Comments 4

  1. Appreciate your thoughts on this, Howard. But I also think its worth pointing out the clear connection between the Rapala and the shovel or hoe that you use in the garden. I think it is easier for all of us to associate some things and places with consumption than others. To me, nothing goes better with fresh vegetables than fresh fish. And experiencing the joy of catching fish, and the effectiveness of the Rapala in doing so – while also taking in a beautiful Midwestern sunset – makes me even more grateful for and humbled by the goodness of God’s gifts. And these gifts include not only both the bounty of the soil and lake, but the creativity of fishing lure manufactures and the stores that make them convenient and affordable!

    1. Thanks, John. Yes, there’s some “use-value” to that Rapala, certainly. And as such I used some restraint and even maybe exercised some savvy shopping skills in buying it: It wasn’t an impulse buy but a replacement of one I’d lost a week or so earlier (due to the cheap line I use); I know what kind I need for the type of lakes I fish, etc. What bothers me in retrospect is the way I used it as a reward for myself. I don’t often shop to fill a spiritual need but this time I did–I could feel it. I would have loved to open my wallet and fill the car with stuff. I guess my point is that the siren call of consuming calls to all of us.

  2. I’m less concerned with how much or exactly what people buy as I am with how they use what they buy, and secondly, the kind of quality they buy, whatever the product.

    Consider this. If we all “lived simply,” in way that would certainly avoid for us the charge of “consumerism” or “materialism,” there might be a lot of people who would have no work to do. After all, it takes but a fraction of the population to produce all the “necessary goods and services.” If “we” (whoever “we” are) don’t buy beyond the “necessary goods and services” list, the economic circle is going to get pretty tight and exclude a lot of people.

    Should I buy a tractor, city resident that I am? Yes, but that’s because I intend to and will use it for good reasons, to help care for a neighborhood park, to keep my extra big lot in good condition, and to help neighbors when they could use the help only a guy with a tractor to share could give, etc. Should I buy that tractor merely because I covet one (raised on the farm that I was)? No. In other words, it will be what I do with that tractor that decides whether I should have bought one or not.

    Assuming I have good reasons to and should buy a tractor, should I buy one that is cheaply built? Probably not, just because that means I’ll be one of the people who helped to waste all the finite supply of raw materials it took to build that tractor. Also, my purchase is part of the “economic demand” and I don’t want to encourage tractor manufacturers to waste finite resources building cheap tractors. Rather, I want to encourage them to build tractors that last.

    If we become “materialists” or “consumerists,” what we’ve really done is succumbed to the temptation of coveting. But buying things, no matter how much, does not NECESSARILY mean one is a “materialist” or “consumerist.” Certainly we should avoid coveting but we can’t assume that buying a little is good or buying a lot is bad. The question requires a more complicated answer.

    My two cents at least. 🙂

    1. Good point, Doug. You’re right that there’s a big difference between consumerism and materialism. I’ve heard it said that Americans are not really materialists because we actually value our materials very little–the fact that they end up in landfills so quickly illustrates this. I also wanted to make reference to J.R.R. Tolkien on this point, who, in his works, has a lot to say about “a thing well-made.” As Neal writes in his article on porn, consumerism messes up a lot of our relationships, and this is true with things as well, so I definitely think there is a place to appreciate and purchase things that are well-made. However, I’m hesitant to say that we must join “the economic circle” simply because that sounds like the consumerist imperative that we hear so much about–there’s a suggestion out there that we must buy to be good citizens, to keep the economy up, and that feels like consuming is then becoming an end in itself. Trade can be a great thing, but often time consumerism hides exactly WHO has a job at the other end of what I buy and how those workers are being treated, etc. If you’re interested, William T. Cavanaugh has written about this in, “Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire,” or James K.A. Smith discusses it a bit in his recent book “You Are What You Love.”

What are your thoughts about this topic?
We welcome your ideas and questions about the topics considered here. If you would like to receive others' comments and respond by email, please check the box below the comment form when you submit your own comments.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.