The 4 Lies of Consumerism

Congrats to Karen Mundy winner of the second of 5 copies of Worldliness by C.J. Mahaney.  I’m giving away another book today.  Keep reading for details.

Consumerism was the triumphant winner of the ideological wars of the 20h century, beating out both religion and politics as the path millions of Americans follow to find purpose meaning, order, and transcendent exaltation in their lives. –April Witt

Americans live in consumerism.  Like the air we breathe, it surrounds us.  Most of the time we don’t even realize it’s there.

On average we’re exposed to somewhere between 500 to 3,000 advertising messages a day.  Advertising is intended to create discontentment.  Every ad is designed to tell us we’re lacking something, something that product or service can provide.  “You’re not pretty enough.” “Not cool enough.” “Not safe enough.” “Not having as much fun as you could.” “Not giving your kids all the advantages you could.”

Most of us would never think we’re one of the millions who finds purpose, meaning, and order in material positions.  But without even thinking about it we live in ways the demonstrate we believe our lives would be better with just a little more of this or a little bit better that.

Here are 4 lies of consumerism.

1) My stuff makes me happy.

Few people consciously believe stuff makes them happy, but… Consumerism says you’d be happier with a newer car that doesn’t break down as often.  It says you’d be happier with a bigger house so the kids don’t have to share a room. Consumerism says it’d be nice to eat out on the weekends rather than cook.  No not McDonalds, at least Chilis, or better yet, Bonefish.  It says your kids need expensive birthday parties with Chuck E Cheese and inflatable, bouncy castles.  It says you’d be happier with whiter teeth, shinier hair, fewer wrinkles, and tighter abs.

2) My stuff makes me important.

Again, few people really believe this, but… Consumerism says you’ll feel important when your neighbors say they like your new sports car.  It says you’ll feel good when your fiends ask you where you got that cute dress and those stylish shoes.  Consumerism says you’ll feel important at the water cooler Monday morning when you’re telling everyone about your experience at the big game, out on the boat, at the 5 star hotel, or at the spa.

3) My stuff makes me secure.

This one most people will acknowledge but rationalize because it seems so true and necessary.  Consumerism says if you love your family you’ll buy life insurance and auto insurance and health insurance and long term disability.  It says your anxiety would be a lot less if you moved out of the city into the suburbs… a nice suburb… gated… with 24 hour security.  It says if you earn enough or save enough you’ll have less to worry about.

4) My stuff makes me rich.

Consumerism says the rich people are the people with a lot of money – Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, movie stars, rock stars, sports stars.  Consumerism ignores the infinitely better riches every Christian has stored up for them in heaven.  It mocks the richness of the peace, hope, and love that comes from a relationship with God.

Just to be clear, I’m not saying there’s anything inherently wrong with buying a new car, eating out, buying insurance or anything else mentioned above.  They can be very good, and can help do what God has called us to do.  The problem is when our first instinct is to look to money and stuff to solve our problems.  It’s when we’re not happy with what we have.  It’s when our hopes and dreams revolve stuff instead of God.

The sin of covetousness is not that we have stuff; it’s that our stuff has us.

In what ways does stuff have you?  In what ways are you going to change your thinking or actions regarding stuff?  Where have you found victory over consumerism in your life?

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17 Responses to “The 4 Lies of Consumerism”

  1. Wow! Once again you have hit the nail on the head with this one! For anybody that thinks they aren’t affected by consumerism, all we have to do is look in their bathroom and see how many “products” they own. How much make-up? How many hair products? How many things aside from plain soap do we have? I’m just as guilty of this. There are different scented soaps at each sink, about 3 diff. body washes, a drawer full of hair care stuff, etc. I am able to walk out of my house without any makeup and hair in a ponytail. However, sadly, I know MANY woman who will NOT leave the house without makeup or hair done. It’s very sad they feel that if they present the REAL them, they aren’t good enough. It’s the consumer mentality that has led to this. Can’t wait to see other comments on this one!

