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The Christian ethics of consumption

At its root, consumerism arises from a distorted view of human nature. This ethos teaches that our wants are insatiable (and the provocations of advertising help to make this so), that buying a new article of clothing or fancy gadget will answer our deepest longings, that we are what we own. Humans, then, are seen as greedy and lacking and shallow. To the degree that we believe this, we are under the thrall of consumerism, rather than following the teachings of Christianity.

These four considerations are helpful to understand the Christian ethics of consumption:

  1. We are prone to sin but called to renounce it;
  2. We are creatures who can and should delight in creation;
  3. We are neighbors who can love ourselves and one another;
  4. We are denizens of the new creation, who can and should align our actions with those of a fulfilled world.

We are not—or need not be—greedy, lacking, and shallow. We do not have to believe what consumerism tells us, because Christianity has an alternate view of human nature.

Theologian Vincent Miller has written about the interaction between religion and consumerism, articulating the concern that Christians who see themselves as consumers "encounter the elements of tradition in an abstract, fragmented form and are trained to engage them as passive consumers." Consumption may seem to be a topic best treated by other sources or other fields of study, but the Christian tradition offers robust insights into contemporary problems faced by consumers.

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