P5 The Empire we’re in: Individualism & Consumerism

This is part 5 in a series where we will be exploring and imagining how faith communities, and our community in general, may need to evolve in order to adapt to our changing times. You can find part 1 herepart 2 here, and part 3 here.

In our last piece we discussed how our society, though regarded as secular, is very much shaped by its own God’s that demand allegiance and require our worship and sacrifice. We named these as Individualism, Consumerism and White Supremacy. In our last piece we dealt with the latter, in this article we will be talking about the former two.

Throughout the lockdown there has been calls to open various shopping centres, lament’s that we have not been free to shop, to browse and buy. And in Auckland last week, as Covid restrictions began to ease, the great Temples of this age were finally opened again to the people. Once again, our malls were able to receive worshipers, and the people returned in droves. Despite the risks associated with large gatherings during a global pandemic, they came to worship, gathering outside in large groups, waiting eagerly the call to worship. And when that call came, when those doors opened, they surged forward. Ready with their plastic cards, and artificial wealth, to sacrifice again to the great Gods of Individualism and Consumption.

If there was any doubt that our dominate society is set up to serve these deities of Consumerism and Individualism,  these lockdown’s, and our various responses, have put them to bed.

Individualism

Individualism has indoctrinated pākehā to believe that we are individual beings, detached from the whenua, detached from one another. It has taught us to seek first ourselves, to build for ourselves a life that fulfils our individual needs and desires, to pursue our own individual hopes and aspirations, apart from the collective.

We are taught this lesson from our youth. As children we are taught that we can, and should, pursue our dreams. That the stars are ours to grasp hold of, that all we must do is reach out our hands. We are taught that the world is our oyster, and that to follow The Way, is really to follow your heart. Seek first your passions, and all these things shall be added unto you. Chase your dream, and God will reward your steps. We are not instructed to consider a scenario where our dream runs counter to the Vision of The Dream. This is not a reality which we dare imagine. Instead of reflecting on the Divine Dream, and allowing that to direct our steps, we are taught to do the opposite. To follow our hearts, and to bend the Divine’s will to our own.

And yet, despite our indoctrination from such a young age, there are many of us who feel such a deep dissatisfaction with the Individualists interpretation of reality. A recognition that perhaps, perhaps we were created for something other than what we have been born into. Perhaps, to be human is to live contrary to the narrative we have been set within. As this recognition grows, so does the desire for something different, a new reality, a new narrative, a new way of being. And yet, when one looks outside of oneself, seeking to carve a new path, one finds oneself trapped within this suffocating reality.

Individualism has done more than trap our minds, It has built our world. Our communities, our homes, our entire lives, are designed to serve this Deity. The very bricks and mortar of our communities denies the collective it’s power. High fences, small homes, boxed dwellings, these things deny communities the oppurtunity to think and act collectively. We are separated from one another, the cost-of-living soars, and our need to provide for ourselves and our individual families, drives us out of our communities to seek housing, employment and oppurtunity. There was a time when community meant the people and place where you lived. But, not anymore. Now community is simply the space you occupy. To survive, the individual must travel, finding employment, building relationships, seeking connection, outside of the place in which one lives. It is this lack of proximity that really denies the individual the ability to build any sense of community that could offer healing and wholeness to one’s soul. We have no time for one another, we have no time to be a collective, for we are simply attempting to survive. To work, to earn, we must travel, time is a commodity we do not have enough of. We have been taught to chase our dreams, and at the same time, instructed that our dream is to build an individual career, to earn an income that can finance our individual lifestyle. To buy a home that can advance our individual interests, getting on the property ladder is a dream we have been told to dream. The whenua is not viewed as necessary to human flourishing, but as a commodity by which we advance our individual interests. We purchase land, not to live on it, but to benefit from the revenue it can extract for us.

Any who wish to resist this narrative, to find a new way of being, will find it near impossible. The question will always be, how can one resist when the very society one find’s oneself in is built to serve the God of Individualism? Without Power to acquire land, or to build, one is at the whim of the individualist’s vision of reality. Building a sense of community and collective is near impossible, for to do so one must have the ability to gather collectively, to live communally, to come together in order to build a movement of people power that would make resistance possible. But, how would one do this when acquiring land is near impossible, when the cost of living is so high, when our homes and communities are built in such a way as to deny the possibility of communal existence.

What’s more, such a movement would require the sharing of resources, the sacrificing of the individuals needs and the individualist’s vision of reality, for the greater good of the community. In other words, for the Collective to be born, the Individualist must die. And yet, even if a group was to find the land, and ability to gather together, the narrative of Individualism would still prove too much. For how would one know if the other was committed to this new vision of reality? To commit to this vision would take trust, to sacrifice one’s individual needs, safety and security, and instead put oneself in the hands of the collective. This takes trust. To Give oneself to the collective, to put one’s faith outside oneself, trusting that each member of one’s group will hold true. That once you have poured your life, resources, and energy into the growth of the collective, that those who make it, will not abandon the cause, leaving you smashed against the rocks of the Individualists reality.

