-ISMS: Materialism.

Ever been consumed with a product – with the getting of it — that you fantasized about how great life would be once you finally obtained it? That’s the promise and allure of advertizing: your life is incomplete without __________, but would be so awesome and complete with it.

That item for me was an iPad. When they first came out in early Spring 2010, I really wanted one. I thought of all the ways I could justify a purchase of the base model ($500) and present the case to my wise, frugal wife. Knowing our united family desire to simplify life, coupled with our commitments to become more generous, there was to be no iPad in our near future.

So, over the course of the next 12+ months I saved up, sold some of my books, and earned some additional funds through some creative work. This June I was able to purchase an iPad 2. It was a helpful tool on our UK travels, and remains a daily companion as a mobile device, e-book reader, and ubiquitous capture tool. Even still, I must live without it, and set it in our re-purposed “technology basket,” and while home with the kids the iPad must just sit there on the counter.

As American families prepare for this Christmas, starting on or before Black Friday, all sorts of gadgets like the iPhone 4S (with the automated do-everything Siri) will fly off shelves into the “deserving” hands of boys and girls, young and old alike.

Of course, we can stand at the edge of culture and decry all this “materialism” and the commercialization of holidays like Christmas. The real question is, why do we run to material things to meet our unmet needs?

Because they comfort us.

Things don’t talk back (unless it’s a Teddy Ruxpin bear, which we can program to say only what we wish), and things don’t demand much of us. When we share our problems, or choose to bottle it up, we don’t get an instant analysis of “what’s wrong with you,” or “get over yourself.” Things are safe. We can use them, then set them down, and move on to the next thing. If we get bored with a person, it’s hard to escape. Get bored with something you’ve bought, and go buy something bigger and better. Things are safe.

Every one of the “-ISMS” we’re exploring has some substance to it, but each is woefully incomplete. Each fails to deliver on its promises.

Materialism as a twin worldview to consumerism is all about what we see and what we get. It’s a refusal to look beneath the surface and grasp the meaning behind the thing. In science materialism we find a world view explaining how the universe runs without a soul or hidden force (and expressly without a Creator God). The only thing that matters is that matter is all that exists. Thus everything can be explained through physics, the science of physical objects. Makes sense that materialism as a philosophy is held tightly by many atheists.

But I wonder if people who claim to believe in God may be the real materialists. (Of course I am melding together two different concepts which share the same word.) Materialism, the philosophy of materialistic persons who value things such as money and possessions above spiritual, emotional, intellectual, or cultural values, is what’s killing life with God. When we turn to created things, giving them our time and energy and focus, are we not in reality honoring and worshiping these objects in the place of God?

Isaiah wrote 2,700 years ago these words from the Creator intended for the people called by His name:

“Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor Me with their lips, while their hearts are far from Me, and their fear of Me is a commandment taught by men, therefore, behold, I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.” [Isaiah 29:13-14]

God was going do the unexplainable among those who were merely going through the motions. You’ve likely noticed that what we say and do can often belie what we truth believe and desire in our hearts. There is something immaterial, hidden, yet more real than our external actions. That’s our relation to God.

Materialism as a scientific philosophy is a hard argument to crack. It’s adherents are set in their ways. But there is a different kind of materialism that captures our hearts — the hidden part of us — which proves to be much more difficult to tame.

  • When you’re lonely and need encouragement, to what things do you run?
  • When criticized, how do you respond? Do you just want to run away and hide?
  • When celebrated, do you shy away from the spotlight?

Materialism of this sort is the turning of good things into ultimate things, into our functional saviors for the moment or day. The problem with things is they always let us down. They break, fail to keep our attention, and break, get forgotten, thrown out and end up in a landfill someday. There’s a whole story of stuff.

by visible standards.

In continuing these intermittent series on “-ISMS,” I thought it helpful to label another one that gets both bad and good press.

Photo credits:

“iPad 2”AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Worksby lnineone

“Beyond Materialism”AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Worksby PixLjUicE23

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