Friday, July 14, 2006

From Lord to Label: how consumerism undermines our faith

Has consumerism infiltrated the Church? I would argue yes, Jesus has simply become another brand that we wear. In our consumer driven society we can take off one label and replace it with another. When a christian is one who goes to church but then reverts back to being whatever label they would like to be during the week that is consumerism.

It used to be that we were defined by who our family or friends were, now we are defined by what we consume. Likewise we are defined by the church we go too, and it's impact on how others may see us. We shop for a church like we shop for a car, what is the color, does it have full options, leather interior, etc. If our church is not meeting our need this year we shop for a new one. This is all a result of the power of consumerism. It impacts every aspect of our lives including our understanding of the church and Christ.

I believe we need to get back to the concept of who we are in Christ and not what we have in Christ. Only in the US could a radical prosperity doctrine take place. This article deals with some of these issues:

Christian critiques of consumerism usually focus on the dangers of idolatry—the temptation to make material goods the center of life rather than God. This, however, misses the real threat consumerism poses. My concern is not materialism, strictly speaking, or even the consumption of goods—as contingent beings, we must consume resources to survive. The problem is not consuming to live, but rather living to consume.

We find ourselves in a culture that defines our relationships and actions primarily through a matrix of consumption. As the philosopher Baudrillard explains, “Consumption is a system of meaning.” We assign value to ourselves and others based on the goods we purchase. One’s identity is now constructed by the clothes you wear, the vehicle you drive, and the music on your iPod. In short, you are what you consume.

This explains why shopping is the number one leisure activity of Americans. It occupies a role in society that once belonged only to religion—the power to give meaning and construct identity. Consumerism, as Pete Ward correctly concludes, “represents an alternative source of meaning to the Christian gospel.” No longer merely an economic system, consumerism has become the American worldview—the framework through which we interpret everything else, including God, the gospel, and church.

When we approach Christianity as consumers rather than seeing it as a comprehensive way of life, an interpretive set of beliefs and values, Christianity becomes just one more brand we consume along with Gap, Apple, and Starbucks to express identity. And the demotion of Jesus Christ from Lord to label means to live as a Christian no longer carries an expectation of obedience and good works, but rather the perpetual consumption of Christian merchandise and experiences—music, books, t-shirts, conferences, and jewelry. Read More.

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