consumed. But that option just isn’t on the table, so we just tell ourselves there’s nothing wrong with it.
I have been amazed at how many ways consumerism has edged its way into my life without me noticing. It’s the sea we swim in; it feels natural and normal. It’s akin to a spiritual experience; we feel fulfilled and significant when purchasing a new something-or-other. We’re "in the club" if we own a thing-a-ma-jig. We even find ways to baptize it, dress it up in religious verbiage, and think we’re practicing Christian faith by buying stuff.
It warrants a lot more theological discussion and thought, but I have a hunch that consumerism is the major religion of the Western world (and increasingly, the entire planet), the primary idolatry that we all struggle against, and the most dangerous enemy of the gospel the church is facing today. We need to start taking it seriously, thinking through the implications, discerning how we are to live together in this mileau.