Consuming, Coveting…Contentment?

Product DetailsI love this book: Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire by William Cavanaugh (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010).  I don’t have the time to go into it, but I will throw out a quote for today.  The context is how consumerism essentially detaches people from each other.

“The detachment of consumerism is also a detachment from the things we buy.  Our relationships with products tend to be short-lived: rather than hoarding treasured objects, consumers are characterized by a constant dissatisfaction with material goods.  This dissatisfaction is what produces the restless pursuit of satisfaction in the form of something new.  Consumerism is not so much about having more as it is about having something else; that’s why it is not simply buying but shopping that is the heart of consumerism.  Buying brings a temporary halt to the restlessness that typifies consumerism.  This restlessness – the moving on to shopping for something else, no matter what one has just purchased – sets the spiritual tone for consumerism.”

“In consumer culture, dissatisfaction and satisfaction cease to be opposites, for pleasure is not so much in the possession of things as in their pursuit.  There is pleasure in the pursuit of novelty, and the pleasure resides not so much in having as in wanting.  Once we have obtained an item, it brings desire to a temporary halt, and the item loses some of its appeal.  Possession kills desire; familiarity breeds contempt.  That is why shopping, not buying itself, is at the heart of consumerism.  The consumerist spirit is a restless spirit, typified by detachment, because desire must be constantly kept on the move.”

Though Cavanaugh doesn’t specifically discuss consumerism in the church in detail, I couldn’t help but think about it as I read through this book.  How has the church adopted this American consumer mindset?  What do movie clips, skits, CCM music (etc.) in worship have to do with meeting the demands of the consumers/worshipers who will simply go elsewhere to get a better product that gives a better “worship high?”  Do the Christian fads (songs, singers, shirts, books, videos, bumper stickers, etc.) root us and ground us in the historic faith, or do fads make us drifters and tourists, looking for the next best thing (sort of like longing for the next Ipod generation [interestingly a generation is now 1 year])?  Is this consumer mindset the reason why people drift from church to church?  Do our churches add fuel to this fire of consumerism or do they help Christians fight it by the biblical themes of repentance, heavenly mindedness, pilgrim theology, and self-denial?

Get this book by Cavanaugh, read This Little Church Went to Market by Gilley, and then work on formulating answers to those important questions yourself. 

shane lems

2 Replies to “Consuming, Coveting…Contentment?”

  1. Excellent! I plan to read this in tandem with Jeremiah Burroughs’ The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment.

    The iPod is a good example. When Steve Jobs takes the stage to introduce a new “generation” product he stokes the discontent of millions.


  2. Nice, Stephen. That should make for a good reading “session.” Certainly contentment doesn’t come naturally – especially in our culture. It truly is a viture for which to strive and pray.


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