Busted Stuff: Consumerism & the Faith

kinnon —  June 26, 2007 — 4 Comments

Electronicsdump

Dan Edelen is a blogger I read consistently in Google Reader. He’s a lot harder nosed than I am and I occasionally find a perceived level of infallibility in his posting (at least in the comment section).

That being said, Dan has a prophetic voice and my reaction to it would not be atypical for the average Israelite. (Dan doesn’t speak in the standard charismatic positive personal prophetic voice. He’s a tad more Old Testament in his gifting.)

His letter to Rich, A Young Ruler, well skewered me. If you read my blog, you know I have a mild addiction to things shiny and new. Dan unpacks that addiction in a post that features the iPhone.

After explaining the meaning of the word, profligate, Dan tells Rich:

I  can’t help but think, Rich, that since perfectly good cell phones can be had for $50, the desire for one that costs ten times that much seems…well, profligate. No doubt, the iPhone reeks of style and trendiness, and no doubt, many people who claim to follow Jesus will buy one. I’m not sure, though, that those buyers understand the word profligate.

Let me tell you about some people I know. I know a couple who bought a small home in one of the worst neighborhoods in our city. He has a good job and could afford a much larger home, but he and his wife elected to use their extra money to meet the desperate needs of their poorer neighbors. I know a man who forgos the expensive medication he needs to feel better so he can help a woman who has no health insurance pay for the even more expensive cancer medication she needs. I know a family who sent $1000 of their hard-earned money to help an unemployed couple they had never met in person make a house payment so they could keep their home. I know a man who gave every cent he owned in the world to fund a missionary couple who would have been recalled. Those missionaries were in the middle of their translation of the Bible into a new language. They would’ve had to come home unless they raised enough money to complete the translation.

My blog friend, Greg Laughery appears to be on the same wavelength in his post, Christian Idolatry:

I want to explore some thoughts on consumerism and a cleverly devised Christian spirituality, which really speaks more of our impoverishment, than of being in community with God. I’ll begin with this.

Eugene Peterson in his outstanding, Living the Resurrection, (36) has some provocative words for us on this subject:

“There are books, videos, and seminars that promise to let us in on the Christian ‘secret’ of whatever we feel is lacking in our life – financial security, well behaved children, weight loss, sex, travel to holy sites, exciting worship, celebrity teachers.

It isn’t long before we’re standing in line to buy whatever is being offered. And because none of the purchases does what we had hoped for, or at least not for long, we’re soon back to buy another, and then another. The process is addicting. We become consumers of packaged spiritualities.

This also is idolatry. We never think of using this term because everything we’re buying and paying for is defined by the adjective Christian. But idolatry it is, nevertheless. It’s packaged as a product – God depersonalized and made available as a technique or a program. The Christian market in idols has never been more brisk or lucrative. The late medieval indulgences that provoked Luther’s righteous wrath are small potatoes compared with what’s going on in our evangelical backyard.”

Greg goes on to say: 

The plight of a Consumerist world view and spirituality is that it ends up sucking the life out of whatever crosses its path, as we risk falling deeper into patterns of idolatry: self and other consuming. Jesus won’t buy it. He’s not for sale.

Peterson’s The Message translates the end of the Rich Young Ruler story, in Mark 10, this way: 

Jesus looked him hard in the eye—and loved him! He said, "There’s one thing left: Go sell whatever you own and give it to the poor. All your wealth will then be heavenly wealth. And come follow me."

The man’s face clouded over. This was the last thing he expected to hear, and he walked off with a heavy heart. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and not about to let go.

What future moth-eaten and rust-potentialed things do I cling to? God help me!

UPDATE: Let me add this from one of my favourite bloggers, Erika Haub:

Our invitation to generosity is not occasional. It is not reduced to our tax-deductible charitable gifts that we make in December. It is daily and weekly and sacrificial and self-denying, and it goes against every message our culture gives us concerning how we should think about ourselves. And while we should of course love people in ways that work against damaging forces of dependency, we should not chafe at the continual stream of need that is brought to our feet. We dare not, like the early disciples Ananais and Sapphira, decide that it really isn’t required of us to bring all of our excess to the table ready to share.

kinnon

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A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

4 responses to Busted Stuff: Consumerism & the Faith

  1. The IPhone won’t be hitting Canada any time soon. The rumours Rogers will carry it may be true, or not.

    link to theglobeandmail.com

    Consumers in the US will wind up paying over 2 thousand dollars for the two year plan on top of the purchase price.
    Cool is expensive.

    Surveys say 6 in 10 Americans want one. We’re pathetic, dangle a new toy in front of us and we want it.

    Other companies will be making similar phones for a lot less if people can curb their greed, step back from the hype and wait.

    Reply
  2. Bill, if you knew me in person, you’d see I have a soft nose. 😉

    Thanks for expanding on my post at Cerulean Sanctum, “A Letter to Rich, the Young Ruler.” I appreciate your kind words.

    I’m not sure I can claim a prophetic voice, though. I suspect that I’m more of an agent provocateur, though I’ve not seen that phrase used anywhere in the Scriptures. But then God once said that He liked to do new things.

    Blessings.

    Reply
  3. Bill,
    Thanks for including my post on Christian Idolatry here in your Busted Stuff: Consumerism & the Faith.

    Reply
  4. when it comes to consumerism i find that we as christians tend to either be in denial or offering some sort aethestic response – denial fullstop. One seems to exhibit a form of self delusion and the other a form of legalism – will it provoke a change of heart or just guilt with little or no altered behaviour?

    Whilst i think church is good at making us better [more ethical] consumers i’m not sure we have contributed much in terms of being grace filled givers and i’m not even sure what will?

    Reply

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