Consumerism is a trend pushed by society’s materialistic mindset that emphasizes the interests of buyers above all else. While competition and understanding consumers are key to a successful business, not considering the ethical concerns this topic presents can lead to dangerous consequences, especially for Christians striving to live according to God’s Word. Consumerism has detrimental effects on our relationships, finances, and environment, which ultimately lead to a spiritual decline.
A materialistic focus distracts us from important relationships and leads to envy and comparison. For example, Tori DeAngelis with the American Psychological Association stated that “a strong consumerist bent can promote unhappiness because it takes time away from the things that can nurture happiness, including relationships with family and friends.” Even when we make connections, we often seek to use consumer goods to further those relationships and find happiness. Basing relationships on our materials leads us to use our wealth as a status symbol compared to others and seek to validate ourselves in terms of our possessions. This mindset creates envy, further aggravated by the “comparison culture of beauty and riches powered by social media.” Consumerism causes a lack of connection between people and can create strife and jealousy.
Allowing our possessions to hold so much power over us goes against God’s Word. In James 3:16, He warns us that “where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.” When we allow objects to become an obstacle, it limits our ability to share the Gospel. However, breaking free of the consumerism mindset takes intentional focus to engage with people. In my own life, this looks like putting my phone away and interacting with my roommates instead of scrolling through social media. Or, instead of spending money on new stuff, offer to buy a friend dinner so we can unwind after a stressful week of classes. Christians should be wary of the effect their possessions have on their relationships and seek to connect with others in meaningful ways.
The consumerism mindset also causes people to suffer financially. Our constant need for more leads us to be unwise stewards of our money. Since the rise of consumerism, debt in America has increased dramatically and today “the typical American owns 3.5 credit cards and their household average balance carry of credit card debt is $16,048.” Recent research affirms this sad reality and states that “the materialism that follows increased spending in retail also leads to higher debt levels.” Not only are we in more debt, but we are not spending money in the ways we should. A survey found that only 5% of churchgoers tithe, despite the fact that many of them have money to spend elsewhere. Consumerism has altered our priorities and led us further into debt and financial difficulties.
God does not intend for Christians to live in debt and warns of its dangers in Proverbs 22:7, “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.” Instead, He desires us to be stewards of our finances and seek ways to help others with our money. Additionally, throughout Scripture, there are numerous calls to tithe and give generously to the poor, not waste our money on items that hold no eternal value such as Jesus’ sermon in Matthew 6:19-21. It can feel difficult to give money, especially during times of inflation or economic uncertainty. However, Christ has called us to be generous in all circumstances, just as He is generous with us.
Finally, our environment is negatively affected by consumerism. Materialism has led to a life-threatening impact on nature. Consumerism started to become a trend in the 1920s and since then, “the amount of waste that humans produce has increased by nearly 10,000 percent.” Today, “consumerism accounts for the overuse of 70% of Earth’s natural resources.” These habits are not sustainable, and many countries compensate by taking resources from other countries, leading to global depletion and tension as people fight for access to limited resources. Not only are resources being used irresponsibly, but many companies use animals in their product testing. Despite the extreme risks involved with animal testing, and the numerous studies that have shown “false and misleading animal test results can develop unnecessary dangers and waste valuable resources,” these companies continue to use them to meet their production deadlines to keep up with our consumerist society. Choosing to be reckless with the environment is fueled by consumerist ideals and should be re-evaluated for their irresponsible view of nature.
We should not worship nature, but God does call His people to be good stewards and cultivate it. The Cultural Mandate in Genesis 1:26-28 and 2:15 articulate people’s responsibility to care for the earth, including all the natural resources and animals found in it. Understanding our impact on the environment is essential to producing goods in a responsible way so that we do not harm the planet long-term. Personally, I have started looking for ways to reduce my waste. Instead of throwing out old clothes and buying new ones from “fast fashion” stores, I donate old clothes and shop at second-hand stores or local businesses. I try to be conscious of the amount of food I throw away and recycle when possible. God has instructed Christians to care for the earth, and limiting our consumption of expendable objects is a simple way to follow His command.
Consumerism keeps us from connecting with others, pushes us towards debt, and harms our resources and animals. While many people may feel unconflicted by the ethical consequences of consumerism, as Christians, we are called to look beyond ourselves and view the world from God’s perspective.
Consumerism is born from a heart of greed. It is based on a love of money that goes beyond financial stability into the realms of idolatry. Jesus warned of the dangers of loving money more than God. He emphasized this in Matthew 6:24: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” This truth should serve as a warning but also a challenge.
While it can be daunting to honestly evaluate our hearts, it is pertinent that we re-establish God as the center of our lives and do not allow money to consume us. Switching our focus takes the emphasis off material objects and points us toward our eternal Creator. Instead of focusing on obtaining earthly riches, we should instead consider how we can demonstrate our love for God each day through responsible economic decisions.