Consumerism: A Subtle Corroder of VirtueRAY GUARENDI
Consumerism seems to me to be the Number 1 corporate sin of Christians; it's the sin that affects the most of us the most. We are simply so deep into it we don't see it anymore. Our desire for stuff supersedes everything. We are distracted, owned, tempted and seduced by it.
Jesus Christ spoke out against greed more than any other vice. But despite
those warnings, Christians are still incredibly susceptible to the allure of a
materialistic lifestyle, says a Catholic psychologist.
Dr. Ray Guarendi,
author, radio host and father of 10, told ZENIT how Christians in the West are
plagued by consumerism and what damage greed can do to Christian marriages, families
Q: Those in a free society are awash in choice
in virtually all aspects of life: housing, employment, appearance, relationships,
possessions. What would you say are the major areas where consumerism has deeply
affected Christians' behavior without them realizing it?
Consumerism seems to me to be the Number 1 corporate sin of Christians;
it's the sin that affects the most of us the most. We are simply so deep into
it we don't see it anymore.
Our desire for stuff supersedes everything.
We are distracted, owned, tempted and seduced by it. We simply think less of God
and more of "it" it consumes more of our waking moments than God. That
may be why our Lord spoke more of greed in the New Testament than anything else.
Part of the problem is that the American culture views consumerism and
stuff as part and parcel of normal living. It just is; it's how people get by.
How can that be wrong? But it goes to the core of who we are. Consumerism equates
with self self-centeredness, self-fulfillment, self-satisfaction, selfish desires.
Virtually everyone lives to the limit or above what they can afford.
That leaves no margin to give of money, to give of time and to simply have extra.
Often, when missionaries come into parishes and take a second collection, the
number of $1 bills is pathetic. Catholics are the richest religious group in the
country and we give the least.
Unfortunately, we don't see it because
we're like fish that don't sense the water around us. We need to make an effort
to sense consumerism and try to resist it in our society.
go anywhere the store, restaurants, parties, other homes, even churches they get
prizes. We get stuff as often as we breathe; it becomes part of our lifestyle.
We have to consciously and willfully fight to recognize that this is happening.
If we gave to the Church the amount of money we spend eating out and
shopping or how much we pay on interest for things we don't really need the Church
would be able to help so many more people.
In our culture, being a consumer
is seen as the good life but it distracts us from the infinitely good life. Adam
and Eve had everything, except for one tree. And of course, that's what they wanted
Q: With the growth of consumerism,
how have you seen this phenomenon play out in Christian marriages, families and
Guarendi: As a therapist,
one of the first things I do with a child who has a behavior problem is ask the
parents to reassess the child's goodies, activities and privileges. Kids are awash
in things and leisure opportunities, and it affects their behavior.
One of the top three stresses in marriages and families is finances. We are the
wealthiest culture the world has ever seen, but our discontent over our finances,
homes and ability to buy things is sky-high.
Because of the degree we
want stuff, we have to work. That means that Daddy and sometimes Mommy are away
from home all day so that they and their kids can have everything they want. This
leads to what I call the "working parent compensation system."
Moms often don't want to work, but think they have to work because of spending
habits in the family. They are tired when they come home, they feel guilty about
not spending enough time with their children and they are hesitant to spend that
little time punishing their kids for misbehaving.
That affects their
resolve to discipline and be, in effect, parents. If parents are working long
or extra hours, they can't supervise their children; their kids are on their own
to raise themselves.
Husbands often pursue their toys more than wives
because they are told they gotta have them to be a man's man and enjoy life. At
a superficial level, guys want the newest, best stuff, and sometimes that includes
wives. They think, "My wife is getting older; there must be a better, newer
model out there."
When you learn to want things, your wants don't
just stop at inanimate objects. You want other people and relationships that seem
better than your current ones. When you are dissatisfied with what you have, it
doesn't stop with consumer goods. This often leads to affairs and an overall pattern
Discontent is not related to what we have, it's the distance
between what we have and what we want.
