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Spending for our Worth

May 30, 2008

Everyone knows that American culture has become a consumer culture. There’s certainly more to American culture, but one of our greatest contributions to the world has been consumerism. Instead of supplying our markets with oil and food, the U.S. has become a net importer of gas and food.[1] What are we then exporting? All kinds of products. Coca-Cola serves a billion people a day worldwide and Hollywood produces 9 out of 10 most watched movies in the world.[2] Domestic markets are saturated with products. We are bombarded with commercials and marketing from cell phones to elevators. And with the help of competitive prices, Craig’s List, and Ebay, we can determine our lifestyle and image—rich and luxurious, hip and urban, or whatever.

With a seemingly infinite array of consumer options, many of us have come to believe that what we buy is what we are worth. Now, we would never say that out loud or put it on our T-shirt but we have come to subtly believe the lie that what we own determines our identity. Many of us live as if acquiring stuff makes us more significant. We spend for our worth, thousands and thousands of dollars on stuff—cars, clothes, gadgets—because we have believed the lie that what we have is determines our worth.

Now, we don’t think this: “If I go buy a new car, even if it’s not the best use of my money, I will be worth more.” But we silently believe it. We believe that the image that the new car, outfit, haircut, or computer creates will give us more meaning, more social acceptance, more individual and cultural worth. In a m word, more “image”. Sure, sometimes it’s just honest shopping. But many times its not. Many of us believe this lie so much that we are willing to rack up ridiculous debt on our credit cards in order to maintain a certain lifestyle and image based on what we own. Ahh, then people around us will look on and accept us…as we continue to spend for our worth.

(quotations taken from David Wells recent ETS journal article)


[1] Clyde Prestowitz, Three Billion New Capitalists, 150-63.

[2] Hunter and Yates, “In the Vanguard of Globalization,” The World of American Globalizers, 324.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. May 31, 2008 5:23 pm

    I think it is all compounded by the anonymity of contemporary life. We have numerous, fleeting interactions with people. We don’t have time to say much, but our attire and other surfacy accoutrements say a good amount for the short time available. These things become important in projecting our image b/c we often don’t have time to do much more than scratch the surface.

    Thanks for the post, Jonathan

  2. June 1, 2008 3:36 pm

    I agree that our misuse of time and our hurriedness is an issue. The more difficult question is why we use time the way we do. Beneath the anonymity of fleeting interactions there is a proclivity to worship an image of yourself, one that you think others like, accept, or notice. In the business world this is called “impression management.” In the Bible it is called vanity or fear of man.

    PS reading Well’s The Courage to be Protestant; i think it is one of his better books.

  3. June 2, 2008 7:19 am

    I totally agree that it is nothing less than pride! And it is has always been there, just a bit more exacerbated by contemporary conditions.

    I read Courage and agree that it is one of the better ones (I felt same about Above). His juxtaposition between the world’s way and God’s way in the five main “summary” chapters is razor sharp. Not the same sharpness in the early volumes. I think that is a response to earlier criticism of the series (see Courage, 217-18).

    I am in the midst of tracking down the article cited in this post.

    Peace

  4. Sara permalink
    June 3, 2008 5:21 am

    good stuff, JD, I’m going to reflect on this today – thx

  5. June 3, 2008 7:43 am

    Here’s the Wells article I cited from: Wells, David. “Christian Discipleship in a Postmodern World,” JETS vol 51 March: 2008.

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