    • Our society and media really undermines women’s contentment with their natural appearance doesn’t they?

      There’s not as much pressure on men with their appearance, but ads play the status card with men undermining our contentment with car, computer, phone, etc. We don’t want our friends thinking less of us because we have “old, obsolete junk.”

  2. For those of us that have walked the streets and slums of the poorest places on the planet, we can see that none of these lies apply. that being said, I am as guilty as anyone else of believing them. Its human nature. See Exodus? Thanks for the manna, can we have something else???

    dang, if I just had some new golf clubs my life would be complete!

    • Rusty, that raises an issue Karen brought up the other day…

      After having seen extreme poverty in Kenya last year first hand, I find it very difficult to know out how to spend money. It’s hard go out to eat and spend $30+ on dinner for my family of 5 and not think that could feed a person in Kenya for a whole month.

      I don’t think God expect us to give all our money to the poor and never spend anything on ourselves or for fun, but I’m wrestling to try to figure out what principles or guidelines to use in my spending/giving decisions.

  3. As Tyler said in Fight Club, “The things you own, end up owning you”.

    Great reminder!

  4. The really bad part comes when stuff means more to us than God and/or people do. To place anything above loving God with everything we have or above loving others as we love ourselves can lead us away from God’s purpose for our lives. So, I guess the question is where are our hearts as believers in Christ in this world of consumerism? I use Proverbs 30:8-9 as I pray that God keeps me from the love of money (love of stuff).

  5. “In what ways does stuff have you? In what ways are you going to change your thinking or actions regarding stuff? Where have you found victory over consumerism in your life?”

    Hopefully, I own my stuff more than they own me. I find that that having little money, though making easier to curb any impulse, still allows the possibility that own lusts after stuff. Just because one doesn’t buy X and Y and Z doesn’t mean that she isn’t wrongfully craving for them. What does one spend her thoughts on? Stuff? Or on things that can’t be destroyed?

    • You’re absolutely right, and it’s an important point. Consumerism has nothing to do with how wealthy a person is. The rich and poor are just as prone to covet what they don’t have.

  6. Great reminder.. this would be a good one to read everyday to keep yourself in check… and redirect our thinking since we are being bombarded with the consumerism ads almost consistently.

  7. thanks, especially enjoyed point #4

  8. sometimes when I atop and think about the last few purchases I made, I am shocked by how easily I get caught in the consumerism. God help us all!

  9. Consumerism also offers a very tempting way to “afford” what you “need” when you don’t have the cash on hand to do it: debt. And, as the Bible says, a debt makes a slave out of the borrower. I’m sorry to say I’m one of those slaves, thinking that “retirement” as the world defines it is completely out of reach for this near-50 engineer.

    • Very true, my friend. I’m afraid a lot of folks are in the same situation you are. But don’t give up hope. There’s still time to turn things around. I believe with all my heart that if you put God first in your finances, He will take care of you even into the later years of life.

  10. “The sin of covetousness is not that we have stuff; it’s that our stuff has us.”

    That line grabbed me and shook me!!! It’s not that I see myself completely saturated in consumerism, but I sure do see it in my two oldest children.

    I must own a copy of this book. My children need to read it and need to stop believing the lies of consumerism and seccular society.

    Thank you, Paul for this blog post! This is a much-needed wake up call.

    • Deb, I hope you either win one of the 2 remaining copies I’m giving away or buy a copy for yourself. I don’t know how old your children are, but one of the points made in the chapter on consumerism is how important it is for us as parents to teach our kids that our happiness, importance, security, and wealth come from God rather than stuff and then demonstrate it in the way we live our lives.

  11. Congrats to Rusty who won the 3rd copy of the book. And thanks to everyone who commented/tweeted/shared the post so far. Good conversation that I hope continues and turns into action.

    I’ve got a new post up today:

    Modesty: The Other Side of the Pornography Coin

    And there’s another book up for grabs.

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