In the first of a three part short series on consumerism, we ask tough questions about the Western world's apparent pre-occupation with wealth, profit and consumerism. What is the way forward?
The other articles of this series are:
Time to de-clutter?
(c) Robert S. Donovan - creative commons
We live in a consumer society. According to last year’s UNICEF study, a cycle of “compulsive consumerism” has left British family life in crisis.
Ownership of gadgets such as TVs, laptops and mobile phones increases every year. But much of the research suggests these things do not make Britons happy or fulfilled.
This has led to some Christians adopting a radical lifestyle which counters the cultural norm.
Far from being unique to people of faith, many initiatives such as "free-cycling" (the act of giving away unwanted items to others instead of disposing them) have caught the public's imagination.
Jo Abbess from Christian Ecology Link, a group that offers Christian insights to the green movement, believes the “stresses and strains” of consumer culture are beginning to appear. She suggests a model where the economy would be re-shaped to measure happiness, contentment and a sense of “enough” as opposed to promoting “a continual sucking in of raw materials”.
Jo lists a number of organisations that help promote this new way of thinking. “Freecycle, Freegle, Swap It and even things like Gumtree and something new I found the other day called 'Streetbank' encourages people not to buy new things but acquire things other people are throwing away.”
But isn’t this just wishful thinking? With the entirety of Western society based on a consumer model, will we ever witness a new system devoid of needless consumerism?
“Consumer society is embedded and props up the media,” Jo admits. “We’re facing a change in economic conditions and it’s possible that consumerism may not continue and then the ecological aspects point more towards how to build community, sustainability and resilience to changing economic conditions.”
As well as challenging culture as a whole, Jo believes the church needs to take the first steps in changing people’s attitudes toward the environment, shopping and need. “We’re encouraged throughout the Bible starting in Genesis to be pragmatic, steward our resources wisely and treat people fairly. Jesus was very strong on that. His model of community was not one of hierarchy but a circle of friends. If we look at things from that point of view, we can see the modern church is not following that model.”
Jo’s words are challenging, and what she is proposing is arguably both simple (in concept) and complicated (in practice). Is it possible for Britain to drop its consumer culture? And perhaps most importantly, should we care? Will you take Jo's suggestion to follow the 6 Rs campaign and refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, repair, and re purpose? Let us know in the comments below.
July 12th, 2012 - Posted & Written by Sam Hailes