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Responsible Consumerism

Matthew 6.25-34

Christians have long argued that consumerism is disastrous. There are two arguments for this. 

The first says that it is spiritually corrupting. We end up in an endless quest for more things and new experiences, but this will never satisfy us. Better by far to emulate the natural world and take life one day at a time, because it is only spiritual fulfilment that will really make us content with our lot. 

The second argument says that consumerism is irresponsible and drives us to use up more and more finite resources while releasing more and more pollutants into the atmosphere and the seas. The catastrophic consequences are already all too apparent.

But what’s the alternative to consumerism? For better or worse, a certain amount of consumption keeps the economy afloat because - as Karl Marx observed - workers are also consumers and if they aren’t consuming anything many of them will inevitably be thrown out of work. Advocates of a ‘circuit breaker’, to try to stop Covid-19 in its tracks by imposing another albeit shorter lockdown, have been met with complaints that shutting down the economy again will lead to mass unemployment.

Is there a middle way - consuming enough, but not using consumerism as the only driver of economic growth and instead using things like tackling climate change to grow the economy instead - a sort of carbon neutral consumerism? Advocating the wholesale abandonment of consumerism is reckless and dangerous. Advocating carefully targetted and more responsible consumption might be a more realistic approach.

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