Consumerism is an after-effect of the colonization, commercialisation, and the deification of the indulgent spirit of entitlement. The more corporate we become the less people matter. The more we emerge into a society of self-indulgence that 'looks out for number one,' the more rapidly our worldview will become barbaric in how it chooses to respond to the needs of others. The more we take the less become, or as an unknown author once said, "He who buys what he does not need steals from himself." Maybe the reason why consumerism is so attractive is because we have bought the lie that it effects everyone else but us. If you think of consumerism like Duracell batteries, maybe it would make more sense.
Let's imagine humanity is this huge remote control that runs off of battery life, and the moment the new batteries are put in to recharge the life of that remote control is also the same moment that those batteries start to die. Now, the batteries are all the things we consume: oil, time, ecosystems, food, land, each other (metaphorically), education, life, death, and many more things we could list here.
The assumption in this metaphor is that there is a level of consumption necessary for mutual partnership. There is truth in that, if we think of consumerism in general terms, the moment you or I take a bite of something we have started the process of consumerism. Gregory Mock, an author for the World Research Institute describes the effects of consumerism:
"In spite of its human benefits, consumption can lead to serious pressure on ecosystems. Consumption harms ecosystems directly through over-harvesting of animals or plants, mining of soil nutrients, or other forms of biological depletion. Ecosystems suffer indirectly through pollution and wastes from agriculture, industry, and energy use, and also through fragmentation by roads and other infrastructure that are part of the production and transportation networks that feed consumers."
We are consumers. But the amount we have come to consume is too much for the earth, relationships, ecosystems, time, farms and the planet to handle. For all intense purposes we have become the parasite to a living organism called Earth. Don't worry, this isn't an inconvenient truth all over again! There is more to consumerism than trying to guilt people into responsibility. I think we have it in us to consume responsibly, it just might mean we will have to let go of some of the things we have become comfortable with.
If the story of Adam and Eve is about sin, than maybe the sin was consumerism. They took what wasn't theirs. I think we have to come a place where we realize that the earth isn't mine but ours. Maybe we could come to a place where don't feel the need to buy into the commercials crawling across our 60-inch HD televisions. Maybe we don't have to buy the new Honda that just came out or the new iPad that seems so revolutionary but isn't.
Really at the heart of consumerism is the heartbeat of 'keeping up with the Joneses' and that little credo has gotten countries like America into a lot of unnecessary trouble. What is 'keeping up with the Joneses' really about? It's this hunger for acceptance, validation and self-empowerment. So, really consumerism is about us and how it makes us look and feel good about ourselves in comparison to those around us. If that's true, than that philosophy of trying to keep up will either consume our lives or consume the earth, whichever comes first.
In the Torah, God instructs Adam to rule over the earth. Now, the word there in Hebrew is 'abad'. It doesn't mean subdue or oppress, much like the meta-narratives of the past. It means to tend or care for it. It is a word with many meanings that also include: service, work, preserve or guard, to name a few. A little note here on story semantics, Adam in the Hebrew is the pluralized word for mankind, and Eve is Hebrew for life or life-giver. What we have in the Genesis narrative is the unfolding story of humanity. God entrusted humanity with the intrinsic responsibility of preserving the earth.
Preserve doesn't mean to take all we can and than move to a different planet once our resources are depleted. It means we are accountable to the Divine with how we each choose to preserve or guard the earth while we are alive. What if the earth was your child or someone else who had value in your life? And the life of that child was in danger, wouldn't you do anything to guard that child from any harm? Commercialised consumerism hides us from the reality that we are liable to one another and to the earth that God has entrusted all to care for. The more we time spend finding justifiable ways to 'expand our territories' the more we choose consumerism as our god. The more we serve consumerism the more we worship our own greed.
We need a self-subversion party where we all get together across the country and find ways to encourage and empower one another to truly and honestly remove the things we don't need and then give those things to the people who have nothing. Maybe we can start one today. In the Bible, in the book of Acts, the author describes the harmony that the early church had together, they were all "in one accord" and it goes onto explain that there wasn't a need that couldn't met. What if the author was using that story as a metaphor for humanity, a new way for humanity to live, breath and participate in the divine act of setting things right. A good way to set things right is to not simply help someone else in need, but meet their need, help restore the balance. The less we consume, the more we become. Let's believe in a world where consumerism doesn't have to be the tyrannical ruler who resides upon his throne, but believe in a world where meeting the need of another is the same as meeting the need of ourselves.
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