Christian consumerism |

American Consumerism – Soothing Our Spiritual Void


Jay Gatsby was F. Scott Fitzgerald's quintessential icon of American consumerism and material wealth. Book jacket illustration by legendary designer Alvin Lustig. Click image for more info.

Jay Gatsby was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s quintessential icon of American consumerism and material wealth. This book jacket illustration was done by legendary designer Alvin Lustig.

Throughout the economic uncertainties of the last several years there has been a steady stream of finger pointing, name calling and class division, all in an effort to expose those who were responsible for getting us into the largest economic mess since the Great Depression.

But in the here and now, calling out the miscreants in this fiasco is probably not nearly as important as looking into what is most likely the larger, underlying foundation that allowed it to flourish in the first place: Namely, American consumerism, and our tendency to equate personal happiness with the acquisition of material possessions.

We seem to have this aggregate idea of what signals success and the attainment of the comfortable living we believe we’re entitled to. And this, of course, is suggested and buttressed by the mass media, which showers us with tales and examples of the consummate life.

It’s like a spin cycle: An audience is created, targeted with advertising, and then sold the goods and services that will provide the profits to repeat the cycle.

But this is not to say that the media is to blame for consumerism. The media isn’t just some inanimate beast bent on destroying our core; the media is made up of a lot of “us” – creative and smart human beings working hard in their jobs every day like most everybody else.

Nor am I saying that things like smart phones, flat-screen TVs, new fashions and stimulating media are bad. God has given us wonderfully-creative minds and it is in our nature to express this creativity in an outward manner.

No, we need to move beyond just faulting the media and the never-ending hawking of material possessions, and try to understand on a more personal level why we are so prone to falling prey to contemporary culture’s seductive siren song tempting us to “grab more stuff.”

Why do we sometimes feel justified in ignoring our own core beliefs with regards to materialism? Recall that old American proverb that says, “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” It is probably not so far off the mark to refer to the message sent out from the modern media tempting us to get more stuff as the honey, and to refer to us, the consumers, as the flies.

Because when you really think about it, what exactly is honey to a fly? It’s sustenance. And that may be what consumerism and much of the scramble to gather up material possessions is all about; maybe we’re trying to nourish our souls by filling the voids of self-worth, security and contentment in our lives with all kinds of material things.


consumerism and christianity

Alvin Lustig: Cover art for Fortune Magazine. September, 1952

Consumerism Is An Ideology

But consumerism goes beyond just plain old everyday materialism. It can be easily argued that consumerism is actually an ideology, a system of thinking where a person’s status, possessions and appearance are more highly valued than the content of one’s character and the belief system one’s life operates on.

When we buy into the consumerist ideology we shift the focus of our lives towards the pursuit of a fake, plastic lifestyle that promises fulfillment and contentment, easily obtained just by buying all the right stuff.

Of course, deep down inside, most of us know that this is all just an illusion, crafted by the media and legitimized by society. Yet we allow our minds to be steered by the wafting scent of consumer goods and the golden promise that we will acquire a truer sense of security in our lives once we have the financial resources that will allow us to possess all the trappings of a “comfortable” lifestyle.

This kind of thinking can result in the priorities that drive us forward through our lives becoming more like a chase for the perceived security of some nebulous, idealized lifestyle and the validation of choices we make along the way in favor of this quest.

Unfortunately, too often all of this self-imposed complication ends in a simple result: An unfulfilled life that has seemingly whizzed by, and the late realization that our life has basically consisted of what we did for a living and the “good life” that we sought with such obstinate determination has actually already passed us by.


It’s Okay To Have Nice Things

Just because dealing with consumerism is a mandatory part of living in our modern times doesn’t mean that we are obligated to define our lives by it. But it also doesn’t mean that we need to be ascetics or that there is anything wrong with having nice things.

I like nice stuff as much as anyone and I don’t think that having an appreciation for the aesthetics, functionality and emotional power of material possessions makes me into some kind of a shallow person. The struggle for me has been to be able to resist the addictive power of consumerism by learning to appreciate and find pleasure in the material things that are all around me without having to possess so many of them.

I think the real truth is probably already in us – that the true security and satisfaction in life is found in the person of Jesus Christ, and that by living the ideology of consumerism, we are, in a way, committing a sort of treason by validating the mindsets of those in our society who have already rejected the gospel.


How about you? Do you ever feel at odds with the allure of today’s consumer culture?





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