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Readings and Meanings

By Gerald Schmitz


A Christian call to resist compulsive consumerism

Gerald Schmitz


Marcus Culverwell, Would God Go Shopping?
(Shield Crest Publishing, 2016, 80 pages)

Several weeks ago I reviewed a series of documentaries posing challenging questions about human impacts on the planet. This slim volume by a British educator adds a valuable Christian perspective. The foreword by Andy Atkins, a former CEO of Friends of the Earth, notes that Jesus urged his followers to be the “salt and light” in society. For author Culverwell this means taking on rampant consumerism in which success is defined in terms of possessive accumulation and seeking positive sustainable alternatives to destructive ideologies and systems.

Christians need to open their eyes to be the change because, as he puts it: “Our simple shopping habits, which have developed over decades through an economic system dependent on constant consumption and endless growth, rob the poor to pay the rich, cause irrevocable damage to the natural systems which we depend upon . . . and it must surely sadden the Creator.”

Culverwell begins with a reality check that takes in the total costs of extravagant and wasteful consumer lifestyles. In order to constantly have more stuff, goods need to be cheaper and more abundant. That pressure often results in the exploitation of labour and natural resources with negative social and environmental effects. Therein lies the fundamental injustice in a throwaway culture addicted to accelerating consumption to drive growth. We are seeing the global ecological effects in the degradation of natural systems, pollution and climate change, deforestation, and species extinctions. In response the author puts forward a Christian duty to “ethical consumption” (referencing the website that also demands action from governments and corporations to enforce codes of conduct on commercial activities.

Culverwell argues that Christians are called to an activist awareness of critical issues such as rising greenhouse gas emissions and other threats to water and food resources, leading to scarcities that can be factors in conflicts and forced migrations. This means moving to clean energy alternatives and changing our habits. It doesn’t mean buy nothing; rather “we can rethink what we buy, how we buy, from whom we buy, and most significantly the amount that we buy. . . . we might just start looking at what we truly need, rather than just considering what we want.” If we are to contain our expanding global footprint we need to imagine an economic system that doesn’t depend on buying more new stuff.

Culverwell cites a cautionary favourite saying: “These days we seem to value the things we can measure, instead of measuring the things we value.” Christians should be in the forefront of a different vision from that of “having it all,” one that resists the advertising propaganda creating insatiable wants, that purchases and invests with ethical responsibility, that cuts down on waste and reduces impacts on nature.

The author concludes with a number of practical suggestions for mindful Christians to follow in curbing harmful appetites. Because the time is now to read the signs of the times and act accordingly.