Robert Peston is currently presenting a three part documentary (BBC2 9 p.m. Monday) on the history of British shopping 1950 to the current day. His thesis is that in 1950 shopping was regarded as a weekly chore but that by the 1980’s it had become one of our great British obsessions. When we go shopping we normally have one of two motives:
Replacing stuff which has already been consumed, what economists refer to as ‘consumer staples:’ basic foods, soap, toothpaste, bog roll etc, etc.
Adding to our collection of ‘discretionary consumables,’ that is items that we don’t actually need, but may have become objects of desire. We need, however, be to be careful, for one of the aims of the consumer marketing industry is to invert the relationship between needs and wants. The trick is to make us believe that unless we have the all new, all singing, all dancing, highly branded item our stock of happiness will diminish, our relative value in the eyes of our peer group depreciate and somehow life will be less wholesome, less worthwhile, perhaps even futile. We all ‘know’ this is a clever ploy, an act of supreme psychological manipulation, by the ad men and women; yet time, after time we fall for it. Why? Simple, because the advertising folk are brilliant psychologists. Worse still they are also highly successful evangelists. Let’s be honest they have helped create an entire nation of shoppers. Consumerism is the new religion.
Tragically, consumerist thought pervades the church. But, it doesn’t need to. In ‘Christ Alone,’ we have enough! Jesus (Luke 22, 35) asked his disciples ‘when I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals did you lack anything?’ They replied ‘not a thing.’
Jesus has freely given Himself to His Church. We encounter Jesus in word, in sacrament and through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Surely, the gospel message is that this is all that is required to fulfill the prayer that ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as in heaven,’ is the simple acceptance that we have enough; we have Jesus. He doesn’t need replacing and He cannot be added to, He doesn’t try to manipulate us.
After all He isn’t a consumer item!
Are we a consumer church?