Contemporary Issue: Consumerism
"All of us experience firsthand the sad effects of this blind submission to pure consumerism: in the first place a crass materialism, and at the same time a radical dissatisfaction, because one quickly learns - unless one is shielded from the flood of publicity and the ceaseless and tempting offers of products - that the more one possesses the more one wants, while deeper aspirations remain unsatisfied and perhaps even stifled." (SRS, 28)
What is Consumerism?
Simply, but elegantly defined, consumerism is: A style of life directed towards “having” rather than “being." Pope Saint John Paul II described it as
"...a web of false and superficial gratifications..." (CA, 41)
A person who is concerned solely or primarily with possessing and enjoying – who can no longer subordinate his instincts, cannot be free.
Pope Saint John Paul II touched upon the issue of consumerism many times in his writings and letters:
"In singling out new needs and new means to meet them, one must be guided by a comprehensive picture of man which respects all the dimensions of his being and which subordinates his material and instinctive dimensions to his interior and spiritual ones. If, on the contrary, a direct appeal is made to his instincts — while ignoring in various ways the reality of the person as intelligent and free — then consumer attitudes and life-styles can be created which are objectively improper and often damaging to his physical and spiritual health." (CA, 36)
In a country as abundant and prosperous as the United States - where arguably, the structures of our society appear to revolve increasingly around the consumer versus the human person, Saint John Paul II's words give us quite a bit to consider:
"A given culture reveals its overall understanding of life through the choices it makes in production and consumption. It is here that the phenomenon of consumerism arises." (CA, 36)
"...an excessive availability of every kind of material goods for the benefit of certain social groups, easily makes people slaves of "possession" and of immediate gratification, with no other horizon than the multiplication or continual replacement of the things already owned with others still better. This is the so-called civilization of "consumption" or "consumerism," which involves so much "throwing-away" and "waste." An object already owned but now superseded by something better is discarded, with no thought of its possible lasting value in itself, nor of some other human being who is poorer." (SRS, 28)
Since Saint John Paul II's papacy, moving with with the swift tides of globalization, the topic of consumerism has indeed been positioned at the forefront of international news and public conscience; fittingly, the Church has remained committed to communicating Her position on the issue in the 21st century. Pope Francis has expanded upon Saint John Paul II's themes of "waste" and "throwing away" in his most recent letters and addresses:
“Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading.” (Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 24 November 2013, 53)
“The culture of prosperity deadens us”. “Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.” (Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 24 November 2013, 54)
Related Thoughts on Consumerism
"To destroy such structures and replace them with more authentic forms of living in community is a task which demands courage and patience." (CA,38) Taken from "Saint John Paul's thoughts on the Human Environment - from Centesimus Annus"
"Do not expect peace in society without seeking the common good.""More than a tinge of urgency can be detected...in Pope Francis' comments on business and economics in his Exhortation, 'Evangelii Gaudium.'" Taken from "Francis - an economic reformer and provocateur"
Consumerism arises from a misunderstanding about the meaning of life and the real source of human happiness: consumerism is the mistaken idea that the consumption of things and experiences leads to happiness. It is an addiction to buying things, to spending money, as a solution to the lack of happiness and peace in one’s life, in one’s family. Taken from "Consumption and Family Life"
Related Speakers / Panelists / Authors on: Consumerism
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