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America’s Consumerism – Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of…Stuff?

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America’s Consumerism

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of…Stuff?

The nation should consider its many blessings and where they really come from.

Learn the why behind the headlines.

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John Adams, second president of the United States, thought July 4 should be a “great anniversary festival” to be “solemnized with pomp and parade…from this time forward forever more.”

He penned these words in a letter to his wife soon after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which ushered in the eight-year Revolutionary War that pitted Britain against the American colonies.

For everyone alive at that time, July 4 was the start of the nation, but they all knew they had to risk life and limb to establish America as a “land of opportunity.” Like no other generation, they would have understood the historic importance of that day and “solemnized” it each year with both dignity and gravity.

Yet, through the years, what Adams and others pictured as a day of reflection for the country has turned into something very different.

If pressed, most of the roughly 330 million Americans would admit that July 4 is just another day off work or time for a backyard barbecue. The grocery store bills tell the story as to what the central focus is each summer. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that over the course of the celebration, Americans spend approximately $193 million just on hamburger patties. They also devour 150 million hot dogs, purchase 700 million pounds of chicken, and drink 68.3 million cases of beer. In addition, they blast off 25 million pounds of fireworks—valued at $600 million!

Marketers commercialize the event through advertising patriotic red, white and blue T-shirts, pins, fireworks and mini flags—all designed to ignite American pride and promote consumer optimism. A Forbes Magazine study found that total July 4 spending exceeds $3 billion each year. The National Retail Federation found that 62 percent of Americans attend a barbecue that day, with the average cost of one being $54.62. These get-togethers account for almost two-thirds of the $3 billion spent annually for this day.

What once started as a modest and solemn celebration recognizing new freedoms and the pursuit of a better life has been transformed into a massive multibillion-dollar festival, characterized by excess, overeating and drunkenness.

By and large, we as a nation have almost entirely forgotten the incredible blessing it is to live in the United States. Those who may recognize it still struggle to understand what it was like to endure winter at Valley Forge with General George Washington, hold down an understaffed farm while your husband is away like Abigail Adams, or watch enemy soldiers set fire to houses in your hometown one by one.

Most of us did not put everything on the line to gain access to the “American Dream”—the ability to enrich one’s life through education and enjoy liberties such as freedom of religion, self-governance and the pursuit of happiness.

As with July 4, the American dream has also changed. “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” has become “life, liberty and the pursuit of stuff.” The effects of this shift are evident in our overwhelmingly consumerist culture—and it is dragging down the nation. Clearly, material blessings poured out on the United States are disappearing and we are struggling to maintain the standard of living enjoyed for decades.

Why? Because we have lost sight of what made America great in the first place.

Material Wealth

James Truslow Adams, an accomplished historian born in 1878, is credited with coining the term, “the American dream.” At its heart, it held true to Jefferson’s vision of the “pursuit of happiness.”

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Consumer society: Black Friday shoppers carry away discounted items from a Best Buy store that opened its doors at 6:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day in Naples, Florida (Nov. 29, 2013).

In The Epic of America, Adams spoke of this dream: “[the] American Dream of a better, richer and happier life for all of our citizens of every rank…that dream or hope has been present from the start. Ever since we became an independent nation, each generation has seen an uprising of the ordinary Americans to save that dream from the forces which appeared to be overwhelming and dispelling it…”

These words, written during the Great Depression, quickly spread through a desperate and financially strapped nation.

In the 1930s, when Adams wrote these words, he was acutely aware that a wave of materialism was overtaking the values that he believed had made the nation great. His earliest warning against a materialistic “American dream” stated that our freedoms “can never be wrought into a reality…by keeping up with the Joneses…We cannot become a great democracy by giving ourselves up as individuals to selfishness, physical comfort and cheap amusements” (emphasis added).

Even during the Great Depression, Adams was distraught that advertising campaigns encouraged Americans to spend what little they had on consumer goods.

This endless cycle of “earning and spending” would come to saturate the nation in the coming decades.

Spending Habits

CNN founder Ted Turner once bluntly stated, “Life is a game. Money is how we keep score.” In the 21st century, this is clear. Many in American society value money and possessions as the sum total of their entire lives. Success is determined by the quantity or quality of possessions. This consumer mindset transforms the outlook, social relationships, and self-image of typical citizens.

An overview of U.S. spending habits reveals a drastically skewed perception of what is important in life.

Homeownership, which was once a staple of the American dream, has become a nightmare for many families. As of 2008, 20 percent of all U.S. homeowners owe more on their home than its current value, according to author James A. Roberts in his book Shiny Objects: Why We Spend Money We Don’t Have in Search of Happiness We Can’t Buy.

