Consumerism and the Culture of Death

A discussion I have been having with my Catholic brothers and sisters about the causes of abortion helped to speed along an essay I had planned on writing as a follow-up to previous articles I have written about consumerism and the culture of death. Fully adequate treatment of this subject will require a book, and hopefully one day I will write it. For now, an essay, limited in scope, but hopefully not in substance is what I have to offer.

In my essay, linked below, I cover Catholic social teachings’ critique of the precursors of consumerism, its extended definition and conception of consumerism, and the relationship between consumerism and the Culture of Death. In the discussion I mentioned previously, a major objection to my line of argument – which, as I hope to show, is firmly rooted in Church teaching – was that abortion, infanticide, and other features of the death culture were present in ancient societies, long before consumerism as we know it today. Therefore I also take up that claim, since it is important to differentiate between old and new manifestations of sin.

I don’t offer much here in the way of remedies, but I hope to develop more concrete proposals in the future. I mention it because my commentary, and that of others, I have noticed, is often criticized for being heavy on critique and light on solutions. In my way of thinking, however, it does little good to talk about solutions to a problem with features and characteristics, or even basic foundations, we cannot agree upon.

Read the entire essay here. Yes, it is lengthy compared to a typical blog post, but as far as essays go, it isn’t that long. I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers or even an air-tight argument, but I do think it is important that Catholics understand the extent to which the Church of the last hundred years or so has criticized and ultimately rejected a way of life most of us take for granted, and the reasons why it has done so.

3 Responses to Consumerism and the Culture of Death

  • I’m enjoying reading your article and want to take the time to write a substantive response, but a couple quick notes (being the Classicist of the bunch) on the topic we’d been discussing in detail:

    It is reasonable to assume, for instance, that if birth rates in the ancient world had dangerously declined, that the public authorities would take measures to reduce abortion, up to and including criminalization. Yet the Western world, faced with a similar crisis today (among several others related to life issues), not only fails to reduce abortion but continues to encourage it among more people than ever before.

    Actually, we have a test case on this in that the late Republic through the Imperial period there was indeed a serious contraction of the Senatorial class in Rome, which was of course the class that writers and politicians cared most about. Under Augustus, laws were passed to require marriage and encourage child rearing — not unlike the ‘baby bounties’ being put through in Eastern and Western Europe to deal with similar problems on a wider scale. However, abortion was never banned, nor was infanticide. To do so clashed with Roman ideas of the fundamental authority of the family and particularly the Pater Familias.

    It was a different spirit than that of consumerism, but the results were in many ways similar. This may simply be a standard tendency in affluent societies.

    The most extravagant pleasures known to the Roman upper classes would likely bore an American teenager in under five minutes.

    Given that HBO’s Rome was very tame compared to actual Roman standards of behavior, I’m questioning this one… I get what you’re striving for, but it’s just not a sustainable claim.

  • D,

    I think it is. Perhaps ‘pleasure’ was the wrong idea since, after all, sex is sex. I was thinking more in terms of entertainment, which has become an addiction.

  • But, let me say, I’m glad someone’s reading it!

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