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Consumerism: A Subtle Corroder of Virtue

8/30/2004 - 7:00 AM PST

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Psychologist Tells How Christians Can Resist Materialism

UNIONTOWN, Ohio, AUG. 30, 2004 (Zenit) - Jesus Christ spoke out against greed more than any other vice. But despite those warnings, Christians are still incredibly susceptible to the allure of a materialistic lifestyle, says a Catholic psychologist.

Dr. Ray Guarendi, author, radio host and father of 10, told us how Christians in the West are plagued by consumerism and what damage greed can do to Christian marriages, families and individuals.

Q: Those in a free society are awash in choice in virtually all aspects of life: housing, employment, appearance, relationships, possessions. What would you say are the major areas where consumerism has deeply affected Christians' behavior -- without them realizing it?

Guarendi: Consumerism seems to me to be the Number 1 corporate sin of Christians -- it's the sin that affects the most of us the most. We are simply so deep into it we don't see it anymore.

Our desire for stuff supersedes everything. We are distracted, owned, tempted and seduced by it. We simply think less of God and more of "it" -- it consumes more of our waking moments than God. That may be why our Lord spoke more of greed in the New Testament than anything else.

Part of the problem is that the American culture views consumerism and stuff as part and parcel of normal living. It just is; it's how people get by. How can that be wrong? But it goes to the core of who we are. Consumerism equates with self -- self-centeredness, self-fulfillment, self-satisfaction, selfish desires.

Virtually everyone lives to the limit or above what they can afford. That leaves no margin to give of money, to give of time and to simply have extra. Often, when missionaries come into parishes and take a second collection, the number of $1 bills is pathetic. Catholics are the richest religious group in the country and we give the least.

Unfortunately, we don't see it because we're like fish that don't sense the water around us. We need to make an effort to sense consumerism and try to resist it in our society.

When kids go anywhere -- the store, restaurants, parties, other homes, even churches -- they get prizes. We get stuff as often as we breathe; it becomes part of our lifestyle. We have to consciously and willfully fight to recognize that this is happening.

If we gave to the Church the amount of money we spend eating out and shopping -- or how much we pay on interest for things we don't really need -- the Church would be able to help so many more people.

In our culture, being a consumer is seen as the good life -- but it distracts us from the infinitely good life. Adam and Eve had everything, except for one tree. And of course, that's what they wanted the most.

Q: With the growth of consumerism, how have you seen this phenomenon play out in Christian marriages, families and children?

Guarendi: As a therapist, one of the first things I do with a child who has a behavior problem is ask the parents to reassess the child's goodies, activities and privileges. Kids are awash in things and leisure opportunities, and it affects their behavior.

One of the top three stresses in marriages and families is finances. We are the wealthiest culture the world has ever seen, but our discontent over our finances, homes and ability to buy things is sky-high.

Because of the degree we want stuff, we have to work. That means that Daddy and sometimes Mommy are away from home all day so that they and their kids can have everything they want. This leads to what I call the "working parent compensation system."

Moms often don't want to work, but think they have to work because of spending habits in the family. They are tired when they come home, they feel guilty about not spending enough time with their children and they are hesitant to spend that little time punishing their kids for misbehaving.

That affects their resolve to discipline and be, in effect, parents. If parents are working long or extra hours, they can't supervise their children; their kids are on their own to raise themselves.

Husbands often pursue their toys more than wives because they are told they gotta have them to be a man's man and enjoy life. At a superficial level, guys want the newest, best stuff, and sometimes that includes wives. They think, "My wife is getting older; there must be a better, newer model out there."

When you learn to want things, your wants don't just stop at inanimate objects. You want other people and relationships that seem better than your current ones. When you are dissatisfied with what you have, it doesn't stop with consumer goods. This often leads to affairs and an overall pattern of discontent.

Discontent is not related to what we have, ...

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