Consumerism and Religion
According to economists, consumerism is the social and economic concept of spending many resources to obtain goods and services in ever-greater amounts. Consumerism is an important current issue that encourages people to use a lot of money to acquire goods and services for the benefit of the economy. Religion on the other hand refers to the systematic organization of individuals who share similar interests regarding their beliefs. Mostly, religion involves individuals’ beliefs of natural and supernatural aspects in relations to humankind where people have organized activities designated to worship their source of life. Nevertheless, economy affects each person including the religion followers; hence, religious changes anchor in modernity affected by the consumer society (Featherstone 11). In comparison with 1957, life has tremendously changed from the number of cars people own, meals they consume per day, electronics they own; this shows that consumerism is evident in the current world. The increased social and materialistic affluence is associated with the increase in consumerism and its discontents. Consumerism advocates for overconsumption and extravagance characterized by impulse purchases (Featherstone 15). In such a situation, the material commodities he or she owns describe an individual social status. Generally, religious faithful followers are not associated with materialistic ownership; however, things have drastically changed in the 21st century. Therefore, this paper explores the evolution of consumerism, the relationship between consumerism and religion, and the impacts consumerism has caused on religion followers.
The evolution of consumerism
Consumerism has been largely referred to as the late capitalism or capitalism in its initial stages. Previously, the human race embraced socialism that encouraged people to coexist in a more integrated manner where duties and resources were equitable. Featherstone asserts that capitalism brought about the ideology of individualism and social class division (13). People started owning property privately expanding the gap between wealthy people and the poor. As a result, poor people have remained subjected to people who have a lot of wealth since they control the resources. Consumerism appeared in that context where rich people want to sustain their lives by owning huge amounts of material things. Featherstone describes it as the consumption culture where the consumer is destined to expand capitalist commodities in a vast accumulation of material culture in form of consumer goods for purchase and consumption (13).
The exponential rise in household expenditure on consumer goods during the world war further triggered the increase in capitalism behavior. The harsh living conditions introduced the urge for a few people to own large shares of resources so that they can manipulate and influence the others. As a result, they ended up purchasing more than they required subjecting those who could not afford. The rest of the public admired the culture of owning much wealth and overriding the others; hence, consumerism was born. Consequently, economists and scholars started advocating for consumerism fully aware of its dire consequences (Macdaniel 1461). Religion followers have been thrown into a crossroad in determining whether to adopt consumerism or to dispute it.
Relationship between religion and consumerism
The wide scopes of religion from Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Hindus among others do not believe in materialistic ownership to define an individual. Traditionally, the sacred men and women believed in leading humble lives and concentrated in sharing with the less fortunate. The authentic previous religion focused on formal doctrines, rituals, religion festivities that formed day-to-day religion activities. The historical contexts present religion as secluded in extreme consumption culture because believers are portrayed as only bound to spiritual activities. Their missions are not pampered with materialistic goods and special services but they comply with the legal regulations and live like ordinary people. However, with time things have changed bringing a contention in justifying spirituality and sustainability (Featherstone 81). With the emergence of modernism, consumerism culture has featured a lot in religious practices. For example, religion leaders and clergymen are among the top richest people in the world. Their consumption rate in terms of expenditure on goods and services is excessively high showing that they have adopted consumerism. Postmodernism subjects each individual to consumerism since products are differentiated by quality and price. High quality goods and services cost much compared to goods of relatively low quality.
