Consumerism & Mammon
How much do we discuss the danger of money and possessions?
Strong and direct biblical words call for us to give careful attention to the role of money in our lives, words like: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains” (1 Tim. 6:10). The quantity of biblical discussion of money underscores the importance of the topic. Jesus spoke more about money than heaven, hell, sexual immorality or violence.
Jacques Ellul, in his book Money and Power, helpfully distinguishes between money, the object, and money as enslaving power—Mammon (Mt. 6:24). Most of us talk a fair bit about money as an object, but to think it is only an object, to deny the reality of the spirit of money, leaves us in danger of being enslaved by this power without our even being aware of it. Jesus exposed the lies of Mammon and through Jesus we have the possibility of freedom from its power.
In relation to consumerism we can address issues related to how North Americans are buying more and more and how the quantity of material things themselves impacts our lives negatively. It is an important topic—one that an increasing number of people are addressing, including Graham Hill in the New York Times. Again, however, we opt to focus more on the spirit of consumerism—the spirit that drives us to buy more and more. The following quotes display what we mean by consumerism.
“Consumerism is a worldview that starts with something that is a relative good—consumption—and makes it an absolute good. Consumerism absolutizes consumption by believing that we can find fulfillment by accumulating wealth and everything that comes with it” (Wilkens and Sanford, Hidden Worldviews, 45).
“An inordinate concern with the acquisition, possession and consumption of material goods and services.”
Gratification of desire through obtaining these goods and services.
It is people “competing with each other for status and prestige by means of further accumulation.”
“A preoccupation with the consumption of material goods and services” (Craig Gay in The Consuming Passion ed. Rodney Clapp)
Consumerism is an issue of vital concern. If we are to be communities that promote life, that name, and lessen the alienation between people, between ourselves and God, ourselves and creation, and alienation from ourselves, then we must resist consumerism and the lie that the more you have the better your life will be. We must act.
Consumerism is a weight on people, they feel it.
A Christian community can say, “we will help you live in freedom from enslaving consumerism and the alienating lies of advertisements. Come join our community of resistance.” But first, we must have a community of resistance for them to join, we must ourselves live out the possibility, given through the Holy Spirit, to form an alternative culture.
Open Lectures: Luke 12
A biblical reflection on Luke 12 and the rich fool. Paying attention to cultural cues reveals his foolishness, and that Jesus' warning about love of wealth is deeper than commonly seen.
Mark’s pilgrimage with money, originally published in Prism. From seeking to make a lot of money to making very little and giving half of it away, yet discovering he was as enslaved to Mammon as he was before.
“Why the Devil Takes VISA: A Christian Response to the Triumph of Consumerism” by Rodney Clapp, (Christianity Today)
Clapp takes us on a brief historical tour exposing the reality that consumers are made not born, and then introduces us to some Christians seeking to undo created consumerism.
The Story of Stuff
A fast paced and penetrating look behind the curtain that reveals active forces working to move us to consumemore.
During the class session on Mammon I read a few lines from Shane Hipps where he advocates the practice of storytelling in small groups as a corporate spiritual discipline. He stated the most potent activity was sharing a money autobiography. It had a profound impact on the level of openness and trust in the group and led to changes in people’s lives. If you would like to try something similar you could borrow questions from the Faith and Money Network’s guidelines for writing your money autobiography.