Consumerism has been adopted as a worldview within many places in American society, including the church, with disastrous consequences. I found a great definition of consumerism recently.
“Consumerism is a supremely narcissistic worldview in which everything’s value is determined by it’s usefulness to me. I stand at the center while everything and everyone orbits around me.” -Skye Jethani, WITH
Some examples of how consumerism plays out in our world are…
-Pornography as disposable intimacy. In a consumerist mindset, I cannot or will not discipline myself because my urges are ultimate. “My spouse, girlfriend, boyfriend is not meeting my needs; so I will consume disposable intimacy with a nameless person on my computer screen.” (not the only reason for porn use, but no porn user is broken up about how they have abused someone’s daughter or sister, son or brother in that moment). It is disposable intimacy.
-the earth as a disposable resource. I have heard Christians say things like – “this is not my home, I’m just passing through. God made it for us to use, so we should use it all. it’s all gonna burn, anyway, right?” But what about the consequences of how we are using it? What about the fact that this is all God’s creation and we are responsible for what we do with it (circa the beginning, Adam and Even, Genesis 1-2)?
-Sometimes, even serving our community can become consumeristic. We consume service for the benefits it provides us rather than the love we give away to others. Our experience becomes primary, while the people we are serving take a backseat. Mission trips and service projects can be disposable spiritual products for me to consume, during my busy week/month/life. Pretty backwards, huh?
As our culture has become more and more individualistic, we have become more disconnected, isolated and lonely. In that place, true community becomes a way to restore accountability, selflessness, connectedness to others and our planet. Being in community helps us hit the reset button when we have become the center of our own universe. My friend, Eric Bryant, recently said, “Sometimes God reveals things to us in the context of community that He doesn’t show us when we are on our own.”
We cannot escape the culture we live in and preaching against it does no good (that’s not my intent here). It’s like preaching to a fish about how bad the water is. “Yeah, but without it, I die”, the fish replies. We cannot exist outside of culture, but we can better understand how it is shaping us. As we head towards the fall and the season that outstrips every other in terms of consumerism (Christmas), consider what it means to allow the community you are a part of to hold you accountable and rooted in a world where the value of the things and people around you are not defined by their usefulness to you.