How to break free from the toxic cycle of consumerism
Let me start by saying a couple things. First, I am a part of the problem. Living in 21st Century America as I do, I totally recognize that I contribute to the plague of consumerism in our country and in our church. I am not proud of this.
Second, consuming in and of itself is not bad. We need to consume and buy food to eat, clothes to wear, homes to sleep in, and toys for our kids. I am not suggesting (and certainly won’t be signing up for one myself) that we all join a Christian commune. What I am attacking – and I don’t think that is too harsh of a word – is consumerism.
Consumerism can refer to a few different, but related, phenomenons. When applied to countries it’s the idea that a nation is better off the more it’s citizens consume. And in fact, the way things seem to work today, it’s true. Our countries economic system relies on us consumers consuming more and more and more.
But, to each of us, in very practical ways, consumerism is the force that encourages us to purchase things in every greater amounts.
I see this everyday. Almost every second of the day we are bombarded by advertisements calling us to consume. “But this super-expensive SUV that you definitely don’t need, so that you can feel like your on an adventure!” “Wear these super-expensive clothes so that you can be like this model” “Buy this super-expensive phone, even though you have a perfectly good one that works just fine, so that you can be on the cutting edge!”
Consumerism is a way of life, that all of us find ourselves in, that is totally focused on the consumer. It is a very ME centered way of living.
The Problem With Consumerism
The problem with consumerism, again, is not in the mere consumption of goods. We all need to consume some stuff. The problem is that in this consumeristic society we live in, the more you consume, the more you want to consume, and the more you feel you need to consume.
Because consumerism is totally catered to the consumer, it leads to a sense of entitlement. After all the customer/consumer is always right.
Consumerism is a lie. The lie is that you are what you consume. Consumerism tells us that we need the car/phone/purse/outfit/home to be who we want to be. And all of us have at one point believed the lie that the things we consume and buy define us.
Consumerism is a natural manifestation of our inherent self-centeredness. The self-centeredness that we see from the Garden of Eden, to the Golden Calf, to the stoning of Stephen, to each extravagant purchase we make to make ourselves feel important or powerful.
Christ’s Call To Consumer Christians
I’m going to say it again, because I know there are some people reading this thinking, “But, I need things! I just can’t stop consuming – you hippie, communist!”
So – Christ does not call us to totally stop consuming things. We don’t have to quit our jobs and withdraw to a commune and totally leave the system. But, here’s what He does call us to:
- Question Consumerism. Each time you spend your God-given money try asking yourself, “Do I really need this? Why do I want this? Is it so that all my friends know I’m like them? Do I want this because I want to believe that I am like everyone else? Is it because I want to prove my power/value/popularity? Am I looking for an identity in an object? Do I really need the $30,000 car when a $10,000 will do exactly what I need? Basically, challenge the status quo ways of 21st Century consumerism.
- Remember your neighbor. Consumerism draws us inward. It’s like living in front of a mirror – always focused on yourself, your desires, your wants, and your identity. It’s about scratching your itch and meeting your “needs”. Christ calls us to “Love your neighbor as yourself”. He commands that we “Take up your cross and follow Jesus”. Jesus is the one who said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”. We should ask ourselves, “How can I contribute to the common good, rather than consume and take?” We should wonder what our neighbor needs and wants before we try to fill our gaping holes of desire.
- Remember who you are. The model of car you drive and the square footage of your home do not define you. Your clothes don’t make you the man or woman you are. You are God’s beloved child. That is your identity. And it’s been given to you by God – it can’t be earned, deserved, or bought.
- Remember what Christ has freely given. You have more than enough in Jesus. He is your treasure beyond measure. Every time our consumeristic world tempts you to consume unnecessarily, stop. Pause and remember that even if everything in this world should be taken from you, you have an eternity of goodness in Jesus.
*Check out this related article I wrote called, “A Christian Approach to Money”
If you’ve liked what you read and want to read more, check out my little book on Christian maturity called, “Growing Up: In, with, and under Jesus” on Amazon