The Why of Materialism
"Then he [Jesus] said to them, 'Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.'"1
Here in the West, at least, we have the greatest wealth, comforts, conveniences, and material possessions of any people anywhere in the world … and at the same time we are plagued by stress, anxiety, depression, impaired relationships, and the breakdown of the family. You'd think we'd get it that material possessions, while they may bring fun for a while, don't bring any kind of lasting happiness or fulfillment. For many of us the more we get the more we want.
So why are we so materialistic? One major reason is because we are so repressed; that is, emotionally repressed.
"And what do you mean by that?" I can hear some readers saying.
It's because when we don't have that which is real, we exchange it for the false; that is, we settle for a poor substitute. For example, when fear is repressed it can express itself as anger or in phobias. Instead of feeling my fear, I lash out in anger. Or instead of facing my fear within, I project it onto the spider on the wall or some other irrational object or circumstance. By blaming my fear on an external object I avoid having to face it within.
Also when the emotion of love is repressed, it may express itself in an insatiable thirst for approval or as lust. Both of these may feel like love but they aren't love. And while at first they may bring some "pleasure" for the moment, they leave the person empty and unsatisfied, and hungering for more approval or more sexual exploits. This in turn increases their feeling of emptiness, and their "searching for love in all the wrong ways and places" becomes a never-ending vicious cycle. Wanting more and more … and being satisfied less and less.
What about the emotion of wonder? Wonder is the emotion that when we see a beautiful sunset, walk along a sandy beach, stand on top of a high mountain and view the splendor below, feel the grasp of a baby's tiny hand, etc., etc., we experience an overwhelming sense of awe and hopefully marvel at God's creation. When wonder is repressed, not only do we not feel this great sense of awe, but are characteristically bored with life, and end up unhappily loving things and using people instead of loving people and using things. That's materialism. I'm not saying that we shouldn't have nice possessions. Not at all. But when our life is driven and controlled by a never-ending desire for more money to buy more things to get more possessions, that's materialism at its core, and is a sure-fire symptom of an empty, repressed life and an equally empty society.
If we are going to overcome the problem of materialism, it is imperative that we get in touch with all of our God-given emotions and use them as God intended. This, by the way, is a vital part of being made whole and being in touch with one's "whole" or entire self. Keep in mind, too, that when we repress our emotions our stomach keeps score and can, and often does, lead to stress, sickness, depression, impaired relationships and spiritual dryness.
Suggested prayer: "Dear God, knowing that you desire 'truth in the innermost being' please help me to get in touch with all of my God-given emotions, and never bury, deny or repress them, but use them as you designed. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."
1. Luke 12:15 (NIV).