Consumerism: Rampant and Dangerous
WHAT IS “CONSUMERISM”?
Simply, but elegantly put: consumerism is a style of life directed towards “having” rather than “being”. It is a “web of false and superficial gratifications.” (Pope St. John Paul II, 41)
WHY IS CONSUMERISM A PROBLEM?
Let us count the ways…
Consumerism harms the person:
- Consumerism leads to “attitudes and life styles… which are objectively improper and often damaging to [our] physical and spiritual health”; (Pope St. John Paul II, 36)
- “Weakens the development and stability of personal relationships”; (Pope Francis, 67)
- “Prevents man’s growth as a human being”; (Pope St. Paul VI, 19)
- “Prevent us from cherishing each thing and each moment”; (Pope Francis, 222)
- Leads us to “shut out others”; (Pope St. Paul VI, 19)
- We “become not the lords and masters but the slaves of material wealth”. (Pope Pius XII, 1a)
Consumerism harms the country:
- “Nations can fall prey to…soul stifling materialism”; (Pope St. Paul VI, 19)
- “Distorts family bonds”; (Pope Francis, 67)
- Leads to “excessive promotion of purely utilitarian values”; (Pope St. John Paul II, 29)
- Creates “dissension and disunity”; (Pope St. Paul VI, 19)
- “Jeopardizes” our “collective fulfillment”; (Pope St. Paul VI, 18)
- Creates a situation where “[h]uman beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded.” (Pope Francis, 53)
Catholic social teaching invites society to a serious review of its lifestyle.
Catholic social teaching is clear: “It is not wrong to want to live better, what is wrong is a style of life…which wants to have more, not in order to be more but in order to spend life in enjoyment as an end in itself.” (Pope St. John Paul II, 36)
A person who is concerned solely or primarily with possessing and enjoying – who can no longer subordinate his instincts, cannot be free.
The ‘answer’ to consumerism is found in faith because: “once Jesus dwells in our heart, the center of life is no longer my ravenous and selfish ego, but the One who is born and lives for love.” (Pope Francis)
We need to ask ourselves: “Do I really need all these material objects and complicated recipes for living? Can I manage without all these unnecessary extras and live a life of greater simplicity?” (Pope Francis)
Catholic social teaching invites society, “to a serious review of its lifestyle, which in many parts of the world is prone to hedonism and consumerism, regardless of their harmful consequences.” (Pope Benedict XVI, 51)
Catholic social teaching calls for a great deal of educational and cultural work, including:
- Education of consumers in responsible choices;
- Formation of a strong sense of responsibility among producers and especially among the mass media;
- The “necessary” intervention by public authorities regards drug use, pornography and “other forms of consumerism which exploit the frailty of the weak”. (Pope St. John Paul II, 36)
“The individualism of our postmodern society and globalized era favors a lifestyle which weakens the development and stability of personal relationships and distorts family bonds”. (Pope Francis, 67)
The goal of Catholic social teaching is for life styles in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness, and communion with others for the sake of the common good will determine consumers’ choices, savings, and investments. (Pope St. John Paul II, 36)
Three Key Principles
Catholic social teaching is built on three foundational principles - Human Dignity, Solidarity and Subsidiarity. Human Dignity, embodied in a correct understanding of the human person, is the greatest. The others flow from it. Good governments and good economic systems find ways of fostering the three principles.
This means a correct understanding of the human person and of each person’s unique value. All Catholic social teaching flows from this: the inherent dignity of every person that comes from being made in God’s image.
Solidarity is not “a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of others. It is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good”. (Pope St. John Paul II, 38) Love of God and love of neighbor are, in fact, linked and form one, single commandment.
Subsidiarity “is a fundamental principle of social philosophy, fixed and unchangeable, that one should not withdraw from individuals and commit to the community what they can accomplish by their own enterprise and industry. So, too, it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and a disturbance of right order to transfer to the larger and higher collectivity functions which can be performed and provided for by the lesser and subordinate bodies”. (Pope Pius XI)
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