While the economy is somewhat to blame, it appears that we have generally brought this on ourselves. In some cases, people bought “more house” than they needed or could afford in the long run.

Andrew Burton/Getty Images
Making purchases: Shoppers walk through Herald Square outside Macy’s on 34th Street in New York City (May 1, 2014).

In the 1950s, the average home size was 1,200 square feet, according to an article published in the February 2008 CPA Journal. By 2008, it was 2,500 square feet. This massive increase in square footage seems unnecessary given that family size has dramatically decreased, with many having fewer children and no longer having extended family members live with them.

Americans are also purchasing more and in greater amounts, with many spending beyond their means to accommodate these purchases. Total U.S. consumer debt, according to creditcards.com, increased 22 percent over an eight-year period reaching $2.56 trillion in 2008. In 2010, 26 percent of Americans reported they were not able to pay all their bills on time.

As a nation, Americans spend far more on items using credit cards than anywhere else in the world. For example, The Wall Street Journal interviewed McDonald’s executives who reported that after implementing widespread acceptance of credit cards in their restaurants (instead of cash), the average purchase increased from $4.50 to $7.00—almost double per customer! Several other industries note that consumer spending increases a staggering 60 to 100 percent per transaction when credit cards are used.

Such conveniences allow individuals to live beyond their means and drive themselves further into debt. Without cash to pay for items, large and small, consumer debt continues to rise.

Also according to creditcards.com, consumer credit card debt was roughly $10,679 per household. And of the 181 million credit card holders, 15 percent of them regularly make late payments. One in six of them make no attempt at all to pay the balance!

Many expenditures are unnecessary—others are completely absurd. In America, nearly $10 billion was spent just on veterinary services for pets, reported Businessweek. This not only includes regular checkups, but also cosmetic procedures such as nose jobs, canine braces, liposuction and breast reductions—all for pets! According to The Wall Street Journal, another $10 billion was spent on over-the-counter drugs for animals, in many cases, to help cure depression and anxiety in dogs. There is nothing wrong with taking care of pets, but how much is too much?

Fueling such spending is an avalanche of advertisements designed to convince us that the newest product will help us find happiness and fill a hole in our lives—often one we did not realize was there.

The U.S. Census Bureau recorded that on average both teenagers and adults spent a staggering 3,518 hours in 2012 watching TV, listening to a musical device, or surfing the Internet. During that time, the viewer is exposed to tens of thousands of advertisements. Television viewing alone breaks down to 1,820 hours per year, which equates to over two months of nonstop watching. For comparison, the average schoolchild attends classes for 900 hours a year—only half the amount of time spent watching TV! These children view 20,000 30-second commercials in a single year, which amounts to over 166 hours.

Advertisements fuel consumer culture, saturating our minds, and titillating our senses, encouraging us to continue buying the latest product.

Often called the “treadmill of consumption,” a consumer must increasingly adapt to the “rush” from purchasing items and striving to reach a higher standard of living. Then, as an individual continues to buy new things, they more quickly adapt to this level of “purchasing and achievement.” They then need to buy more and in greater amounts to get the same “rush” from their spending. This is not unlike a drug addict who needs more of a particular drug to get the same “high” after becoming hooked.

In consumer cultures, this treadmill accelerates as individuals make faster purchases. Ultimately, they never reach the “plateau of happiness” promised by advertisers. They are never satisfied with what they buy, no matter how much or often.

This seemingly unending cycle continues until a person runs out of money and/or finds himself in staggering debt. These both obviously lead to problems that not only affect him, but also those around him.

Widespread Impact

Debt is just one problem that stems from a powerful consumer culture. Tragic effects on families are another. With many couples struggling to make ends meet and satisfy an insatiable desire to accumulate, both spouses often will take jobs. While this brings more income, both spouses spending the majority of time at work and not as much time together strains the relationship. Physical absence from the home leaves marriages weakened and couples ill-equipped to address issues that arise.

A study by researchers Paul Amato and Stacy Rogers cited in Shiny Objects found that working long hours and materialistic pursuits damage the long-term stability of a marriage. In 1980, they selected a sample of 2,033 married couples under age 55 and investigated whether there were problems in their marriages.Then they interviewed the couples to identify the nature of any marital problems. Returning 10 years later, the researchers interviewed the same couples. Most of the couples had divorced, with only a small percentage still married. Of the couples who divorced, money-related issues topped the list of reasons why. Those suffering from such financial problems were 45 percent more likely to divorce than those without them.

