Consumerism has given us many globally recognisable shapes. Creative types might think instantly of iconic design profiles: the figurine coke bottle, the Nike swish, the sleek Apple Mac. The cynical among us might suggest more sinister outlines: the increasing Western waistline, the reducing Arctic ice.
But nothing the consumer mould produces is as significant as this: the way it shapes our souls. The problem with consumer culture, to put it bluntly, is not so much the products it makes – these can be ingenious, useful and, increasingly, more sustainably produced. The problem is not so much the mess it makes – this is a massive global challenge, but still only a symptom of a deeper malaise. The problem with consumer culture is the people it makes.
Let’s make this personal. The problem is me. ‘Hi, my name’s Mark and I’m a consumer.’
The truth is that I am hugely shaped by my addiction to stuff. I am formed by my fear of a dull, reduced life. I am defined by the ever-present danger of lagging too far behind the consumer pack. Funnily enough, I don’t feel addicted. But, at the same time, I really don’t want to be the only person who hasn’t seen the latest blockbuster / hasn’t been skiing / isn’t culturally up-to-date (delete as appropriate). All this is deeply formational, and the shape it gives me is a rushed, dissatisfied and self-focussed life.
God is, of course, in the formation business too. He has a particular shape in mind for us – ‘to be conformed to the image of his Son’ (Romans 8:29). It’s an image of suffering and glory, as Paul makes clear. It’s an image of generosity and blessing (at times ‘poor, yet making many rich’ – 2 Corinthians 6:10 – easy now, Paul!). Eugene Peterson calls it ‘the soaring and swooping life of grace’.
Or we could say ‘less stuff, more life’.
Mark Powley is author of the newly published Consumer Detox: Less Stuff, More Life (Zondervan).