Consumerism, Christian Living, and Opportunity Cost

As I consider some final refelctions on The Rebel Sell, Heath and Potter, I do so with an eye toward the university campus context.

[Side note:  My friend, and fellow DMinGML student, Eddie Dean, has written an excellent blog today (click here to read it) on the topic of consumerism, Christian living, and the intersection of the two.  I especially commend the way he has succinctly summarized The Rebel Sell, and found valuable points of comparison and contrast with Hunter’s To Change the World (see my previous reviews on this blog of both of these books).]


As a reminder, Hunter pursues the idea of “faithful presence,” actively living out the faithfulness and goodness of God in our day, and working toward making the world a better place.  Heath and Potter promote the concept of regulating society more in order to bring about necessary changes, and abandoning individualism for the sake of deference to the needs and interests of others.

Both perspectives have merit.  It will take the passion of individuals, working together from a common foundation (again, I refer you to Eddie’s blog here, and especially his discussion on “center of narrative gravity” for an excellent discussion on this topic), for real change in our world to be realized.

What about the college campus, and the ideals that are emerging from this young generation of Christians?  What are students desiring, and how can they effectively work toward establishing a better world?  Let me provide an important thought…

Consumerism is typically viewed as us, the consumers, consuming goods and services.  But it may be helpful for us to re-frame our understanding of consumerism as a force that actually consumes us.  As we pursue the consumption of material goods, we pay an opportunity cost.  That cost can most painfully be measured in terms of the good things we could be doing with our time and financial resources.  This is a valid point for all of us, but especially for young students who are beginning to develop life-long practices. 

Students are bombarded, moment by moment, with messages of consumerism.  Is it any wonder that student loan debt has now surpassed credit card debt in America?  Consumerism is indeed consuming the emerging generation, and most are finding that the results of their pursuits are completely unsatisfying.

I can certainly speak with authority on this topic…I really didn’t need that new iPod, but spent the $ on it anyway, ony to feel a little empty when it pretty much does the same thing as my other (perfectly good) iPod.  That same $, I realize, could feed an African village for a week (I know, because I used to live in an African village), and I think I would have felt pretty good about seeing that happen. 

When we “buy-in” (pun intended) to consumerism, we sacrifice the better good.  And the opportunities for doing good in the world have never been so prevalent.  We also lose the opportunity to feel good about our actions, as well as the opportunity to spread hope to others. 

That iPod, from this perspective, cost a whole lot more than $. 

Weigh the cost.

4 thoughts on “Consumerism, Christian Living, and Opportunity Cost

  1. It seems that most of our choices today are not necessarily between good and evil (though some counterculturals might disagree!). I like your phrase “better good.” A new ipod in and of itself is not bad, but there is definitely a “better good!” Maybe THAT’s the REBEL SELL!

  2. Your point of “consumerism as a force that actually consumes us” is an important one. If we only think of ourselves as doing the consuming, we find solutions based only in our individual and collective action. If we’re the problem, we’re also the solution. To wed that with the notion that we’re also being consumed by consumerism is to point out that we need rescue from being consumed. That can only happen from an outside force. God must be at work rescuing us, even as we try to right the ship. Good word, Bill. Thanks for the generous references to my blog.

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