Consumerism

Alongside all this, sits the great God of Consumerism. We who bow low at the feet of Individualism, also drink from the cup Consumerism offers us. Take, eat, the serpent tempts us, for the world is ours to consume. Consumption is a moral good, or so we are taught, the more we consume, the more the economy grows, the more the rich grow richer, the greater chance the poor benefit from the overflow. And yet the rich grow fat, and the mouths of the poor are still oh so dry. And as we consume, we forget again the whenua. This place which we dwell, papatūānuku, who gives us life. We take from her, extracting from her the richness of her Life and abundance, we cut down trees to build parking lots, bulldoze mountains to pave them over with highways, we raise factories, filling the air with toxins, we destroy forests, to make space for farms to extract revenue from the whenua, we poison the moana, pollute our awa, and all the while the Empire advances, spreading Capitalism across the Globe. But, do not forget that capitalism is a moral good, you have a right to take, to taste, what the Empire has on offer. Do not think of the blood that must be spilled to supply you with the oil we need to keep the machine turning, do not dwell to long on the sweat shops where the children work their fingers to the bone, so that you can buy those three cute shirts, for the price of one. Do not linger on the question of how. How is this so cheap? How is it possible for these products to be transported across the world at such a low cost? How is there always so much more and so much more? Do not dwell too long on the question of what or how you consume. Remember only that consumption is a moral good. That we are to spend, so the rich can grow, in hopes the poor will one day receive maybe just a little bit more.

And this consumption shapes us into a people who are no longer people. No, now we are consumers. Corporations, businesses, they do not service people anymore, now they seek to feed the consumer. And as we consume, the latest tech, download the latest apps, we are transformed, from the consumer, to the consumed. We become a product which must be marketed, every angle of our lives filtered, cropped, edited to show the world just the right angle. To articulate to the world a mirage of our existence, that is contrary to what is. In this world even authenticity is a brand, designed to create a product that those who feed on despair crave to consume.

And in the end, once we’ve consumed, and been consumed, branded, and rebranded again, one might begin to wonder, are we even human anymore?

This is the Empire. A world shaped by Individualism, Consumerism and White Supremacy.

These are her god’s.

Amongst all this, we are called to be an alternative. A community that lives within the heart of the Empire; yet provides a radical alternative to it. A people who dream the Divine Dream, who wrestle a new reality into being, who live as if it were actually true that Jesus really was Lord of this world, as if the Divine Dream was truly coming on earth, as it is in heaven. Who build an alternative society, critiquing the existence of poverty, homelessness and the Empire’s treatment of people and planet, through the way we structure and organize our communities.

I’ve said in previous articles that I do not believe that the dominant form and institution that has come to define the church is equipped to form us into the sort of alternative community that Jesus invites us into. Rather, in many ways, I see the influence of the Empire’s chief deities shaping and forming us into the patterns of this world.

How do we reorganize ourselves? How do we resist and revolt against the Empire in which we are enslaved? It is to these questions which we will turn in the next few articles.

A.J. Hendry is a Laidlaw College graduate, and now a Youth Development Worker and housing advocate, working in the Youth Housing and Homelessness space. He leads a service supporting rangatahi experiencing homelessness and is also an advocate working collectively to end youth homelessness in Aotearoa. He is also the curator and creator of When Lambs Are Silent.

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6 thoughts on “P5 The Empire we’re in: Individualism & Consumerism

  1. Geo.pal942@gmail.com

    On Tue, 30 Nov 2021, 6:27 am When Lambs Are Silent, wrote:

    > whenlambsaresilent posted: ” This is part 5 in a series where we will be > exploring and imagining how faith communities, and our community in > general, may need to evolve in order to adapt to our changing times. You > can find part 1 here, part 2 here, and part 3 here. In our las” >

    Like

  2. Insightful.

    Thanx

    So glad to hear these ideas explored.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. whenlambsaresilent 30/11/2021 — 2:42 pm

      ❤🧡💚

      Like

  3. Reblogged this on From guestwriters and commented:
    In the previous weeks, the government had made sure that the anti-vaxxers had no reason to demonstrate and/or smash things up.

    Mainstream churches have also opened their doors to the general public, but as before, the Corona Crisis, the huge shopping centra are and remain the main ‘worship temples’. There, in those shopping malls, people feel most at ease and satisfied that they can buy anything they want to own again.
    For them, the big shopping mall is the sacred place to pay homage to their god, money.

    Even though most people have become slaves to money, and therefore slaves to their employers, it is up to the Church to make those people realise how they have gone off the rails with their way of life and money-making.

    It is up to the believer in the One True God to show people that there are much better ways than the worship of money, by which people are chained.

    Like

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