Most thinking people can recognize that our culture has become a consumer culture. Consumerism drives our economy.

A few weeks back, Sans Auto posted some thoughts about consumerism here and here.

He`s right, the consumer choices we make really do make a difference. And even though I am currently living in Japan, my choices make a difference in the US of America. My choices here may even have more influence than they might in Canada because Japan is so very enamoured with all things American.

Japan has taken the idea of consumerism to dizzying heights.

There is a new shopping mall about a half hour drive north of us (maybe 10 km). When it first opened, so many people showed up to go shopping that the sewer system was overloaded and backed up. As a result, security had to close the mall at 5pm instead of the usual 10 pm. Well, that just sent too many people right over the edge. People went on a rampage through the mall, destroying shops, breaking windows and looting. Why? Not because they were protesting any injustice in the world, but because they were being denied the opportunity to buy stuff.


(EDIT: Apparently I was a little over-zealous in my reporting of that incident. Only a few people were smashing windows, and there wasn't a looting rampage.)

I would take this critique a step further...

Not only have we become a culture that thinks it has a right to buy stuff, but we have become consumers of things that are not meant to be consumed.

Here are some examples...

  1. We consume ideas. People are far too willing to buy into an idea, even a bad idea, if it makes them feel good. People buy ideas for the same reason that they buy shoes, or blue jeans, or potato chips. This is very bad. We should only buy into ideas that are true. Relativism is a good example of an idea that has been bought by the unthinking, yet often highly educated, masses, even in the church. We seem to think that it is good to think of moral ideas as being subjective and only correct in that they are supported by a person`s feelings.
  2. We consume art. Maybe this isn`t as catastrophic as being consumers of ideas, but I think that it is worthy of critique. When we realize that there is nothing that is truly moral or good in ideas, we soon begin to apply the same logic to art. Good art is easily recognizable. Good art is beautiful. Koukl relates a story about art in Relativism... Not long ago, the Contemporary Art Center in Cincinnati exhibited the photography of Robert Mapplethorpe. Among the photos was a picture of a man urinating in another man`s mouth. The museum was charged with exhibiting pornography. In defense of the picture, a curator of another museum claimed that the picture was fine art because of the composition and the lighting. Dennis Prager observed `Ladies and gentlemen, if some of the leading artists in a civilization see a man urinating in another man`s mouth and see composition and lighting and do not see their civilization being pissed upon, we are in trouble.`
  3. We consume worship. A quick glance at the shelves in any current Christian bookstore will tell you that the most popular `style` of music is worship music. Ask someone how they would choose a church and you will most likely hear something about the worship service. Ask someone in a church who they worship and they will likely say `God`. Ask them why they worship and you will probably hear `Because it makes me feel good`. We give lip service to God, but our worship has become selfish. We worship for the same reasons that we buy Tim Horton`s donuts or coffee. We shop for churches based on how much we like the music (which we equate with worship). Here is an interesting little exercise...take a look through the lyrics (if there are any) of some of the old hymns. Look for pronouns and notice how many of the pronouns refer to God. Then do the same for a contemporary song...how many of the pronouns refer to the singer?

We have to get out of the consumer mentality on so many different levels. As Christians, we have a duty to become producers. We need to produce and champion good and true ideas , we need to produce art that conveys a message of beauty and we must only worship that which is worthy.

When truth dies we must be prepared to throw beauty on the pyre and we will be left with nothing to worship except our own depravity.

Relativism, if left unchallenged, will deal the death blow.


sans auto said...

... But if my thoughts and your thoughts aren't the same it is far easier to just say that it is relative and I can believe what I think and you can believe what you think rather than having to actually think. You see, if I like trendy jeans, potato chips and shopping malls, and that's the way I grew up, I don't want to change. Even if I do some interspection and realize that i don't agree with the way I'm living, I don't want to change. So how do you get people to change?

Good post, keep them coming.

paul said...

a question somewhat connected to the idea of consumerism...what would happen to the North American church if it lost its privileges as a society connected to the government? What would be the effects (positive or negative) if (1) we didn't get tax receipts anymore for our "joyful giving" and (2) were not required to have a set number of people elected into positions of influence to remain a society?

Emily said...

I like your blog. You're a thinker, and I find it fascinating that you are in Japan.

The very fascination I have with the fact that you are in Japan (a place I have only seen on TV, heard about in news articles, read about in history books, and seen conveyed in anime) defines the motive behind consumerism.

Maybe we are looking at consumerism all wrong. Its not the motivation to buy that drives us, but the insatiable apetite for the new and satisfying the hunger to experience new things, to view the world in a new way for a moment. To learn something new or to enjoy discovery of new things.

When we are children, everything is new. We soak the world in with enthusiasm. I have found I can maintain that enthusiasm and curb my desire to buy when I channel my energy into learning and soaking in new information.

Maybe as adults and teenagers, we are so saturated with media and information that consumerism is a response to a need to explore new things, or it is a response to regain that feeling of meaning and purpose in the newly discovered.

Are people consuming because they want to buy things without thinking, or are they simply doing what public education has taught them to do? Be good members of society, don't create waves, consume more goods, and stop learning after you graduate?

Can you see where I am going with this? Look at it from the perspective of a normal american who doesn't have a college degree and is taught from birth to work hard and that your worth is measured by how much material goods you collect.

Hmm..I hope this is making sense. Maybe not. I will give it more thought and write a blog if I can get it to gel in my own head.

Emily said...

As a follow up to my blog...

Japan is the culture where public education has the most impact, the highest rank of importance, and is the most intense in the world. Perhaps the massive intensity to consume is connected??? I think it is.