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Consumerism: A Common Battleground?

Wednesday, August 17th, 2005

My Sunday DMN Column “Model Citizen or Model Consumer” drew a fair number of responses. Interestingly, most of them were from conservatives - and supporting at that. Of course this is not particularly surprising. Consumerism as a would-be religion/ideology is a threat to other, more substantial value systems right and left, hence the crossover.

It seems some in the religious community are up in arms about the consumerist/materialist threat. And rightly so. I had been wondering about whether local churches were dealing with this issue. Some are, as I’ve received letters from pastors and religious activists of various stripes. I still am curious how / if this issue is approached in the larger mega churches, if at all (please send me a note if you are aware of anything).

I also received letters from those looking for answers, solutions.

A reader writes “if consumerism is our new religion, how and when do you think we can find a new religion? What can make us better? (Perhaps that will be your next column?)” Next column perhaps, and the next few years obsession most likely. And I’m not sure “religion” is the right term, unless it is in the sense that theologian Paul Tillich meant: one’s “ultimate concern.” In this sense we just need to make sure consumerism is not our ultimate concern. But of course
it is not so simple as that. At this level of discussion it is a philosophical/religious matter. Some think we’ve simply lost our way and need to reclaim the past. Others want contemporary, secular solutions.

A certain part of the cultural right is awake to these issues and they have an obvious solution on the personal side (traditional Christian values). I’m not so clear about what they would proscribe on the public side, if anything. Would they allow restrictions of marketing to youth? Fund more not-for-profit (hence no advertising) public media?

It’s very interesting to see the common territory here. Rod Dreher, editor of DMN’s Points sent me this cover article he wrote a few years back for the National Review. Take a look and see what you think.

“…we are citizens before we are consumers”

“A child who grows up in a neighborhood built for human beings, not cars, may think of man’s relation to his world differently from one raised amid the throwaway utilitarianism of strip-mall architecture. One’s sensitivity to and desire for beauty, and its edifying qualities of order, harmony, “sweetness and light,” has consequences for the character of individuals and ultimately for civilization. It’s perilous to forget that.”

And Jane Jacobs? Kunstler? Organic veggies? Very crunchy. Not everyone on the right shares these opinions. Pity, because there is a great deal of shared concern.

… more to come on the “solutions” side over the coming months.