Thursday, October 13, 2005

Christianity and Consumerism

Troutsky had this to say in regards to Al Gore's speech:

I think he may have some valid points concerning an expanded media and a rejuvinated democracy but it may have to be the next generation that learns they
dont have to buy something just because the ad told them to.

It comes as no big surprise that I am not a fan of consumerism. The fact that I am also pro-capitalism, if not gung-ho a la Ayn Rand, provides an interesting paradox, if not outright contradiction. My reasoning for capitalism is that there is no other tenable economic systems that protect against tyranny resigns me to the current system. Then again we've got a plutocracy to contend with now, so maybe it's a toss-up.

Anyway, while we can have disagreements about the economic system until the proverbial cows come home, consumerism is a bigger and more tackleable problem. It seems to me that Christianity offers a very good philosophy to avoid the pitfalls of consumerism. Of course if one looks at America, which is, supposedly, a nation of Christians, my point may seems to be invalid.

The reality is that there are many bad Christians, and I would have to say that many times I fall into the group. Yet the philosophy remains sound. Christ puts it nicely in Matthew, chapter 6 verses 19-21:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Assuming this advice is followed, consumerism has no hold on the Christian's heart.

To Troutsky, and others: what is another buffer against consumerism, for someone who may not be Christian? How can this plan be implemented since, clearly, Christianity does not appear to be taken to heart?

Your replies are much appreciated.


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troutsky said...

It is truly a dilemna, especially when the first thing the President says after 9/11 is we as a nation need to do more shopping.Christians also say something about the difficulty of rich men getting to heaven and camels and needles, but old Bushy is mighty rich.Jesus was a socialist revolutionary in my theology and I love everything he said.

Steel Magnolia said...

I am hung up on the word "Christian." If you mean Catholic, I cannot comment due to ignorance. If you mean Protestant, it has coincided with and in fact driven capitalism/consumerism for the past 500 years, since the Protestant Revolution. Early modern Europe needed a theology to justify the new economy--"capitalism." (I recommend Max Weber for reading). I put that in quotes, because I consider capitalism in the same category as Ghandi did "civilization"--it is a lovely idea. True, free-market capitalism has never really existed. Corporations dating back to the Dutch East India Company have depended on governmental support (whether in the form of relaxed laws and regulations or outright bailouts and donations), so what does true capitalism really look like?

But as far as the parallels you draw between Christianity as a buffer against consumerism--hmm. Wal-Mart comes to mind. It markets itself as a family-values-friendly, Christian company. That is open 24 hours on a Sunday. But I split hairs. It also presents itself as the American business ideal--free market drives competition, which drives better merchandise for lower prices. What they don't tell you, is that employees who cannot live on Wal-Mart wages depend on public assistance. And in fact, upon hiring, Wal-Mart provides guidelines to employees on how to apply for things such as food stamps and Medicaid and such. In other words, Wal-Mart shifts a large burden of their operating expenses to public coffers. Our tax dollars. Free market? My foot.

troutsky said...

We all need commodities and consuming them is no problem but "consumerism" is the systematic transformation of that process through the manufacturing of desire.It is capitalisms mechanism to try to resolve the crisis of over-production and over-accumulation and it has been very effective in the short run.A "free market" would have to include a free exchange of information so that with each purchase a consumer would consider all costs,including external and future ones.It would also require us to have no pity for the "losers" which is tough on most religious people. As someone who attempts to think dialectically, I dont consider capitalism so much as a "lovely idea" as a necessary stage in historical developement and a stage it is now time to evolve through.

A Wiser Man Than I said...

Good thoughts both of you. My beef is not with the capitalistic system so much as with consumerism in particular. The question perhaps, needs to be whether or not the two things are divorceable. My contention, however tepid, is that they are.

The problem with our current system, as I see it, is that many of us have jobs that are in no way necessary. For example, I am studying computer engineering. It seems to me that if we never made any more progress in the realm of computer engineering life would still be okay. Surely today's processors are fast enough, are they not? As Bad Religion said, obviously sarcastically, "progress, 'til there's nothing left to gain."

There is of course progress to be made. If we would have stopped fifty years ago, we wouldn't have the internet as a lovely forum for these things. But humans have the ability to be eternal malcontents, and capitalism feeds this. There is nothing inherently wrong for wishing for nice things. We all have some things we are quite fond of. But it is very weird to me that the system has been set up in such a way that "success" is acheived by keeping the populace miserable. Get the kiddies to buy lots of things, spening all their hard-earned dough. Yes, that is the way to run an economy.

Wouldn't it be interesting if we all just stopped buying into the great lie that things will satisfy our unhappiness? Of course, it would lead to economic collapse, but still, it's a nice thought.

In closing, I'd like to throw out two quotes from Chesterton to keep the cauldron of the mind stirring.

"All but the hard hearted man must be torn with pity for this pathetic dilemma of the rich man, who has to keep the poor man just stout enough to do the work and just thin enough to have to do it."

"[Capitalism is] that commercial system in which supply immediately answers to demand, and in which everybody seems to be thoroughly dissatisfied and unable to get anything he wants."

The search for a viable alternative continues.