Committed to Unhappiness: Consumerism is the Enemy of the Church

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The American economic system could not continue to exist without keeping us constantly dissatisfied and somewhat unhappy.  Consider the fact that if you are happy with your life; if you enjoy spending time with your children, playing with them and talking with them; if you like nature; if you enjoy sitting on your front steps; if your sexual life is relatively happy; and if you have a peaceful sense of who you are and are stabilized in your relationships; if you like solitude, enjoy praying and just like talking to people—spending time in conversation with them; if you enjoy living simply; if you have no need to compete with your friends or neighbors; you haven’t spent a nickel.

That makes you an economic liability.

Suppose more and more people were like that.  Wouldn’t the whole American economic system fall apart?  That’s why the ads on television try to convince you that you are not thin enough; your skin is not smooth enough; you don’t have the kind of car that impresses people; you lack the symbols of achievement that will make you admired—only then can the society in which we live manipulate us into buying more and more commodities to fill the emptiness of our lives; to assure others that we are successful; and create that false sense of satisfaction which the advertisers promise if we will just buy the products advertised.

Related: How Are We Political? A Dialogue between Tony Campolo & Shane Claiborne

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I have heard a lot of teachers condemn the secular humanism of our world.  The truth is that secular humanism is not the primary enemy of the Church.  Instead, the enemy of the Church is consumerism.  We have made an idol out of the things that are being sold.  We bow down and worship the commodities that are paraded before us on television.  We are enslaved to a mindset that tells us that we must possess more and more because we can never have enough.  These are the things that are dragging us away from Jesus.

Our inability to enjoy life without a continual sense of craving consumer goods and being continuously satisfied with who we are and what we have is good news for economic growth and, after all, economic growth is what both political parties are preaching these days.




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Tony Campolo

Tony CampoloTony Campolo is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Eastern University. Look for Tony in your area and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.View all posts by Tony Campolo →

  • Rev E Philip Davis

    I strongly agree with Tony here, a good text is Eccelsiastes 5:10-11, “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless. As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them?” Not only is consumption an idol but it leads to servitude to debt, a theme I explore further in my book “The Crisis and the Kingdom” (Cascade/Wipf and Stock). blessings, Philip Davis

  • Geoff Koontz

    In the ten commandents, we take “Do not murder” and “Do not steal” seriously, but we tend to skip over “Do not covet”. Certainly it’s hard to interpret much of the old testament, but that part seems pretty clear. Especially when Jesus follows up by saying things like, “Blessed are the poor”, or “Do not worry about you will wear”.
    Having just moved back to Canada from Africa, I must say that this problem is quite apparent to me, even among people who are genuinely trying to serve God.
    Honestly, there are some aspects of consumerism where I feel it’s best to try and redeem it rather than fight it. At Christmas time the charitable gift catalogues are a great idea (like World Vision’s)! And a few key purchases can help us to be more productive in our lives (e.g. a good smart phone). But at the same time I also look for ways to challenge consumerism, for example by trying to be an example of “clutter-less” life.

    • http://www.theradicaldisciples.com Ryan Drake

      Geoff,

      I’m just going to say that we do not live under the Law – The Ten Commandments – anymore.

      Christ did away with the Law and empowered us by grace through the Holy Spirit to live lives free from the bondage of sin.

      Matt 22:36-39!

      I love your last few points too! There is a huge trend towards sharing economy now and this idea of collaborative consumption!

  • Drew

    Thanks for the article Tony. While I would disagree with what false idol is the biggest problem right now, I think we can all agree that consumerism is right up there.

    • http://www.theradicaldisciples.com Ryan Drake

      Yet never preached on from the pulpit!

  • Ragan Courtney

    Thank you, Tony. This is obvious to any thinking person, yet we see our culture sprawled out on the table chopped into managable bits so we can take more stuff home and store it in our rented storage units. We no longer consider the lilies, we buy that at Krogers for $11.00 a bunch!

  • Survivorgirl007

    What does it mean when the bishop of my former mainline lives in an $800,000 mansion in a luxe neighborhood – all paid for by the church? REALLY??? Something is very, very wrong here.

  • http://www.theradicaldisciples.com Ryan Drake

    Why is this never preached on from the pulpit?

    I’d also say that we vote everyday with our lives and with our dollars, so we need to consider ethical options that benefit people and planet. I think we can learn to consume less.

    Collaborative consumption is also a growing movement and we need to be open to new and different economic models that might replace GDP/capitalism in the future.

  • Chaz

    On a side note, for only $379 you can register for the National Youth Workers Conference and hear Tony speak in Dallas this weekend!

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