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Christian Response to Consumerism ? A Bible Study Guide


Deuteronomy 8:10-14[1] and 2 Corinthians 8:13-14[2]

There is no shortage of Bible passages that call us to show restraint and not hoard goods. If we are interested in the plight of the poor, it is difficult to justify over-indulgence as our neighbors starve. The scriptures make it very clear that we are to care of the poor and feed the hungry.

The consumerism that surrounds the celebration of Jesus' birth is particularly curious when we contrast it with his teachings on possessions. He often told his listeners to dispense with wealth and belongings entirely and take a carefree approach to possessions: "Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." (Matthew 6:33)

Of course, it's a good thing that people should be well fed and clothed, should have adequate housing, and be able to use modern technology in their daily lives. But Fr. Timothy V. Vaverek argues that to make these things the ideal is "to diminish the purpose of life, and to lead people into the dead-end of materialism." Surely the average North American has reached the point where he or she has ?enough.? Proverbs makes the point nicely: "Give me neither poverty nor riches.? (Proverbs 30: 8)

Theologian Sallie McFague also captures this ideal in her call for ?cruciform living,? which she describes as "an alternative notion of the abundant life which will involve a philosophy of enoughness, limitations on energy use, and sacrifice for the sake of others.?

We have enough, and to keep adding to our pile not only takes up resources that could go to the poor but also has a devastating impact on the environment. If everyone consumed according to North American standards, the Earth would be completely stripped of its resources in short order. We cannot love God if we do not love and treat with reverence the world that God created.

Ultimately, we must remember that with his life and teachings, Jesus contracted dramatically with his surrounding culture. Christians are called to live in similar opposition to the norms and assumptions of their society. Thus, in a culture marked so heavily by acquisition and consumption, following Christ's example means living simply and aspiring for attitude of ?enough.?


1. What types of gift-giving serve the interests of the poor?

2. What criteria do I use to determine what I truly need and what is not essential?

3. When friends and family begin to ask me what I want for Christmas, what will I tell them? And how do I avoid sounding self-righteous?

4. Think about a meaningful gift you have received. What made it meaningful? How can this affect your gift-giving?

5. How do we celebrate joyfully this Christmas, while still holding the awareness of our hungry neighbor and suffering environment?

6. What Christmas traditions besides gift-giving can we reinvent or rediscover to celebrate Christmas more meaningfully?

Responsive reading

One: Holy Child of Bethlehem, whose parents found no room in the inn,

All: We pray for all who are homeless.

One: Holy Child of Bethlehem, born in a stable,

All: We pray for all who live in poverty.

One: Holy Child of Bethlehem, rejected stranger,

All: We pray for all who are lost, alone, all who cry for loved ones.

One: Holy Child of Bethlehem, whom Herod sought to kill,

All: We pray for all who live with danger, all who are persecuted.

One: Holy Child of Bethlehem, a refugee in Egypt,

All: We pray for all who are far from their homes.

One: Holy Child of Bethlehem, in you God was pleased to dwell,

All: Help us, we pray, to see the divine image in people everywhere.

(Notes: This study series was prepared by Nicholas Klassen, with help from Catherine Bargen and Aiden Schlichting Enns in November, 2002. The litanies are based on material provided by Alternatives for Simple Living,

Resources for further study

Richard Horsley and James Tracy, Eds. Christmas Unwrapped: Consumerism, Christ, and Culture (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2001)

Donald Kraybill, The Upside-Down Kingdom: A Sociological Analysis of the Synoptic Gospel (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press. Revised edition 1990)

Sallie McFague, Life Abundant: Rethinking Theology and Economy for a Planet in Peril (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001)

Stephen Nissenbaum, The Battle for Christmas (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996)

Leigh Eric Schmidt, "Christianity in the Marketplace: Christmas and the Consumer Culture," Cross Currents, Fall 1992, Vol. 42 Issue 3

Timothy V. Vaverek, "Christian Asceticism: Breaking Consumerism's Destructive Hold," Houston Catholic Worker, January 2001, Vol. 21, No. 1


[1] When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

[2] Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written: "He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little."


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