I am alive because I consume things. We have to consume our food, the very food that has consumed other food. Tools to build things have to be purchased. I have family members alive because of medical technology. Consumption has to happen, because we have to trade and work together to move forward. The question is, why does America’s consumerism seem so hallow, meaningless, and off track?
The word that kept presenting itself in my thoughts is dehumanization. There must be different types of consumption—one which is dehumanizing and one which isn’t. American consumer culture is increasingly the dehumanizing kind.
Any dogma, including capitalism mind you, elevated above that of actual people, results in dehumanization. The human heart, and I know this sounds out there, has something in it that unless acted upon by an outside force, has an unfathomable ability to deceive itself into dehumanizing one another.
For example, instead of honoring the elderly, we essentially put them in homes, out of site and out of mind. My father, every month, used to take us to nursing homes when we were younger when he would preach on Sundays. The elderly would always give us shiny new pennies, so happy we were there. As I got older, I realized, that most of these people had been left by their often well to do families to die.
Or, look at our prison systems. We have thrown people away for little things like marijuana or petty theft. Yet, you can buy stock in these prisons. It’s a great business—the customers keep coming back, the payments are guaranteed by the state, and things keep getting worse.
Dehumanization is everywhere you look—the media, education, technology, politics, inequality, racism. It is even in religion, and I am speaking of the Christian variety since that is my background. So much of Christianity is political and cultural now, with many churches built for society’s winners and pretty people. You know, the Starbucks and Costco demographic.
Bleh, he had to bring religion into a perfectly good America bashing, but let’s be honest, doesn’t it always come down to God if you spend enough hours talking in circles?
There is already established language for this. Jesus speaks about it repeatedly when referring to the Kingdom of Heaven, where the first shall be last. I’ve never heard a more perfect picture of rightness. It’s what I was trying to explain when I wrote about living upside down. Jesus explains what we all yearn for and how to get it. Unfortunately, Christians by and large, have lost virtually all credibility on the subject.
You don’t consume your way to beauty, you make something beautiful or become beautiful. You don’t buy justice, you seek it. You don’t buy truth, you find it. All of these things flow outward from the human soul and it is in direct opposition to the powerful force of dehumanizing consumerism and materialism.
I see no other path forward than a radical change of American hearts and culture. Things aren’t going to change by nominating Oprah to beat Trump, or democrats re-capturing congress. It’s not this healthcare system or that one, or this tax rate or that. You see, any number of systems might work, if we all resolve to make one of them work for the very least of our fellow countrymen. Things are going to have to change one person at a time. Millions of American’s simply need to rise to the occasion.
This will require quiet conversations about greatness, then about virtues (so old fashioned these days), and ultimately, an argument of course, about God and the proper state of man—human flourishing and what this looks like. I can tell you what it doesn’t look like—rampant materialism and a rapacious appetite for GDP growth at the expense of exploiting everything that is ultimately valuable in life.
Most modern intelligent people instinctively recoil at anything God. However, in my conversations with people, if I nonchalantly make the comment, “Things are so screwed up, it’s going to take a miracle to make things right”, I have never heard one person argue.