Richard Beck just finished up a fantastic series on the topic of giving. In the fourth article of his series Beck wrote:
Here’s the cold hard truth. If you were to poll church leaders asking them to name the most pernicious influence upon American Christianity I bet the answer would be unanimous: Materialism and consumerism.
I agree with Beck about 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000%.
Perhaps I agree for selfish reasons. I find that quotes like that motivate me to continue what I do here at Money Help for Christians.
What is Materialism?
At christianmind.blogspot.com the author defines materialism:
“Materialism” is also used to refer to an approach to life that places premium value on the acquisition of material goods for the purpose of enhancing comfort, status, and/or pleasure.
The problem with materialism is that it is so hard to see in ourselves. This is especially true when our only point of comparison is the world’s wealthy.
Unfortunately, there is not materialism police. There is no doctor who will diagnose you with materialism. You must, through personal evaluation, discover your materialistic tendencies for yourself.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Do I buy things to address feelings of anxiety or depression?
- Do I feel like more things could give me more comfort, status, or pleasure?
- How big is my list of things I ‘couldn’t live without’?
- Do I know how much is enough?
- Would I classify my lifestyle as simple?
Christians and Materialism
After reading Beck’s article, I decided to search around on the web to see what others were saying about this topic.
I was really interested in what Skye Jethani writes at Christianity Today.
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.
Now this quote ought to make you squirm:
Alan Wolf, a leading sociologist and the director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life, has concluded that, “In the United States culture has transformed Christ, as well as all other religions found within these shores. In every aspect of the religious life, American faith has met American culture—and American culture has triumphed.”
All I can say is I think Jethani has something very valuable to say to me. I do assign value to others based on the goods they purchase. I wonder if there is not a way to be sure that faith can triumph over culture.
How To Become Part of the Movement Away from Materialism and Consumerism
I learned a valuable lesson when I was graduating college. The graduation speaker said that you should never complain about anything unless you are first willing to be part of the solution.
Thus, when mediating on the question of materialism in the lives of Christians, we must ask ourselves what am I doing about it?
One of the things I’m doing is trying to do is free myself from the love of stuff. It is a difficult, but liberating road. Just this weekend we cleared a half dozen boxes out of our storage room. It’s part of our effort to do something more useful with stuff.
The second thing I’m doing is helping other Christians to do the same. I’m encouraging people to consider missional frugality.
For anyone who wants to break free from the grip of consumerism and materialism, I just wrote a book to address those issues. Transforming Your Financial Diet: 7 Steps to Simple Living and Generous Giving gives practical tips for how to transform how you look at money and stuff. The book challenges Christians to consider making some important financial changes to their lives.
Get more information here.