[whiner]: "You buy too much stuff." [me]: Shut up.



A friend of mine, with the best of intentions, recently posted a link to another blog, commenting on the materialism, wastefulness, and worthlessness of (the West's) life:

We're in love with stuff -- with shopping, with acquiring, with owning, with collecting.

Let's lust after life instead.

Our obsession with stuff has become unhealthy. When we have a void in our lives, we buy things. When we have problems, we buy things. And these things are becoming more and more expensive, bigger, shinier ... more wasteful.

This obsession with stuff leads to owning a lot, having a lot of clutter ... and yet this stuff doesn't fill our lives with meaning.

It leads to deep debt, from buying so much, and needing bigger houses and storage spaces to contain everything. Financially, we're worse off than ever, because of this obsession with stuff.

We buy things when we're depressed, we buy things for others to show how much we love them ... and in this way, stuff has separated us from actually dealing with our emotions, blocked us from truly connecting with others.

Let's replace that lust for stuff with a lust for life.

A seminary professor of mine often said that "since the deck of life is always shifting, balance is nothing more than momentary synchronicity." With that in mind, I submit the following, wherein I run headlong away from the swells and toward the high-side of the deck in this storm of life.

Okay...I'm just about OVER this hackneyed commentary. Let's look at a couple points in Mr. Babuta's excerpt:

*"obsession with stuff": please define this lame expression, as I DOUBT that our consideration or contemplation of material goods is quantifiably any more or stronger than in centuries past. This is a thread of the anti-physical that infests the church and the general counter-cultural world. Goods are good; get over it. Wealth is good. Of course, it can become an idol. Let me know of something that can't, and I'll give you MY wealth.

*"more wasteful": yes...as we become wealthier, we buy more expensive goods. However, do please look at what Victorian (or, as reductio-ad-absurdum, cavemen) considered 'luxury,' and then take the unavoidable step to acknowledging that the good things that we, as predominantly middle-class individuals, have are vastly better than the good things that were even available to our great-grandparents....or even parents, let alone whether they could afford it. Before you go whining about this point, please do me the favor of considering this

*"this stuff doesn't fill our lives with meaning": yes, well, neither does a house over our head, but it's noticeably better than not having one. Move along.

*"Financially, we're worse off than ever": OH, GOOD LORD, IS THIS HYPERBOLE AND DAMNED TOMFOOLERY. We (and, you may choose to define 'we' as almost anything you want) are ***amazingly*** wealthier than any group of socially or in-any-other-way comparable people in the history of the universe (so far as we know...I'm not averse to other-planet life, but that's not relevant here).

*"we buy things for others to show how much we love them": Mr. Babuta, please let me know when, in the history of...well...whenever, have individuals been able to convey love without cost. Whether that cost be monetary or in-any-other-way measurable, the cost must be paid, or the gesture is utterly worthless. Your complaint is tired and baseless, sir, and I ask that you discontinue this lame attempt at social commentary. An individual gets what we refer to as 'money,' typically, by the work of his hands/mind. This is no different than any other point in history, only now we have exceedingly easily quantifiable methods of evaluating the 'value' of that work. That is, contrary to your insinuation, a wonderfully GOOD thing, and allows us to avoid the wasteful and inefficient barter economy.

*"Let's replace that lust for stuff with a lust for life." I'm not even sure how to react to this batch of trite...or, wait, do I mean 'Tripe'?

The only valid point here is that a desire for some certain thing may outweigh the desire for a better thing. This, contrary to Mr. Babuta's apparent point, is no more true today than it was to Salomon.

I DO encourage everyone to read the remainder of Mr. Babuta's post, but not to glean great truths of life, but rather to notice that tiredness (of ideas) can still sell well to the populace--note the fawning commentary.

Move along, folks, nothing to see here.


but...but...then I can't feel guilty about owning things and subsequently self-righteous about my austere lifestyle after I have a garage sale...

Nice, I like it.

Amen, Shawn. I noticed most of Babuta's ideas for lusting life require time, which is something I would have none of without my dishwasher, washing machine, dryer, food processor, vacuum cleaner, microwave, high speed internet, etc.

