Consumerism and Disdain for the Past2
I’ve been reading Carl Trueman’s excellent book, The Creedal Imperative (Crossway, 2012). I wish I hadn’t waited this long. Continue reading . . .
I’ve been reading Carl Trueman’s excellent book, The Creedal Imperative (Crossway, 2012). I wish I hadn’t waited this long.
In the opening chapter he comments on what he calls “the cultural case against creeds and confessions.” By this he means the various forces and features in contemporary culture that turn people against the use of creeds and confessions of biblical truth. “Numerous forces within modern culture,” he explains, “serve to erode any notion that the past might be a useful source of wisdom” (24). Trueman cites in particular science, technology, consumerism, and the disappearance of human nature. His comments on consumerism are especially insightful.
What is consumerism? He defines it “as an over-attachment to material goods and possessions such that one’s meaning or worth is determined by them” (27). But this definition, he goes on to say, misses one key aspect of this phenomenon: “it is not just the attachment to material things, it is also the need for constant acquisition of the same. Life is enriched not simply by possessing goods but by the process of acquiring them; consumerism is as much a function of boredom as it is of crass materialism” (27).
What has this to do with rejection of the past, you ask? Simply this:
“consumerism is predicated on the idea that life can be fulfilling through acquiring something in the future that one does not have in the present. This manifests itself in the whole strategic nature of marketing. For example, every time you switch on your television set, you are bombarded with advertisements that may be for a variety of different goods and services but that all preach basically the same message: what you have now is not enough for happiness; you need something else, something new, in order to find true fulfillment. I believe that this reinforces fundamentally negative attitudes toward the past” (27-28).
As a postscript, says Trueman,
“the impact of consumerism is one reason why church sessions and elder boards often spend more time than is decent on discussions about worship and programs. Someone will make the point that certain young people have left because the worship is not to their liking and thus the church needs to think again about how it does things. Laying aside the fact that, for most of us, no church gives us everything we want in worship but we are nonetheless happy to attend because the Word is truly preached, it is interesting to note the session member’s response: we need to do something, to think again about worship. In other words, we need to respond to the needs of the consumer. An alternative approach might be that we need to do a better job of explaining why we do what we do, and what the obligations entailed in solemn vows of membership are; yet this is often not the knee-jerk reaction to such concerns. The consumer-is-king mentality renders all established and time-tested practices unstable and utterly negotiable” (29-30; emphasis mine).
Interesting, isn’t it?