Every person under the sun must eat to live, and in that sense we are all blameless and glorious consumers-as at a feast lovingly prepared by a grandmother. There is nothing wrong, and much very right, about consuming to live. Hence Rabbi Tsvi Blanchard speaks winningly from the Jewish tradition of "consecrated consumption."

What worries some people is that the affluent, technologically advanced West seems more and more focused not on consuming to live, but on living to consume. (I confess at the outset to being one of these ambivalent creatures, fat but troubled in paradise.) The problem with consumption, and the consumer capitalism that has pushed it to feverish historical extremes, is the fact that it has become so all-consuming.

Even Americans-citizens of the premier "nation of consumers" (Richard Tedlow)-recognize problems with the extremes to which we have taken consumption as a way of life. Recycling containers, nonexistent ten years ago, now stand sentry outside every home in my suburban neighborhood, bearing testimony to one of the most obvious problems.

We are sensitized to the ecological damage of an intentionally wasteful society fostered by "planned obsolescence." Perhaps some environmentalists indulge in hysteria and hyperbole, but however overstated their warnings may be, there is no denying the murky brown clouds of smog hanging over Los Angeles, or Lake Michigan beaches closed to swimmers because of raw sewage seeping into the lake.

A problematic feature of consumer capitalism is the inescapable barrage of advertising-its coaching and coaxing of multitudinous desires. The New York Times has estimated that the average American is exposed to 3,500 ads per day. So inundated, we are hardly aware of how pervasive ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

July/August
Subscribe to CT and get one year free.
Read These Next
Also in this Issue
Conversations: John Leo's Counterpunch Morality Subscriber Access Only
Counterpunch Morality: How columnist John Leo challenges the moral assumptions of the cultured elite.
RecommendedThe Theology Beneath the Trump-Comey Conflict
The Theology Beneath the Trump-Comey Conflict
How the former FBI director’s interest in Reinhold Niebuhr shaped his approach to political power.
TrendingKay Warren: 'We Were in Marital Hell'
Kay Warren: 'We Were in Marital Hell'
Through God's work in our lives, we've beaten the odds that divorce would be the outcome of our ill-advised union.
Editor's PickThe Church's Biggest Challenge in 2017
The Church's Biggest Challenge in 2017
Let’s get unchurched evangelicals back into church, and prejudiced evangelicals back to the Bible.
Christianity Today
Why the Devil takes VISA
hide thisOctober 7 October 7

In the Magazine

October 7, 1996

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.