Q: Increased affluence over
the last decades has contributed to freedom of choice by giving people the means
to act on their various goals and desires. How has this affected a Christian's
ability to commit to a lifelong vocation, especially to the religious life and
Guarendi: The gap
between what religious accept as their lifestyle and the available lifestyle in
the West is large and has grown wider in the last few generations. African vocations
are exploding in part, it seems, because religious life in Africa is an educated
and appealing life compared to others' lives in that culture.
West, compared to the rest of society, religious life has very little perceived
"payoff." The gap is huge, so the commitment is bigger. Commitment to
priestly or religious vocations has to be fostered daily, because daily one is
reminded of what he or she is giving up.
Kids these days have a lot
of stuff. For them to respond to a call to religious life, it has to be pretty
strong. They have to turn their back to a lot of the "good life" to
commit solely to Christ.
We live in the culture where the attention
span is short. We define the goodness of life by its variability, its progressiveness
and change. Committing to something for life, such as marriage, can be looked
at as psychologically suffocating. We can't commit to just one thing. Tradition,
commitment and stability are looked down on.
We have succeeded in psychologically
deigning as good those very things that can bring down our culture.
How can Christians gauge how much consumerism influences their lives?
What are questions that people, and especially parents, can ask themselves in
order to determine its pervasiveness?
Here are some things you can ask yourself.
If I am asked
to give to the work for the Church, can I do it? Or do I say that I would love
to, but I can't financially? That is an indication that we are living at or beyond
our financial limits.
How many things do I need? People often think
they can't give to the Church because they have too much stuff to buy, too many
payments; they don't have extra to give.
How much margin is there in
my life? Do I have free time? Do I have free money? Free energy? I'm too busy
to do anything for anyone? Look at busy-ness and look how much is necessary.
You have to look at what demands your time and if you can justify it. Even
if you can afford things, you don't have to have them. Look how much you use things,
especially your toys and big things. Ask yourself: Am I neglecting others in order
to take care of all my stuff? What kind of time do I spend with my kids and family?
If you own a big home, even if you can pay for it, maintaining it eats
up a lot of your time. God won't ask how big your house was. He will ask you how
much time you spent with your family.
How much stuff do my kids have?
Kids need about five toys, if that. They can draw, read and make up things. I
use as a rule of thumb: Get rid of 90% of what kids have. It improves your frustration
level with them, and it improves their gratitude and behavior. Give it away. I
am not saying live like St. Francis; just get down to a healthy level.
Does my stuff interfere with my ability to help and have relationships with people?
The more you own, the more you are owned by it.
Q: How can Christians respond to and combat
Guarendi: Very simple
way to deal with it: Give it away or don't buy it. Go through your house; count
all of the things that are just sitting there. They serve no purpose but to adorn
Look at how you spend your money. If someone is hurting and
needs your help, are you contributing only $5 to help them? Why are you not giving
Most Christians see tithing as the standard of generosity.
Tithing in the Old Testament is a small percentage. In the New Testament, the
standard is to give your second coat to another that's giving 50% of what you
Consumerism does not help in the life of virtue. It is a subtle
corroder of Christian virtue. It is devastating to a Christian's walk with the
Lord because it flows in tandem with preoccupation with self.
is a continuation of self-absorption life is to get, not to give. Materialism
is completely antithetical to Christian living and the giving of ourselves, our
belongings and our lives.
We need to look at ourselves, our homes and
how we live with an objective eye. Look at what is helping you get to heaven,
and what is keeping you from walking with God.
ZENIT is an International News Agency based in Rome whose mission
is to provide objective and professional coverage of events, documents and issues
emanating from or concerning the Catholic Church for a worldwide audience, especially
Reprinted with permission from Zenit - News from Rome. All rights
Raymond N. Guarendi, aka Dr. Ray, is a practicing clinical psychologist and authority on parenting and behavioral issues active in the Catholic niche media. Guarendi is an advocate of common sense approaches to child rearing and discipline issues. Guarendi received his B.A. and M.A. at Case Western Reserve University in 1974, and his Ph.D. at Kent State University in 1978. He is the author of You're a better parent than you think!: a guide to common-sense parenting, Good Discipline, Great Teens, Adoption: Choosing It, Living It, Loving It; Straight Answers to Hearfelt Questions, Discipline that lasts a lifetime: the best gift you can give your kids, and Back to the Family.
Copyright © 2004 Zenit