Sunday, February 7, 2016

Church Within A Consumer Society

A seminary philosophy professor writing for  the Catholic Times' opinion page recalls eating out with an older priest friend and laughing at his humorous story about a grandmother who was making it known that when she dies she wanted to have her ashes scattered from the roof of a department store.  She spent so many pleasant hours there with her friends, shopping, eating, talking, drinking coffee making many things possible for her. Sadly, he says, this thinking is a  self portrait of our present reality.

Enjoyment and happiness are so interwoven in our lives it's  difficult to distinguish between them.  It's true that enjoyment can be a part of happiness,  however, unfortunately few have little idea of what Aristotle considered necessary for happiness: virtue and contemplation is what satisfies.

Shopping is enjoyable and doesn't harm anyone and can be done alone; a way for many to unload much of the stress that comes with daily living. Consumerism is a way of exhibiting property and  values of society. He uses the words of a French philosopher who considers production of goods not as important as consumption. In our present society  consuming is a symbol. For many, what they buy is not what they need but a means of drawing attention. We need to buy brand names, expensive, but the reason to buy them. This gives one pleasure and a reason to separate oneself from others.

In the  consumer society it is not the use of the product but its symbolic value determining  our place in society and the standard of happiness.  When  others have that sign in their possession and we don't we feel like outcasts; not able to  follow the crowd we feel downcast.

Possessing these symbols we provoke the envy of others, moreover, with these symbols we have the illusion that we are happy, and have joined the class of the elite and are now the envy of all.

Koreans up until a few years ago, more than material wealth  considered  sharing of  affection, warmth  with neighbors and family in society of great value. Sacrifice was not considered an aberration; tenderness was not considered foolishness. To fight for truth was considered noble. We remember these times in the recent past but now only a nostalgic longing.

Devotion arising from our religious feelings is no longer common. True happiness is not related to contemplation, and  the propensity to have it slide in the direction of enjoyment and consumerism is only natural. Members of society are raising up temples with department stores. He concludes the article asking the readers to again recall the true values that God has given us, and begin following them in the new year. Happy Lunar New Year.

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