This is my latest column for Ethicsdaily.com. It was first posted Dec. 17, 2012.
Recently, I watched a TV advertisement for a show on Oxygen called “My Shopping Addiction.”
As the title implies, it follows people who have a real addiction to shopping. I know of tobacco, alcohol and drug addiction, but how can anyone be addicted to shopping?
Something doesn’t seem right. All one has to do is stay away from malls or online shopping websites, but I guess just like other addicts, it is very difficult for shopping addicts to stop the habit. For some it has become “retail therapy.”
Some of these addicts spend thousands of dollars on brand-name purses, clothes and shoes. They are not the richest people, and many are shopping by credit card and building huge credit card debt.
As I go about my daily tasks, I can’t keep from asking, “How did our society get to this point where people are addicted to shopping?”
We are constantly buying. It has now become our national pastime and a way of socializing, a way of life.
We now have people all over the world coming to the United States to buy cheap brand-name products. People are coming off planes and going directly on tour buses to outlet malls and other shopping attractions.
Now that Black Friday is past and Christmas season is ahead of us, there is no stopping consumer advertisements on what to buy, give and share with our loved ones.
Many theologians now examine our consumerist way of life. Shopping or consumption has become our new religion – and a really dangerous one, too.
For a larger and larger number of people, consumerism is the accepted and unquestioned way – the good way – to live and be in the world.
In many ways, consumerism has become a new religion in the Western world. It dictates to us what we need, what we need to buy, how we are to live – and we follow the tenets religiously.
It has taken over our worldview and how we are to act in this world in terms of our needs, our relationship to others, and the earth.
It has even become the basis of our survival. As a consequence, we take too much from the earth without giving anything back or replenishing it. This life of consumerism will produce catastrophic results. It will threaten our survival.
Consumerism is a civic religion that many share, an obligation to feed our national gross domestic product and thereby attain a healthy growth rate.
Other faith commitments are less important. Consumerism has become a world religion and perhaps the most successful religion.
People are paying their tithes to this new religion by buying more than they can afford – blind to the consequences.
They give their time, money and energy to buy, hoard, consume. This religion is drawing converts and proselytizing at a very fast rate, for it attracts young people seeking meaning and fulfillment for their lives.
The goal of this invisible religion is personal happiness – and spending money is the primary means of that happiness.
The “sanctuaries” of this religion are everywhere; there are 4 billion square feet of shopping space in the United States (16 square feet for every adult and child).
Is the consumer society good for all? Not if people are going hungry while others exceed their way of living. If all consume less, then the planet can support more; if some consume more, then others must consume less.
During this season of Advent, we should not be so consumed with consumption – but with the coming of Christ.
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Grace Ji-Sun Kim is Associate Professor of Doctrinal Theology and the Director of the MATS program at Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. She is the author of The Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other: A Model of Global and Intercultural Pneumatology (Palgrave Macmillan) and The Grace of Sophia: A Korean North American Women’s Christology (Pilgrim Press).