Consumerism as an Absence of the Sacred

Jack Kornfield says that consumer society is characterized by an absence of the sacred. There’s a lot to unpack in that statement. I understand the point that he’s making, but I think there’s more to it. In many ways, it feels as if consumerism is attempting to replace the sacred. We try to fill the aching voids within ourselves with material things. We’re taught to fear empty spaces, in the same way Western culture teaches us to be uncomfortable with silence. Those spaces exist for a reason, though. Think of the images of hoarders, unable to move around within their own homes. If we fill the empty spaces in our lungs, we can’t breathe. We need a certain amount of emptiness to survive.

Often the void isn’t a hole that needs to be filled, it’s a wound that needs to be healed. Packing stuff into it is the exact opposite of helpful in those situations. Things jammed in there prevent the wound from closing. It makes things worse. If we filled ourselves with gratitude, or spent our time meditating, or reading, or engaging in fellowship with other people, instead of shopping for more possessions, we might eventually heal.

Something that I noticed years ago is that people are more inclined to give thanks for basic things. When we’ve mastered the lowest level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we’ll mention it in prayer. We thank God for this food, for good health, for a roof over our head. The higher we go up the Hierarchy, though, the more credit we begin to take for ourselves. We didn’t get there because of grace, or the support of family, friends, and community. All of the credit goes to us. We worked for it, we earned it, we deserve it. That’s a very consumer-driven though process. It’s transactional. I did A, so I should get B in return.

Consumerism as an Absence of the Sacred

This is where I think consumerism has replaced the sacred. Whether you believe in a higher power or not, we can at least be grateful for good fortune, blind luck, or advantageous timing. We can acknowledge the role that the support and assistance of others played in our success. When we don’t appreciate or even recognize that there is a world beyond ourselves, that we are merely a part of a larger community and a society, we shut off our ability to connect with other people in ordinary, everyday, healthy ways.

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