consumerism and idolatry (iii)

In the previous post in this series I flagged the connection of consumerism with greed. But this apparently obvious connection raises questions. In particular:

5. How should we ‘map’ the connection? Is greed the idolatrous dimension of consumerism? Or is greed the essence of consumerism — such that consumerism is merely the ‘clothing’ greed wears in the late modern West?

Why does this question matter?

Well, if greed turns out to be the idolatrous dimension of consumerism, then it probably isn’t so helpful to condemn consumerism as idolatry tout court. Rather, we should take issue with greed-tainted consumerism (leaving open for now the issue of whether there is any such thing as consumerism untainted by greed).

But if, on the other hand, consumerism turns out to be the contemporary form of greed — or otherwise to have greed as its essence — then we have to start asking questions about what we gain by using the label ‘consumerism’.

Not that there are no good answers to this question. It could very well be that it’s a necessary — and illuminating — matter of translation, for example. Contemporary Westerners may not recognise themselves as greedy (reserving that label, e.g., for big business or people like Gordon Gecko from Wall Street — the 1% targeted by the Occupy movement). But they may recognise themselves as entangled in consumerism.

Alternatively, things could run the other way. Helping someone see they’re entangled with consumerism could well lead them to say, “Big whoop!” Whereas showing them that they’re implicated in greed could prove to be the really arresting thing: “You mean that thing I hate in big business is at work in me too? Ouch!”

Enough throat-clearing! I’m half-way through my ramble already — I was heartened to notice that Brian Rosner took nine chapters of his book on greed and idolatry to get to this point.

Let’s just run with the Consumerism Is Idolatry line and see where it takes us…

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3 comments

  1. Hi Chris,

    Thanks for your thoughts on consumerism (greed) and idolatry. You have encouraged me to read Rosner’s book.

    Off on a slight tangent… With your thinking on consumerism, do you think that we could identify ‘consumerism’ as persecution?

    I’m thinking of Psalm 3:2 where foes question the psalmist’s trust in God’s salvation. In a similar way, consumerism questions our trust in God’s salvation as we put our happiness and hope in the things we have and do rather than in the God who promises (Heb 13:5-6).

    CRAIG

    1. Hi Craig!

      Interesting thought re: the parallel between the effects of consumerism and (one of) the effects of persecution…

      I guess you could go there. Although, I hesitate a little with too strong an identification — given the lack of any particular person or group applying pressure directly on our faith in the consumerism.

      I may be more inclined to say it’s like the faith-destabilising erosion of our contentment that we see in places like Psalm 73 — where our own out-of-whack desires (envy in Ps 73.3) form a spiritually corrosive mix when combined with the out-of-whackness of the world (the fact that the arrogant rich seem to prosper and do quite well whereas those who trust in God struggle).

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