consumerism and idolatry (ii)

The link between consumerism and idolatry is topical. Earlier this week, James K. A. Smith posted some evidence confirming his ‘reading’ of shopping malls as cathedrals of consumerism.

So let me continue to share my collection of half-baked hunches about consumerism (I posted the first two HERE):

3. If we’re treating consumerism as idolatry because we’ve decided ahead of time that this is what it is, then I wonder whether we’re in danger of stretching the language of idolatry totally out of shape.

Sure, it may mean we can drape it over every sin. And doing so may even bring some of sin’s psycho-spiritual dynamics into focus — helping us zoom in on how we’re treating good things as God-things, as they say. But the cost is that we risk losing any contour-hugging specificity when we identify as idolatry things that never get spoken of that way in the Bible (like King David’s sinful dalliance with Bathsheba or the Jewish people’s hypocritical failure to obey the Law that Paul exposes in Romans 2).

If this is the game we want to play, then I feel like we’ve got to ask ourselves some hard questions about how much of a service it really does us.

4. If, however, there is something distinctive about consumerism that makes it fitting to identify it with idolatry — as Smith’s post suggests — then surely our starting point needs to be the conceptually and verbally related biblical equation: “greed … is idolatry” (Colossians 3.5).

The benefit of this is not simply that it’s biblical but also that it suggests that this is in fact a fruitful direction to (metaphorically?) stretch the language.

It may still leave me a little puzzled about which particular demonic power lurks behind the ‘idols’ of greed and consumerism — where more familiar forms of idolatry maybe don’t leave me guessing quite so much (see 1 Corinthians 10.18-22). But at least I’m reasonably confident this way of applying the language of idolatry does less violence to the biblical weave of the concept. Because it’s meant to stretch this way.

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