May 29, 2024

Consumerism and American Covetousness

Grace Sullivan, Contributing Writer

Grace Sullivan, Photo Courtesy of Academic Success Instagram

The goal of an advertisement is to make you feel like you’re missing something. American society is inundated with ads for everything from appliances to medication to new technology. Commercials have become such a staple of TV that many even look forward to the creative and entertaining commercials during the Superbowl designed to captivate the millions of people tuning in to the most famous football game of the year. Every ad is carefully crafted to appeal to the senses, personality, and character of the viewer to create the sense that life would be easier, healthier, or better with a product or experience.  

Opinions on ads range widely; some view them as helpful sources of information, deceptive capitalist sound-bytes, harmless videos to ignore, or some combination of the three depending on the time and content of the promotion. Instead of yielding to the river of advertising that floods our technology, it is the task of every Christian to resist mindless purchasing and fight back against a culture that pacifies its citizens with unnecessary luxuries. 

As I write this, ads flicker across the screen between segments of the Celtics game. I wonder what Jesus would think about the clothing companies that profit off of child labor and hire models who skip across a field of flowers on my TV, or pharmaceutical labs who spend a fortune to push Americans to over-medicate themselves in response to the systemic issues of poor nutrition and low physical activity in our country.  

I wonder what a man who slept under the stars with “no place to lay his head” would think of my piles of boxes holding mementos and decorations or my messy room filled with unopened makeup and unused clothes. This is not at all to say that Christians are all called to live without any worldly comforts. On the contrary, God is glorified when we are intentional with how we use, care for, and manage our possessions. God isn’t calling every American Christian to sell our houses and only own one tunic. Rather, He invites us to follow Him and be liberated from the constant need to consume and own more things. 

There are many reasons people buy things after seeing an ad: they show something that could be effective in keeping a safe and healthy home, they make us feel like simply owning something new will change us to be better, or they point to our persistent feeling that we don’t have what we need. Whether that be comfort, companionship, support, self-sufficiency, or entertainment, ads are seductive methods for companies to exploit our very human feelings of scarcity anxiety.  

In a move that is downright insidious to a reader of the Torah, the many ads that show people enjoying a product or experience prey on our tendency to covet something that isn’t ours (Ten Commandments, anyone?). The response is not an overwhelming feeling of guilt or shame for our unnecessary purchases, but a call to curiosity in how we can be more faithful stewards of the resources we have been blessed with. 

Christianity asks us to do the difficult task of leaning into some of the most uncomfortable parts of being a human. We serve a God that asks us to be patient in suffering even when there is no reason for it. Who pushes us to persist in darkness while the light of Christ seems faint in the desperation of the world today. Who requests that we keep faith amidst His silence that has no explanation. American culture offers us a way to smother these experiences by buying something for an immediate fix of dopamine that lulls us into a false sense of peace and contentment, when the reality is, we will never live a life that is truly fulfilling by being dependent on the joy that comes from spending money. 

Reader, this year, I lovingly challenge you and myself to explore better ways of treating what we own. When something breaks, fix it or use the parts for something new (for example, my bathroom container was once the bottom clear piece of a vegetable slicer that had broken). Consider giving away clothes or things you don’t use to friends or our beloved Common Exchange, or even selling them at a reduced price for extra income. Above all else, this is a tough one, but when you’re tempted by a new gadget that you know you don’t need, prayerfully ask God to help you trust Him to provide for you in the space of lack that you feel in response to seeing an item you want, but don’t need. He is faithful to change our hearts in a way that is slow, relational, deeply nourishing, and so much sweeter than anything we could buy to conceal our desire for His love. 

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