books consumerism religion

Consumer Detox, by Mark Powley

Mark is a friend of mine, a co-conspirator in the Breathe Network. (We worked together on the Conspiracy of Freedom videos that I posted here last year) So I guess I’m predisposed to like and recommend his book, Consumer Detox: Less Stuff, More Life.

Well, so be it. It’s a great book, full of insights into consumerism and how it can be decoded, subverted, and outlived.

Consumer Detox comes in three parts. It begins with a critique of consumerism, recognizing it and naming it for what it is – a mixed blessing, something we’re all implicated in whether we like it or not. This first section explores how consumerism works, the promises it makes, the way it plays on our fears and aspirations, breeds discontent and pursues novelty. It’s all self deprecatingly honest, and surprisingly funny too.

Part two begins to outline some defence strategies against consumerism. There are natural rhythms to life, Mark argues. Times of boredom are not always bad. Waiting can be a good thing. There is an art to being fully present, and to being absent too. The off switch is your friend.

Where the book really breaks into new territory is in the final section, ‘adventures in generosity’. It’s all very well living a disciplined life of voluntary simplicity, but the best way to disarm and subvert consumerism isn’t to live a life of saying no to bad things, but embracing a life of better things than consumerism can possibly offer. We’re talking generosity, thankfulness, community – the things that, deep down, we all know make life worthwhile. This is an anti-consumerism book that’s about living well, enjoying the best that life has to offer, rather than settling for the cheap and fleeting promises of the consumer dream.

Mark draws extensively on the Christian tradition, the Bible and the life of Jesus. Why? “Because consumerism is a religious phenomenon. It’s not just about shopping and it never has been. It’s about how we find identity and make meaning.” For Mark, gospels offer an alternative story, the Kingdom of God – a parallel universe of subversive selflessness that co-exists within the material world and runs to entirely different priorities. If we invest our imaginations in this alternative, this counter-insurgency of goodness, we’d find that “simplicity isn’t having a smaller life; it’s having a bigger vision.”

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