We are a nation of over-consumers. We are caught up in the story of the American Dream, the story advertisers tell us about happiness found at the other end of a purchase… where a good job, a nice house, a new car, and the ability to buy what we want will give us fulfillment.
Our primary American identity is found in our consumption. We are consumers, first and foremost. Our economy depends on people constantly wanting and buying more. We have to keep things growing or we are in recession, and the world comes crashing down around us. So people have to get on board with our national plan of economic growth. We need people to go shopping. Anything else is just unpatriotic.
Heck, what was the first thing President Bush told us to do after 9/11?
“Get down to Disney World in Florida”
Advertising helps create the desire for more stuff, shaping us into habitual consumers, into addicts, to keep the economy growing. Aaron Freeman said on NPR, “Consumer culture makes us constantly aware of what we do not have.” We confuse what we want with what we need, believing we cannot manage without a certain product that should rightfully be called a luxury. We have become a nation built on consumerism, and our own identity has become shaped by it.
The church has another story to tell, and another identity to claim. It is a story of Jesus and the coming kingdom of God, where fulfillment is not found in our stuff, and where we live as faithful stewards of God’s creation. The church is called to live out this new story, conscious yet critical of the saturating consumerism we live in, acting as a prophetic witness of another way of living in the world.