How Consumerism Trains Us to Devalue the Past

How Consumerism Trains Us to Devalue the Past

Written by Carl R. Trueman |
Tuesday, February 13, 2024

The impact of consumerism is one reason why church sessions and elder boards often spend more time than is decent on discussions about worship and programs. Someone will make the point that certain young people have left because the worship is not to their liking and thus the church needs to rethink how it does things. Laying aside the fact that, for most of us, no church gives us everything we want in worship but we are nonetheless happy to attend because the word is truly preached it is interesting to note the session member’s response: we need to do something, to think again about worship.

Losing Respect for the Past

Consumerism can be defined as an overattachment to material goods and possessions, such that one’s meaning or worth is determined by them. This definition is reasonably helpful but misses one key aspect of the phenomenon: it is not just the attachment to material things but also the need for constant acquisition of the same. Life is enriched not simply by possessing goods but by the process of acquiring them; consumerism is as much a function of boredom as it is of crass materialism.

What has this to do with rejection of the past? Simply this: consumerism is predicated on the idea that life can be fulfilling through acquiring something in the future that one does not have in the present. This manifests itself in the whole strategic nature of marketing. For example, every time you switch on your television set, you are bombarded with advertisements that may be for a variety of different goods and services but that all preach basically the same message: what you have now is not enough for happiness; you need something else, something new, in order to find true fulfillment. I believe this reinforces fundamentally negative attitudes toward the past.

Think for a moment: How many readers of this are wearing clothes they bought ten years ago? How many are using computers they bought five years ago? Or driving automobiles more than fifteen years old? With the exception of vintage car collectors, the economically poor, and those with absolutely no fashion sense, most readers will probably respond in the negative to at least one, if not all three, of these questions. Yet when we ask why this is the case, there is no sensible answer. We can put a man on the moon, so we could probably make an automobile that lasts for fifty years; most of us do little on computers that could not have been done on the machines we owned five years ago; and we all get rid of clothes that still fit us and are quite presentable. So why the need for the new?

A number of factors influence this kind of behavior. First, there is the role of built-in obsolescence: it is not in the manufacturer’s best interest to make a washing machine that will last for a hundred years. If that were done, then the manufacturer would likely be out of business within a decade as the market became saturated. Such is a possible but unlikely scenario. Developments in technology mean that longevity will not be the only factor driving the market.

Read More

Scroll to top