[A big thanks to Taylor Watson Burton-Edwards for a tweet today that included this article. It set the writing motors running to write this post.]
We’ve lost it. I don’t know where it has gone. It’s one of those things that we’ve lost it so subtly, I wonder if we even know that it could be gone. What am I talking about, you ask? Identity. Dictionary.com defines the word as: 1) the state or fact of remaining the same one or ones, as under varying aspects or conditions; 2) the condition of being oneself or itself, and not another; and 3) condition or character as to who a person or what a thing is. So when did we stop being people and simply become known as Consumers?
A recent article lists some of the casual ways we are no longer known as people, or humans, or even members of society. Instead, we’re simply identified as consumers. Think about it for a minute, how much of our lives are run off of the study and patterns of the so-called consumerist trends? We measure the health of our society over whether or not people can afford to live luxurious lifestyles.
[And before anyone gets too tempted to question that last statement, please know I mean just what I said. We, as Americans, live grossly more luxuriously than does probably 80% of the rest of the world].
Everything we do in life seems to have a market value to it. We brand ourselves as whatever we want to be. I was listening to one of my favorite theological podcasts recently, when one of the guests pointed out that even theologians are prone to brand and market themselves. Yes, even the Brian McLarens, John Pipers, Rob Bells, and the Ben Gosdens of the world attempt to do ministry, share thoughts, and all the while market themselves as a particular breed of thinker in order to be appreciated by their audience. It’s what sells–or at least garners attention. Churches market and brand themselves to be whatever they think will draw the most people in the doors on a given Sunday. Even non-profits do this as they attempt to raise money. I’ve been listening to the Spring Campaign by NPR (I’m proud to say their tactics worked on me and I’m now a contributor). Throughout all of their appeals you can hear the thread of a particular branding of being both non-biased and also uniquely enriching to the world of news and culture.
One must wonder what sort of effect this has on a society. The tension of being consumers drives competition. That’s a good thing, or at least we’re taught that in school. But what happens when the consumerist mentality drives us to consume each other? What happens when our lack of civility, lack of compassion, and lack of care for another is nourished by our drive to purchase and sell materials or even ideas. You see, this is where both liberals and conservatives fall off the tracks in politics because the pursuit of power ultimately drives us to promise one thing to get in, and then compromise that in the name of keeping power. If you don’t believe me just look at the last 3 years of President Obama’s administration and the look at the 8 years of President Bush’s. That’s not to say that either are bad people at all. It is to say that maybe our consumerist identities ultimately drive us to consume everything we can in order to attain power. The drive for power is ultimately the drive to master. Such an audacious pursuit leads us to believe we can actually be masters of our world.
This consumerist mentality speaks to an array of issues people of faith must wrestle with. If one of the fundamental questions of the late-20th Century was, “How are we supposed to live together in such a diverse world?” then the question facing the early-21st Century is, “What exactly is sacred?” You see, sacredness flies in the face of our politics and even our consumerist views. It means that the goal of life is not saving an extra dollar when that dollar could be spent on a more responsible product that doesn’t exploit God’s children or creation. It means that we can’t simply vote because our so-called civic duty says we should pick a side between the best of two bad choices. Instead we should all lift our political environment out of the gutters of birth certificate hunts, scare tactics and litmus test conversations. It means that we must be willing to grow beyond the ideal that our personal freedom is the ultimate goal of human life when it comes at the expense of another’s freedom.
We can’t simply be satisfied with our personal choice and freedom to make such a choice. We have to push toward the day when we don’t simply exist together, but we live in a community of love and mutual care together. This day is the redemption we’re called to participate in in our baptismal vows. It’s at the heart of what God’s shalom is. It calls everything we regard with such divine esteem into question. And there is no political argument or product we can purchase that will answer these questions for us. There’s no price high enough for something so valuable.