By Reesheda Graham-Washington and Shawn Casselberry
COUNTERING THE GOSPEL OF CONSUMERISM
From early on in life, we are taught to be consumers. Some estimates suggest that we are exposed to three thousand to five thousand ads per day. These messages try to convince us that our life’s purpose is to consume. Corporations spend billions each year to turn us into consumers. We stand in long lines to be the first to buy the newest Apple product (Apple spent $933 million in advertising in 2011 alone to get us to do so). We go faithfully to the movie theaters to sit passively, watching other people do things, go places and experience life. We consume news and spend increased time scrolling on our favorite digital platforms. Social media is literally changing the way our brains work. We are being rewired (discipled?) into the gospel of consumerism. As parents, teachers and mentors, we have to be careful that we are not inadvertently discipling the next generation to be consumers as well.
The gospel of consumerism has three core tenets: (1) we are created to be individual consumers; (2) we are meant to be passive; (3) our sole duty is to consume more.
The first tenet relates to our identity: who we are and how we see ourselves. The second tenet relates to our agency: how empowered we are to effect change and engage the world around us. The third tenet relates to our purpose: what is our reason for being and our way of life. The gospel of consumerism infiltrates every part of our personhood and runs counter to soul force and the God revealed in Scripture.
God is not a consumer. God is a creator. Being created in the image of God means we are made to create too. Ephesians 2:10 says that we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” There are three powerful affirmations in this verse that counter the gospel of consumerism and remind us who we were really created to be.
WE ARE MEANT TO CREATE, NOT CONSUME
According to Ephesians 2, God is an artist and we are God’s art. If God is an artist, then being creative and doing art is a spiritual practice. Every poem we write, song we sing and piece of art we make is an affirmation of who God is and who we are created to be. We are created in the image of a creative God to be creative. Creativity is not reserved for making art; it is also necessary for thinking, loving and living differently. Creativity is absolutely necessary for unleashing soul force.
In An Other Kingdom: Departing the Consumer Culture, John McKnight, Peter Block and Walter Brueggemann offer an analysis of our current economy and its basis in consumption:
“If we want to follow the signs of the times, we have to look at how our core economic beliefs have produced a culture that makes poverty, violence, ill health, and fragile economic systems seem inevitable. Economic systems based on competition, scarcity, and acquisitiveness have become more than a question of economics; they have become the kingdom within which we dwell. That way of thinking invades our social order, our ways of being together, and what we value. It replicates the kingdom of ancient Egypt, Pharaoh’s kingdom. It produces a consumer culture that centralizes wealth and power and leaves the rest wanting what the beneficiaries of the system have.”
Consumer culture did not happen by accident. Shortly after World War II, retail analyst Victor Lebow described the way Americans were trying to solve their economic challenges:
“Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption. … We need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever increasing pace.”
The chair of President Eisenhower’s council of economic advisors declared: “The American economy’s ultimate purpose is to produce more consumer goods.” Perhaps this is why, after the 9/11 terrorist attack, President George W. Bush told the nation to go shopping. He could have urged the nation to create change, to build a culture of neighborliness, to inspire others, to fill the world with beauty rather than violence.
With the increase in multinational corporations and the interdependence of global markets, consumer culture is not restricted to America or even Western capitalist countries. Now that corporations constitute over half of the world’s top one hundred economies—sixty-nine out of a hundred—the influence of consumer culture will only gain steam throughout the rest of the world. Cultivating soul force can help us resist these globalizing forces.
Excerpted from Reesheda Graham-Washington and Shawn Casselberry’s Soul Force: Seven Pivots toward Courage, Community, and Change. (Herald Press, 2018). All rights reserved. Used with permission. HeraldPress.com