Monday, February 15, 2010

Consumerism is Thoroughly Pagan

This paragraph from Alan Hirsch's The Forgotten Ways encapsulates much of where my thinking is at recently:
Speaking to the insecurity of the human situation, it was Jesus who said "So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matt. 6:31-33, emphasis mine). Consumerism is thoroughly pagan. Pagans run after these things (Gk. epizēteō "seek, desire, want; search for, look for"). Seen in this light, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Extreme Makeover, Big Brother, and other lifestyle shows are of the most pagan, and paganizing, shows on TV. Even the perennial favorites about renovating the house paganize us, because they focus us on that which so easily enslaves us. In these the banality of consumerism reaches a climax as we are sold the lie that the thing that will complete us is a new kitchen or a house extension, whereas in fact these only ad more stress to our mortgages and our families. These shows are far more successful promoters of unbelief than even outright intellectual atheism, because they hit us at that place where we must render our trust and loyalty. Most people are profoundly susceptible to the idolatrous allure of money and things. We do well to remember what our Lord said about serving two masters and about running after things (Matt. 6:24-33).
One of my greatest concerns right now is that the church world, at least in the US, far from being a prophetic voice against this paganism in our culture, is enthusiastically in bed with it. To take a stand against the consumerism of our culture is to be labeled a communist.


  1. Hi, Kevin. I think sometimes we have a tendency to fall into a false dilemma here. If you espouse free market principles, you're labeled a rabid consumerist. If you speak out against rabid consumerism, you could be labeled a communist. I don't think this is the case. I am against communism because I don't think the state should be controlling the flow of wealth and what I do with myself. I am against a system where the goal is to acquire as much wealth as possible with as little regard to humanity or ethics as possible. I am for a free market economy in a moral society. That's why America has worked so well (despite her many problems), because the founders knew that it would take high moral and ethical values for our particular system to work.

    As John Adams said, "Our Constitution was made only for a religious and moral people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other." As seen with the many problems that have been created by an unethical few (primarily within our own government) Adams' words are quite prophetic.

    So no, I don't think you're a communist for speaking out against rabid consumerism, but if you're advocating communism, I don't think you realize what you're asking for.

  2. I'm sorry, I called you Kevin. I meant Keith. My bad :)

  3. Hi Brennon (bossmanham). Welcome!

    No, I'm not advocating communism. But that's not the real danger that our society faces right now, anyway. We're not in danger of rabid consumerism; we're eyeball-deep in it, right here, right now.

    Whatever we may think of America's morality, past or present, it was not strong enough to prevent the slave trade, the wresting of land from Native Americans by force and broken treaties, or the hideous workplace conditions that existed subsequent to the Industrial Revolution.

    The sad thing is that most people view "consumerism" as a problem for people who have ostentatiously lavish lifestyles. We seldom apply it to ourselves, and even less often recognize the chilling effect it has on others' reception of the Gospel. We all too often appear to the outside world like people who have some odd ideas about God, but live our lives chasing after all the same things they chase after, so what's the difference?

  4. True, and I agree with you completely. The people of God should be focused on Him, not in beating the Joneses. It was in compromising Christian principles and justifying sin that the slave trade and the atrocities committed against native Americans were allowed to occur. The same type of compromising, walking with one foot on God's side and one foot on the lust of "stuff" that has led to the problems we are having. We can't serve both God and money, to quote Jesus.

  5. From Dave Porter,
    Hi Keith, great post.

    "...everybody says that all they need is one thing; but what they really mean is that they need just one thing more..." -from a Rich Mullins 80's song.

    I've said it before and I'll say it again. I learned more biblical concepts during the 1980's from listening to CCM than I did from listening to sermons.

    Keep on fighting the Good Fight,
    Dave Porter

  6. Hey Keith

    Thanks sharing this. I agree that consumerism can be a nasty beast and I will say that it sometimes takes peoples focus away from God. But I wonder about Hirsch's example, namely when he says:

    "Even the perennial favorites about renovating the house paganize us, because they focus us on that which so easily enslaves us. In these the banality of consumerism reaches a climax as we are sold the lie that the thing that will complete us is a new kitchen or a house extension, whereas in fact these only ad more stress to our mortgages and our families."

    To say a newly renovated home's sole benefit is seen at the bank or the utility company comes across a tad extreme - pardon the pun.

    on more then one occasion, I’ve seen Ty Pennington and crew take his bus and half the U.S. population to the home of a disabled individual to demolish and rebuild the home more suitable to their needs.

    As a person who has a disability, I am well aware of the challenges that come while living in an inaccessible home. Without a walk in shower, wall oven, or stove with its base cut out, simple tasks such as bathing or baking cookies can be extremely exhausting. Sometimes it’s the highlight of a special needs person’s day. So if Ty pulls up, offering to renovate my house so I can better handle life’s basic necessities, he could be an agent of blessing sent by God.

  7. Hi Tim. Welcome!

    Your point about the needs of someone who is disabled is well-taken. And I'm quite sure that Extreme Makeover: Home Edition has been a blessing from God to many of the people who have received makeovers. But here's why I think Hirsh's point is still relevant:

    First, I'm not sure he's specifically referring to that show. Although he refers to Extreme Makeover in the previous sentence, this sentence could include This Old House and other home renovation shows that have nothing to do with helping people with disabilities.

    Second, most of us are not watching these shows because we have actual needs ourselves; we're watching them because we're hungering after something bigger, newer, nicer, shinier, looking to "improvements" to our environments to fulfill us. And when the culture as a whole creates pressure to "keep up," and we choose debt as the method to do so, then yes, we are stressing ourselves out to fulfill a desire that God never intended us to have.

    Third, even though Ty Pennington genuinely helps those few whom he actually can, it's hard to see how that actually helps those of us who are merely watching the show (and absorbing the ads from Sears). If we're going through life hoping and wishing for someone to come in and transform our surroundings, it still seems that we are being misdirected from our true purpose in life. (I'm not, by the way, suggesting that you are doing that.)

    God bless you, Tim. Thanks for contributing.

  8. You live in the largest consumer society on Earth and you blame it on Pagens! Aren't the majority of people in your country supposed to be religious? Aren't your Presidents supposed to have a direct line to god so that he can tell them which countries to invade?

    Utter bollocks.

  9. Hi Philip. Welcome!

    I think you missed the point of the post. Yes, I live in the largest consumer society on Earth, but I don't blame it on Pagens (sic) or Pagans or any particular group of people. I am saying that consumerism itself is a pagan phenomenon, understanding "pagan" here as Jesus would have meant it when he said, "the pagans run after all these things."

    I'm not sure whether the majority of people in my country are "religious" or not; it all depends on how a pollster asks the question. But I'm not impressed if they are: the religious people were the ones most influential in getting Jesus crucified.

    I can't speak to whether our Presidents have a direct line to God or not; I know that some people who thought they had a direct line blew up the Twin Towers and bombed the London Subways. So once again, I'm not impressed by people being religious. But that also doesn't make me any more impressed by consumerism. Don't you think that chasing after more and more stuff is a vapid and empty way to live your life?