Consumerism contradicts with the religion in a number of instances for example, beauty in the tradition religion context referred to the personal presentation before God. Muslims for example have a common way to cover their body while going to worship; Christians also had a designated dress code for worship. On the contrary, current believers tend to differ because they do not have a designated dress code that represents them in the place of worship. This contributes to competition in dressing in the place of worship; hence; people will invest heavily in buying clothes. Secondly, consumerism is heavily dependent on marketing and advertising of products and services. Since consumerism advocates for excessive consumption, corporations invest heavily on commercials to appeal to customers to buy their products. According to Macdaniel, a research conducted in New Zealand indicated that Christians were less likely to purchase a commodity that is advertised in a materialistic way (1462). Products such as Rolex watches, Harley Davidson bikes, Louis Vuitton dresses incur a lot of money in advertising because they sell luxury products. The study shown that religious faithful, especially Christians, were reluctant to such products because they believed they were not satisfied by their advertisements (Macdaniel 1461). The respondents stated that the commercials were not Godly and represented materialistic interests, which are against the spiritual guidelines. In addition, they said that it is imprudent to spend more than what a person realistically owns. On the contrary, religious leaders such as pastors and sheikhs are associated with extravagance in luxurious goods and services. They drive the most expensive cars, they spend in the most luxurious lounges and they dress in expensive brands portraying glamour and flair. The main question that arises is where these people get such huge amount of resources to afford such lifestyles. As discussed earlier, traditional religion followers believed in sharing equitably in the society and rich people were mostly associated with ungodliness. Therefore, consumerism in postmodernism largely affects the traditional religious beliefs. Similarly, religion despises advertisements based on their moral impacts in the society. Advertisements of commodities such as family planning products raise eyebrows among the clergypersons. They claim that such adverts contribute in misleading the society and corrupting the community morality.
Another issue that relates consumerism with religion is security and safety measures. Since the ancient eras, religion believers were threatened by insecurity and lack of safety (Macdaniel 1464). Both in the bible and in the Quran sacred individuals such as prophets were sometimes living in danger. As a result, they could acquire security back up to assure of their security. Same case applies in the era of consumerism because religious leaders are constantly threatened and they have to invest in their security; although currently they are extremists. Similarly, consumerism brought class diversity in the society where wealthy people are regarded more important than the others did (Featherstone 97). This ideology influences the places of worship also because sanctuaries that are fitted with expensive equipments and aesthetic external furnish attracts people who belong to a certain social class. According to the historical sacred context, any person in spite of social wellbeing visited temples and mosques unlike today where specific individuals fit in a particular place of worship. Transformation to modernism affects the relationship between consumerism and religion.
Impacts of consumerism on religion
The impacts of consumerism on religion are mostly adverse and they have changed the previous responsibilities of religion in the society. Consumerism transformed the caring characteristics inhabited by religious followers and believers to individualism and selfish characters (Macdaniel 1461). For example, in Christianity Jesus Christ led a humble life that involved helping the needy and sharing, but today his birth is celebrated by people who overspend without sharing with the others. Consumerism also brought envy and discontent among the poor interfering with their relationship with the rich; hence, they disagree even in religion ideologies. Islam believes in fairness and equality where every person gets a share of the available resources; however, consumerism disputes this ideology since it promotes laziness and unproductive individuals in the society (Macdaniel 1464). Additionally, religious desire is to live up to the ways and following the guidelines of the lord. In Christianity for instance, the desire of a Christian should always be pleasing God in accordance with Jesus Christ’s teachings, but consumerism shifts their desires to satisfying their personal needs.
The debate about consumerism is overwhelming gaining mixed reactions among different people. Religion has largely been affected by the post-modernism consumer culture that advocates for excessive consumption to stabilize the economy. It is evident that consumerism shapes and influences religion through the emerging economic trends. Currently, people consume more than basic needs; hence, they compete to acquire luxury items and technological innovations to improve efficiency. Traditional religious practices discouraged excessive consumption but with the increase in demand, people are shifting into consumerism despite their faith. Macdaniel asserts it is difficult to identify whether material goods are bad or good since they all meet a certain demand (1463). He continues to say that despite the increase in luxurious goods in disposal; there is no empirical evidence, which shows that people happiness and satisfaction have increased (Macdaniel 1464).
However, consumerism involves huge costs that are worth worrying about because most of its effects are negative. This is because the fissure that separates people with resources and the poor is on the rising end due to individualism brought by consumerism. The moral aspect of religion is diminishing at a very high rate- the role of the place of worship is shifting from spirituality to materialistic ownership. Additionally, consumerism affects how people extract resources to satisfy their material needs. Unfortunately, adverse consequences such as pollution and conflicts erupt in search of wealth and resources. Therefore, consumerism has both negative and positive impacts on the religion.
Featherstone, Mike. Consumer Culture and Postmodernism. Los Angeles: SAGE Publications, 2007. Internet resource.
Mcdaniel, Jay. “Spirituality and sustainability.” Conservation biology (2002): 1461-1464.