In another example from the same book, Jason Carroll of Brigham Young University studied 600 couples, of whom 35 percent exhibited highly materialistic traits. He found that highly materialistic spouses are 40 percent more likely than non-materialistic spouses to experience greater financial problems and lower marital satisfaction. This led to one or both spouses chasing irrational material dreams, which wreaked financial havoc in the family.

The study also found that those with materialistic tendencies were self-centered and generally unable to show interest in others, including their spouses.

This consumer mindset leads to individuals viewing friendships and relationships as commodities, with values attached. These relationships were only kept if they could advance a person’s status or self-esteem. If they proved unfruitful, then they were often discarded or diminished.

Along with weaker marriages and strained relationships, an absence of parental guidance on young children and teenagers leads to other problems at home. It is well-documented that when youth come from more materialistic homes, as opposed to those focusing on community involvement, or education, they are much more susceptible to an assault by marketers and advertisers.

Also, a lack of socialization within the family unit at an early age, mostly by absent parents, leads to a lack of a child’s development, according to Shiny Objects. He or she often grows up insecure, clinging to materialistic possessions as a crutch and is unable to adjust well in adulthood. In the classroom, children who placed a higher importance on materialistic goals and financial success throughout school reported higher levels of depression and anxiety than those who placed an emphasis on self-actualization, affiliation into society, and building community relationships.

Regarding the relationship between materialistic parents and their children, Eirini Flouri, a professor of developmental psychology at the University of London, conducted a study that found the materialistic influences of parents on their children was more powerful than expected. Using data from 2,218 British secondary schoolchildren, researchers found that the materialistic nature of a father had almost no impact on his young children. When a mother exhibited materialistic traits, however, these passed immediately to her child. The children were then highly likely to exhibit signs of anxiety and low levels of life satisfaction throughout their early lives.

All in all, parents who do not foster secure homes or raise their children properly will often produce insecure teens who turn to physical goods to fill a void their parents could not or do not fill. The family often becomes just another low-value casualty in a materialistic society.

Institutional Spending

While individual consumers are to blame for out-of-control spending, so too are the institutions that encourage it. Governments, civil authorities, educational institutions, and religious groups push the nation to spend, spend, spend! Many leaders in these organizations publicly call for financial restraint, but their actions speak louder than words.

Consider the U.S. government debt, which is well over $17 trillion. It is far outpacing incoming tax revenue and projected income from economic growth. Yet almost all organizations in the federal government insist on continued spending and rarely make cuts to their budgets. Even though it is popular for political leaders to advocate a reduction in spending, they generally do not agree on which programs to cut.

Even the largest corporations routinely pay their executives exorbitant amounts of money for their services. This practice motivates them with a “getting at any cost” mindset that drives every decision made. This does not include various white-collar crimes committed through insider trading, Ponzi schemes and economic espionage that fill headlines—all with the end goal of having more money to spend.

Even many religious institutions in the United States are succumbing to the influences of a consumer culture. The rise of megachurches, large nontraditional Christian churches resembling shopping malls, have exploded across the country. Their purpose is to cater to their attendees, providing not only worship services for adherents but also music stores, movie theaters, Christian clothing retailers, food courts, and gift shops.

Consider the growth of such churches in the United States. Only two and a half years ago, there were 75 such churches; today there are over 1,200—each with an average attendance of 3,500 people, according to a report in the Congressional Quarterly.

Ginger Stickney, an author writing on the rise of megachurches and religion, wrote: “religion…is a dynamic expression of society as a whole” (Shiny Objects). Considering that statement, it would appear millions of Americans are more interested in what amenities and shopping they can enjoy while “attending church.” The worship service is often the short time fit between visiting the gift shop and watching a movie in a church’s movie theater!

This consumer culture is actually encouraged by ministers who preach a “prosperity gospel” often known as “name it and claim it” theology. This holds that any religious act or worship will result in material possessions and blessings for the worshiper. It also states that all success or prosperity is evidence of blessings and favor by God. These religious leaders have managed to cleverly articulate what amounts to an endorsement by God of such behavior.

Whether wittingly or not, the actions of federal and state governments, corporations and religious institutions all cloud an understanding of why America was given its immense material blessings in the first place.

Original Founding Father

Virtually all Americans understand they are reaping the benefits of decisions made by Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and others long ago. The signing of the Declaration of Independence, along with other documents such as the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, ensures we continue to enjoy those freedoms. There is no doubt that we as a people benefit from our forefathers’ actions.

However, virtually no one understands they are also reaping the benefits of another forefather alive millennia ago. This man is the patriarch Abraham in the Bible.

