Emo Ergo Sum: further thoughts on consumerism

After my post on consumerism, other bloggers joined the conversation about the relation between Christians and money in an age of overspending, credit debt, and shopping malls the size of small towns. Lee brings up consumerism in relation to global warming and climate change. Kim discusses at length the basic American assumption, accepted by most Christians: “I want X; therefore, I will buy it.” And Chris says that the church can demonstrate the alternative axiom—Christus vivit ergo sum—“by our love, by simpler lives, by the way we raise our children, and yes, by the way we save and invest in Kingdom activities.”

These posts are just part of a larger conversation that the church (in America and around the world) needs to have. The growth of Christianity in the southern hemisphere and the corresponding increase of popularity in pentecostalism and the so-called “prosperity gospel” makes this issue especially important in terms of the global church today. The church in the rich northern hemisphere has its own problems. Those of us who like to disdain the Age of Constantine are witnessing a new version of the Constantinian church in terms of economic power rather than political power. Part of what made the imperial blessing of Christianity such a travesty was the way the church went from being the persecuted church to the persecuting church. The church moved from its position alongside Christ on the way to the cross in the position of the Roman soldiers who nailed him to it. The pax Christi became subsumed within the pax Romana.

Today, we see a similar blessing of the church in terms of economics. The church in America—particularly the so-called “emerging” churches—are communities of the rich. As long as Christians continue to be consumers who offer the appropriate propitiation to Mammon, the church remains a welcome segment of modern culture, a community without the scandal of the cross getting in the way of its “relevancy.” We are still the Constantinian church, just in a modern capitalistic form. And just as before, the pax Christi is now subsumed within the pax Americana.

In the midst of this bleak landscape, I think we would do well to meditate on these words of Isaiah:

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. (Isa. 55:1-2)


Kerry said…
Off-topic, but I wanted you to know that your review of "Pan's Labyrinth" is required reading in my Phil 329, Shapes of Evil, seminar, which begins next week. Other authors we'll be reading include Paul Ricoeur, Hannah Arendt, Camus, Capote, Josiah Royce, and the author of Job. So you're in good company! :) Seriously, though, good review!
D.W. Congdon said…
Wow, thanks! That's quite an honor. I might recommend that your students take a look at del Toro's earlier film, The Devil's Rejects, if they have a chance (maybe as "recommended viewing"). This film is not only set in Spain at the end of the Spanish Civil War, but it is also thematically connected to Pan's Labyrinth. In particular, del Toro's commentary on the film is very interesting. The main antagonist in the film is a character that, by his own admission, del Toro created to be a fictional and concrete embodiment of fascism. Obviously, this character is connected thematically to the Captain in Pan's Labyrinth. Anyway, just thought I'd suggest this as something worth pursuing if your students find the topic of interest.

Thanks again! And definitely let them know that I'd love to interact with them if they wish to leave comments on the post.
Todd said…
Here's the thing that gets me about this newfound Christian-economic-moral-compass meme: Where were you guys three years ago when everyone was enjoying the home equity cash-out, granite countertops and hardwood floors orgies?

Now that the economy is taking a dump and people are pinched and have NO CHOICE but to cutback their ridiculous spending, we hear the soothing pastoral voices of simpler living!
Todd said…
Please consider this too: I mean you collectively.

I am disallusioned. I am looking for a church that prays for our enemies, that prays for Iraqs equal to our troops, that encourages peacemaking so that we may be sons of God.

Wish me luck.
WTM said…
Well, I can't speak for everyone but I know that people like David and myself were living as simply as possible while paying for undergraduate and graduate school! :-)

Point well taken, though - not enough pastors are keyed in on the problem of consumerism, indeed, of the effects of the market in general.

As for your church search, good luck!