Does Matter Matter?: Consumerism and Materialism, Oh My!

Consumerism and MaterialismQUESTION….how often do you go shopping?

In addition to the potential financial problems frequent shopping may pose, how does shopping affect the soul?

Let’s back up for a minute.

When we talk about consumerism and materialism what do we mean? What’s the big deal about consumerism and materialism?

For practical purposes, let’s look at a couple definitions*:

Consumerism : (noun)

  1. the protection or promotion of the interests of consumers.
  2. often derogatory the preoccupation of society with the acquisition of consumer goods.

Materialism : (noun)

  1. a tendency to consider material possessions and physical comfort as more important than spiritual values.
  2. Philosophy - the doctrine that nothing exists except matter and its movements and modifications
  3. the doctrine that consciousness and will are wholly due to material agency.  (See also dialectical materialism)

*Definitions taken from the Oxford Dictionaries.

For this post, we will primarily be concerned with consumerism’s second definition and materialism’s first definition.

Let’s face it, Madonna at least partly got it right.

You know that we are living in a material world

And I am a material girl

Matter must count for something. After all, God did create it all, right?! The Materialist (see definition 2) might dogmatically answer NO! But there are 20 arguments for the existence of God that more than silence the materialist/atheist.

GOD did create it all. That begs the question – Why?

Now I’m not God, so I’m not going to pretend to know with absolute certainty. However, God kind of makes it obvious…if you think about it. The Catechism of Catholic Church states:

III. “THE WORLD WAS CREATED FOR THE GLORY OF GOD”

293 Scripture and Tradition never cease to teach and celebrate this fundamental truth: “The world was made for the glory of God.”134 St. Bonaventure explains that God created all things “not to increase his glory, but to show it forth and to communicate it”,135 for God has no other reason for creating than his love and goodness: “Creatures came into existence when the key of love opened his hand.”136 The First Vatican Council explains:

This one, true God, of his own goodness and “almighty power”, not for increasing his own beatitude, nor for attaining his perfection, but in order to manifest this perfection through the benefits which he bestows on creatures, with absolute freedom of counsel “and from the beginning of time, made out of nothing both orders of creatures, the spiritual and the corporeal. . .”137

294 The glory of God consists in the realization of this manifestation and communication of his goodness, for which the world was created. God made us “to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace“,138 for “the glory of God is man fully alive; moreover man’s life is the vision of God: if God’s revelation through creation has already obtained life for all the beings that dwell on earth, how much more will the Word’s manifestation of the Father obtain life for those who see God.”139 The ultimate purpose of creation is that God “who is the creator of all things may at last become “all in all”, thus simultaneously assuring his own glory and our beatitude.”140

134 Dei Filius, can. § 5: DS 3025.
135 St. Bonaventure, In II Sent. I,2,2,1.
136 St. Thomas Aquinas, Sent. II, Prol.
137 Dei Filius, I: DS 3002; cf. Lateran Council IV (1215): DS 800.
138 Eph 1:5-6.
139 St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 4,20,7: PG 7/1,1037.
140 AG 2; cf. 1 Cor 15:28.

So there it is - The ultimate purpose of creation is that God “who is the creator of all things may at last become “all in all”, thus simultaneously assuring his own glory and our beatitude.

This simultaneously ties into another truth laid out in the Catechism, that I referenced in my previous post, The Implications Of Faith In One God:

226 It means making good use of created things: faith in God, the only One, leads us to use everything that is not God only insofar as it brings us closer to him, and to detach ourselves from it insofar as it turns us away from him:
My Lord and my God, take from me everything that distances me from you.
My Lord and my God, give me everything that brings me closer to you.
My Lord and my God, detach me from myself to give my all to you (St. Nicholas of Flüe; cf. Mt 5:29-30; 16:24-26).

 

God is “all in all” therefore all things should be used in the context of being drawn closer to Him. So back to consumerism and materialism.

When we adopt a lifestyle of unrestrained consumption, are we really using things to draw closer to God? Or do we shop as a means of diversion, seeking to be filled?

The world, while pointing to the magnificent power and beauty of God, will never be enough. As St. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee, O Lord.”

With the exception of pride, the other six Deadly Sins (greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth) all deal with matter in one form or another. The spirit of the world is that matter is all that matters.

So does MATTER matter?

It matters. It was created to direct our lives and our minds to God. However, as with all good things, it can be used to divert us, or worst still, it can become our god.

When material possessions and physical comfort are as important or more important than spiritual values and when I become preoccupied with the acquisition of consumer goods, I make matter my god.

One might argue, “But I believe in God, I don’t worship matter.” As our good Lord said, “By their fruits you will know them” (Matt 7:16). How much time do I spend in prayer (communion with God)? How do I look at things? Am I consumed by a spirit of want? Am I soulish (laying up treasures in heaven, Matt 6:20) or selfish (laying up treasures on earth, Matt 6:19)?

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Matt 6:21).

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I'm just another "average" Catholic. View all posts by Joe

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