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DEVOTIONAL: Consumerism as Religion?

Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”  –Luke 12:15 (NIV)

Now that it’s November, our culture starts careening toward Christmas again. Too often, Thanksgiving is only a “bump in the road,” the day to eat turkey as we make a plan to hit the malls early for Black Friday.

Some say, since the Bible commands us to be grateful, we should live by the mantra “Every day should be Thanksgiving.” But as some wise guy pointed out, “Only in America can we have one day dedicated to gratitude only to be followed the next day by a glut of shopping and consumerism.”

Some claim consumerism is the modern world’s new religion; malls and online shopping sites are our new temples; adding items to our shopping cart is our new ritual; and the monthly credit card statement is our new liturgy.

Have you ever wondered how this happened? One answer comes when we realize advertising is basically a kind of propaganda.

A nephew of Sigmund Freud, Edward Bernays, wrote his chief book in 1928, at the height of the Roaring Twenties, called Propaganda. In it he claimed:

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, and our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of…. It is they who pull the wires that control the public mind.”

So if you’d never heard of Edward Bernays, that goes to prove that he was right! After WWII, Bernays realized the word “propaganda” had a negative vibe, so he created a more upbeat phrase for it: “public relations.”

So the constant drumbeat of advertising keeps telling us, “buy this, drive this, eat this, drink this, smoke this, wear this, look like this, feel this, do this, visit this place, live here, vote for this candidate.” Yet, satisfaction is still just out of reach, while the unfulfilled craving keeps us spending more and more.

In contrast, Jesus gives us the opposite message. Be on guard against all kinds of greed. Our life does not consist of how much stuff we pile up. A cluttered house does not equal a fulfilled soul. He said: “I came that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10b MEV).


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