Josh...great point. I guess this sort of attitude does allow one to unfuse a few vertebrae and kiss their own ass. But, then, most things elicit the same sort of actions...even my cynicism. :/

Tired? What a laugh. Blatant materialism is tired.

Some poster above said they wouldn't have time without all their toys. It reminds me of everyone who zips around in their cars all day, and ask me "how do you have time to bike?" I have time to bike because I'm not working an extra 4 hours a day to pay for the car (yes, the typical person spends 3-4 hours of the workday, just paying for their car). Add onto the cost of the car the costs of the dishwasher, high speed internet, etc etc, and you have to work like a dog to pay for those things. Fine if you want to do that. But not fine if you are so clueless as to not understand why some people are tired of that worn out paradigm, and you slam them for doing so.

Morgan, if you know a way I can haul my three kids around on a bike, I'm all ears. I don't think Shawn is slamming people who choose to live without such conveniences, just those who suggest that taking advantage of such conveniences is inherently shallow.

Morgan...what does 'materialism' mean?

Would you show me your 3-4 hours/day calculation? That's interesting, but I wouldn't be surprised...not sure what a 'typical' person is.

Shawn, wouldn't you agree that with the unprecedented, widespread wealth enjoyed in the West has come a unprecedented, widespread idolization of comfort?

Say's Law?

I agree that it is not inherently "stuff" that is problematic, but our spiritual disposition towards it. If a wealthy person does not idolize their material wealth, then there is no problem (it being assumed that they are thus generous with what God has given them). If they do, the solution is not to remove wealth from the equation, but to apply the Gospel (a topic in and of itself). Plenty of poor people idolize wealth, believing it will solve all their problems.

Be careful that you don't speak truth for it's own sake. Truth that does not promote and empower growth in Christ is just abuse.

Abraham...I don't see how it is any different than any point in the past. Perhaps the realization of comfort is more widespread, but I'd say that that then allows one to devote efforts to more meaningful ventures: again, it is precisely the wealth that is being vilified in the quoted post that even enables one to look for the more 'meaningful' (in quotes because I personally don't think they're any more or less intrinsically meaningful, though of course some do) routes to meaning.

As brad commented, and since we're talking about redeemer above, this is just a question of idolatry. One can idolize the "zen" anti-material-goods mindset just as easily as I idolize technology. Problem is, when you idolize the former, as josh pointed out, you get to feel all self-satisfied, and don't even see yourself searching for meaning in "things," especially as everyone would always be telling you how great and countercultural you are for bucking the materialism trend.

As I've pondered this post for a few days, I continue to be troubled by it. I've gotta agree with Abraham on this one. This response feels to me a little like a justification. A justification for a life lived in comfort. That others create an idol of asceticism means it's okay for us to create an idol of materialism. I don't think that's true.

The tone of this post suggests a certain defensiveness, and I think that's a tone we've all felt at some point in realizing our relative wealth within the U.S. The reasoning correctly points out the idol of anti-materialist feel-goodedness, but the problem is that we are wealthy in comparison to the world. And since we are, I firmly believe much is expected of us. If we earn $50k annually, we're in the wealthiest 1% of the world. If this were not so, there would be no greater concern for others in evaluating our possessions. But it is, and so I think we need to deal with the ramifications.

This does not mean giving up good economic theory, but it may mean giving up the 'good' comfortable life. Let us remember Luke 12:48, and commit ourselves to managing our blessings wisely, whatever they may be. And I think that could very well mean working towards spreading access to comfort around the globe.

1. Individuals that have achieved (or been handed) a level of comfort do not by definition idolize it more than those who have not.

2. Some "comfort" translates directly into more time. Perhaps my time is better spent homeschooling than washing clothes by hand in the river as my grandmother did. She certainly didn't begrudge me the opportunity.

3. It is precisely good economic theory and practice that will help spread more access to comfort around the globe.

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This page contains a single entry by Shawn Reed published on July 8, 2009 3:37 PM.

One yard short--McNair's NFL legacy? was the previous entry in this blog.

Tim Keller's Redeemer: Race Problem? is the next entry in this blog.


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