Does this sound strange? Unbelievable? Before you dismiss this idea, read the account found in the Old Testament. It describes the modern United States in stunning detail.

Due to obedience to God’s instructions, Abraham was told his descendants would receive tremendous blessings. God stated: “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing…and in you shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:2-3).

Consider. America is the only nation throughout history to truly become a great nation that has been a blessing to the entire globe. These peoples were promised great physical prominence so that God could fulfill a tremendous purpose on Earth. Abraham’s great-great-grandsons, Ephraim and Manasseh, became part of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel and then became the modern peoples of Britain and the United States. It is not the purpose of this article to prove this fully. Much more on this topic can be found in Mr. David C. Pack’s book, America and Britain in Prophecy.

Put simply, the United States has forgotten its history and the warnings made to it by God—who even warned in Deuteronomy 8 about what would happen if the nation did not live His Way and allowed consumerism to run rampant.

Read carefully: “Beware that you forget not the Lord your God, in not keeping His commandments, and His judgments, and His statutes…Lest when you have eaten and are full, and have built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and your gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied; then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God…” (vs. 11-14).

“Eaten and are full”—think of the 50,000 fast-food restaurants dotting the nation. “Goodly houses”—think of the 2,500-square-foot homes we cannot afford. Multiplied silver and gold—think of the incessant consumerist culture.

And guess what? Americans have forgotten the true God of the Bible. Instead, they think they have brought about their abundance. Look at verse 17: “And you say in your heart, my power and the might of my hand has gotten me this wealth.”

Instead of obeying God, which in turn brings tremendous blessings, those in the U.S. try to go after material blessings themselves. It is clearly not working, yet it does not have to be this way!

A Choice

In Deuteronomy 30, God clearly outlines what actions will bring positive outcomes. In verse 16, He gives a clear “cause and effect” instruction to “keep His commandments and statutes and judgments…and the Lord your God shall bless you in the land where you go to possess it.”

Yet in verses 17-18, He warns, “But if your heart turn away, so that you shall not hear, but shall be drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them…you shall surely perish.”

This is a simple instruction. If one keeps God’s laws, then blessings will follow. If one does not follow them, then negative results will occur.

In verse 19, the Israelites were given a choice: “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both you and your seed may live [prosperously].”

Men have free moral agency and therefore are able to make their own choices. They can choose to worship God and keep His commandments—and receive incredible blessings. Or they can attempt to substitute Him for the covetous pursuit of physical possessions. Today, most wholeheartedly worship material wealth instead of the Being who has poured it out on them.

America’s Founding Fathers designed the Declaration of Independence to present men with the opportunity to make decisions for themselves and to reap the benefits or consequences of these decisions. They offered the freedom to seek “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Individuals must choose to make good and wholesome decisions and reap good results—or poor choices, ultimately reaping poor results.

In the case of today, when one chooses to seek a life filled with endlessly pursuing material things, he must be prepared to accept the consequences of a life dependent and focused on the physical.

What About You?

Let the example of Abraham sink in. He had free moral agency and decided to follow God and serve Him, no matter the difficulty. He was a successful man who owned many possessions, yet chose to leave his country at God’s request, and not trust in them. He sought a new life and followed God (Gen. 12:1). As a result of his obedience, he was called a friend of God (II Chron. 20:7).

Through this choice, Abraham demonstrated an understanding of the bedrock principle of “cause and effect.” He made the right decision and was blessed—as were all his descendants until this day. Over time, however, his descendants have chosen to reject God’s laws. As a result, these physical blessings are being slowly removed.

The Bible declares that without national repentance these blessings will be revoked entirely—and soon!

Sadly, most do not recognize the cause and effect principle at work. They continually choose the wrong way of life, the way of sin, bringing more punishment and further retraction of God’s abundant blessings. Many have chosen to reject the God who gave us material prosperity and instead have worshiped the blessings themselves.

As with Israel thousands of years ago, America still has a choice to reject the accumulation of empty, physical, materialistic objects and instead place God’s laws and His purpose above its own pursuits.

Given this, we can either choose to join the perpetual cycle of materialistic gain or make the right choice of following God and the principles explained in His Word.

Consider what a blessing it is to live in the United States. Determine to get off the treadmill of consumption and take a serious look at your life and the true history of this nation’s rise to prominence. Mr. Pack’s America and Britain in Prophecy can help you in this process by combining the incredible words of the Bible with the startling facts of history. Request your free copy.

You have the opportunity now to make the right choices and secure lasting benefits! 


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