My dentist asked me yesterday if I had done any shopping on Thursday. I hadn’t and incline toward a negative kind of wonder at the entire phenomenon of Black Friday. So did she, and so we could swap stories and shake our heads at what people will go through in order to shop excessively with the faint incentive (usually unrealized) that they’ll save some money.
All the same, when I read in the paper every year how much retailers are hoping and depending on the sales of this time of year, I feel conflicted. And maybe even a little guilty.
Fr. Stephen put his finger on the problem in a post entitled “Shopping for God”.
It is the single busiest day of the retail year and a harbinger of the all-important outcome of the Christmas retail shopping season. The U.S. economy will not do well in the year following a bad shopping season. Much of the economy here is built on consumer spending. If people don’t buy, someone will eventually be unemployed. It’s almost a patriotic duty to shop.
The problem is, eventually that “patriotic duty” is in direct contradiction with both common sense and Church-inspired frugality. If I find out — as I think I have — that I can give others a good Christmas and have a good one myself with low-priced items, should I feel like I’m being immoral, inconsiderate and selfish? No sane person would think so. And yet, the steady drumbeat narrative coming at us from the marketed, advertisement-driven world in which we live is: Yes.
Consumerism minus buy-in equals non-threat
So I simply can’t use that metric as my moral compass, and throughout the nation, sermons and homilies reinforce that simple fact. But rejecting this messaging is not as simple as some would like to suggest. And much as I hate to admit it, there’s a part of all this that I can’t blame on advertisers and marketers. The lure of advertisers would be no danger to me if I weren’t susceptible because of my own passions. And they won’t disappear if I turn off my radio or television; they may just be harder for me to notice. Again, from Fr. Stephen:
The passions are insatiable, by definition. If they were merely natural desires they could be satisfied. We hunger for food. We eat. We are no longer hungry. However, gluttony is a disordered hunger, a passion. By its very character, gluttony is an unnatural hunger. It cannot be satisfied.
The passions of shoppers are more subtle. Shoppers desire beauty, acceptance, self-confidence, power, intelligence, pleasure, excitement, a host of intangible needs. They are not natural needs, but the passions of the spiritually disordered. Our unnatural existence is centered in the false self -the sense of identity generated within our memory, thoughts and emotions. It is burdened with uncertainty. Comparing, judging, measuring, revising are constant activities of the mind in its role of the false self.
So what’s the answer? If I had one, I’d apply it myself and do a lot better in all my endeavors — be a better woman, wife, worker … and blogger. But the Christian podvig so often seems to come down to having discernment rather than admitting some things unconditionally and rejecting others completely. It seems to matter more to keep a balance and be moderate and temperate.
Fr. Stephen ends his post this way.
Can consumers be saved? It is perhaps one of the more appropriate questions of our time. I think consumers can be saved – but not as consumers. Consumption, in the manner in which we know it, is the symptom of a disease, the deep disease of corruption of which the Scripture warns: “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.”
Of course, none of this was her own idea – there were commercials in the garden.
So I suppose with that in mind, perhaps we go out into the gift-giving season wise as serpents and gentle as doves?
That’s better, at any rate, than the other way around.