Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Spiritual Dimension of Consumerism

Back in 2005, Sojouners Magazine published an article titled When Enough is Enough, that has an interesting take on the consumer phenomenon. William T. Cavanaugh argues, "The problem is that consumerism is already a spiritual discipline of detachment, though one with a very different way of operating than classical Christian asceticism."

How can an attachment to stuff be detachment? Consider:

Consumerism is not so much about having more as it is about having something else. It is not buying but shopping that captures the spirit of consumerism. Buying is certainly an important part of consumerism, but buying brings a temporary halt to the restlessness that typifies it. It is this restlessness—the moving on to shopping for something else no matter what one has just purchased—that sets the spiritual tone for consumerism.

In other words, we're not really attached to the stuff. We're obsessed with the hunt for the stuff.

What has happened in consumer society is that dissatisfaction and satisfaction have ceased to be opposites. Pleasure resides not in having but in wanting. Insofar as an item obtained brings a temporary halt to desire, it becomes undesirable. This is why shopping, not buying, captures the spirit of consumerism, and why shopaholism is being treated as an addiction. Consumerism is a restless spirit, constantly in search of something new. Consumerism is typified by detachment, not attachment, for desire must be kept on the move. Consumerism is also typified by scarcity, not abundance, for as long as desire is endless, there will never be enough stuff to go around. Being consumed.

The entire article is worth a read.