After working on a project for my J314: Media Studies class, I’ve become interested in the mixing of Christianity and consumerism. To back a bit, our project asked to “jam” or critique an element of our culture and society in a tactful manner. In a way, we were deconstructing the ad or element of culture with whatever we produced. We called it “culture jamming”; taking a recognizable company, group, brand or label and “jamming” it with our criticism. Instead of choosing an ad like everyone else (which would have saved me quite a bit of time and frustration), I chose to critique the way in which Christianity – for the most part – seems to have embraced consumerism with open arms, albeit somewhat contradictory to Jesus’ teachings.
A part of the project demanded that we find some scholarly work that would reinforce our critique. Research is not my forte. It took me a good couple hours Googling and WikiPediaing the discussion of Christianity and consumerism and eventually I came across a pdf of a book that had collected essays discussing the various ways Christianity has dealt with consumerism. I skimmed a couple articles for my paper, but I have since wanted to read the whole book (only 190 pages or so) and then write about what I read.
As the book is very dense, I think I’ll write a series of blogs regarding the subject only because writing on blog over all of what I’ll read might take more than what Christmas breaks allows me in regards to time. But before I even dive into what I’ve read thus far, I wanted to share my initial thoughts over the issue.
Honestly, I think we were born to consume; it’s just a matter of what, how much, and how we handle it that makes a difference. My picture the J314 project was of Jesus carrying a cross that had company logo after company logo painted on it as if He was being sponsored for the crucifixion. My critique of Christianity merely pointed out how we’ve become a “Christian” culture, and yet have attached a whole list of ideologies of what that means. You get a job, you get a car, you get a house, etc., etc., etc., and yet all the while the teachings of Jesus say nothing about moving up in the social ladder. If anything, Jesus wants us to move down that ladder, which might mean not getting a new house, car, boat or whatever else.
And we don’t have to be consuming material things in order to consume too much; we can consume teachings, influences, or various ideas that do not encourage us to follow God. No, it’s not a bad thing to study various other religious beliefs insofar as the intent of our study is to more effectively share God’s gospel. If we take in all the other teachings and beliefs as though they were true as well as Christian beliefs, we’ll quickly run into some problems on the morality level. Many in this world teach that it’s okay to watch pornography or to sleep with whoever you’d like; but neither of these is acceptable in the eyes of Jesus.
In a way, we could also consume social networks like Twitter and Facebook and even blog sites by using them as our primary means of human interaction. Notice I didn’t say “communication,” but rather “human interaction.” I say this because I’ve found Twitter and Facebook very useful to keep in touch with people across the U.S. and around the world – even people I’ve never met but have had an impact on my life (i.e. Donald Miller). But when lean so heavily on these social networks (especially for Christian fellowship), we gradually lose the ability to interact with other people face-to-face. This is why I will never join any online dating service, but I talk about that here.
Finally, I must say that consumerism in and of itself may not be unhealthy or damaging to one’s soul and walk with God. Jesus says in Mark 7 that it’s not what goes into a person that defiles him, but rather what comes out. Watching rated ‘R’ movies, listening to explicit songs, learning what other religions believe, buying things, etc., etc., are not bad insofar as they do not negatively affect your character. If the movies and songs cause you talk in a crude or vulgar manner or look lustfully at women or men, then it’s probably a good idea to stop consuming those things. Or if the reason for buying things goes beyond necessity or functional benefit and only about image building or rising up the social ladder, it might be best to stop buying stuff for a while.
My whole point is that consuming things isn’t bad insofar as it does not cause you to sin or to negatively reflect Christ. The pdf copy of the book I used to help write my paper will probably discuss more than what I’ve discussed here, but at the very least, these are my thoughts on consumerism and Christianity thus far. My perspective might be changed or enhanced as I read through the various articles, but this is where I’m at right now. Christmas is often a time when Americans spend more than is necessary and this is part of my reasoning for taking on this discussion; to make sure we’re all conscious of what we consume, how much we consume, and how well or not well we’re handling the side effects.
As I go through it all, though, I’m hoping for responses. Just reading what these authors have written and then writing out my own thoughts might not benefit anyone very much; I feel there needs to be some kind of interaction over this subject. So if you disagree with what I write (or if you agree with what I write), please feel free to write it out but keep in mind that I’ll remove any comments that are emotionally driven more than thoughtfully driven – as well as comments that use vulgar or crude language. Please keep them civil.
Most importantly, have a safe and merry Christmas! God bless!