Ken Connor

The current mindset seems to be, "I shop, therefore I am." Americans become the people they want to be through the commodities they buy. Everything today, from fashion to music to television to cuisine, is fine-tuned to meet our individual wants and desires. Through consumerism, each individual becomes the god of their own private universe.

Consumerism, Scripture and Changing Worldviews

There is a deep deception at the root of the consumer mindset. The Scriptures teach that "the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil" (1Tim. 6:10), and they discourage us from calculating our net worth based merely on the relationship of our assets and liabilities. They teach that we have value because we are creatures made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), so loved by Him, that He sent His Son to die in our place (John 3:16; 1Pet. 1:18-19). Redemption, we are taught, comes through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ—not on the basis of our material wealth. Personal success is measured in terms of one's obedience to God's call (Heb. 11), not accumulated material wealth.

In the 20th century, the Christian worldview described above came under intense attack, and it ultimately lost its status as the prevailing worldview of the Western world. Men and women stopped seeing themselves as creatures made in the image of God; they stopped seeing themselves as moral creatures. Suddenly there was a great ambiguity about what it meant to be human and what it meant to live a successful, happy life. The result: widespread emptiness and confusion.

Filling the Void

Into this void stepped an army of advertisers who claimed to have just the thing to fill that deep sense of emptiness. Most advertisements try to tell the same story: buy our product or service and you will finally find true happiness. Bombarded with these advertisements 24-hours a day, seven days a week, Americans became convinced. Consumerism has become the new prevailing worldview and the new means of salvation.

The consumerist version of salvation encourages us to see ourselves as merely economic creatures whose redemption comes through buying and selling. Everything becomes a commodity—even people. Consumers are encouraged to ask, will this person meet my needs, will they make me wealthier, healthier? If not, then the person is merely in the way.

Consumerism directly contradicts Christian truth in many important places. Therefore, Christians should resist falling into consumerist thinking. Our primary mission in this world is not to accumulate stuff, but it is to love God and each other (Mark 12:28-34). As Christians, we must constantly remind our fellow Americans in the public square that economic questions are not the only questions worth considering; in fact, they are not even the most important questions. The most important questions relate to the wellbeing of our people, and personal wellbeing cannot be calculated in merely economic terms. Both Republicans and Democrats fall into the mistake of thinking that if people simply had more money and more stuff then everyone would be happier.

Therefore, though we certainly should not hope for a recession, we should not fear it as if it is the worst possible fate. If nothing else, it offers an opportunity to remember that true riches are not those we store here on earth, but those that await us in Heaven.

Ken Connor

Ken Connor is Chairman of the Center for a Just Society in Washington, DC.