Following my recent review of “The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience”, I have been gathering some of my own thoughts on the issues Ronald Sider raises. The question I’m thinking about first is “how can we as Christians (and churches) identify materialistic tendencies, and what practical steps can we take to avoid being sucked into this unbiblical way of thinking?”
I have for some time now been developing a line of thought that there are at least three ways to sell things to people.
1. Its something they actually need (like food or clothing). They’ll just buy it if you make the right thing available and they can afford it.
2. Appeal to the “collector” mentality. They’ve got one in the series, so they just gotta have them all.
3. Appeal to the “upgrader” mentality. They’ve already got it, and it works just fine, but if you make a better one, they want it.
Now since we live in a society where the vast majority can afford their basic needs to be met with some “disposable income” left over, the marketing people are focussing heavily on techniques 2 and 3. And I will admit that I am highly susceptible to them both.
The collector mentality
Six years ago I bought my first commentary. Now I have almost 100. How did that happen? Well they exist in “series”, so my “collector” mentality wants to get the entirity of any series that I have one of. Not only that, but when someone I respect makes a list of their recommendations, that becomes another “collection” that I want. Of course, other people collect shoes, DVDs, guitars, cars and so on. The marketing people know that as long as they sell you one, they can also sell you more.
Jesus said that the person who has two tunics should share with him who has none (Luke 3:11). There were doubtless some very good and pragmatic reasons for having more than one tunic in those days – two is hardly extravagent. But where there are people with nothing, hoarding an abundance is selfish and greedy.
The upgrader mentality
I’m into computers. I have never bought a whole one, but most years I buy a few parts to keep the one I have reasonably up to date. I have so many spare bits now that I have a second computer made out of the old pieces (and many other bits have been given away to friends). One thing is certain – there will always be better software and hardware coming out. Some of it will save me time, and some will open up new possibilities, but most of the things I want to do on a computer, I can do perfectly adequately with what I have. Other people are tempted by better sofas, better packages of TV channels, better cars, better holidays, and better food. The marketing people know that as long as they sell you one, they can also sell you a better one.
Paul says “But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Tim 6:8) and the author of Hebrews says “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have” (Heb 13:5). At the heart of the “upgrader” mentality is dissatisfaction with what we have and the foolish belief that the problem is merely that what we’ve got isn’t quite good enough. The fact is, that possessions can never satisfy at the deepest level, so the cycle of upgrading will never end (perhaps unless you are a millionaire and actually own the best of everything – at which point you’ll just get depressed).