Peter Morales, head of the Unitarian Universalist Association, warns us of the temptations of “consumerism”:
“Heaven knows, we live in a time of distractions. The holidays, especially, can become frenzied. We can so easily lose our way pursuing the lures of consumerism.”
When I read this statement, my attention was captured by the use of the word “lures”. The statement, read one way, can reflect the old Christian concept of the need to remain chaste in the face of dark satanic appeals to sinful desires.
Every year, we hear this idea preached from Unitarian Universalist pulpits, online and offline, – that purchasing material things for other people is a superficial, morally questionable activity. Although we may be giving, it’s suggested, these sort of gifts do not truly come from ourselves. We would do better, it’s said, to give the kinds of things that money can’t buy.
This perspective isn’t anything new. It’s more ancient than Christianity, older than Judaism. Though we may think that the habit of decrying the materialism of the winter “holiday season” is a modern thing, it actually is just the latest manifestation of an ancient, world-denying philosophy that began with Zarathustra.
This philosophy began with the idea that the world is divided by a battle between good and evil. The evil came to be identified with the material, and the good to be identified with the immaterial. Money, when it was invented, was associated with the fallen, wicked world. Now, speaking out of our Zoroastrian heritage, we are in the knee-jerk habit of saying that gifts bought with money must be morally tainted as well, tools of deception wrought by Ahriman and the dark forces conspiring against Ahura Mazda.
There is another way of looking at the “lures of consumerism” that’s less judgmental.
Joseph Campbell talks about the motif in mythology of the hunter who comes across a mysterious animal, white or glowing or in some other way suggestive of transcendent significance. The hunter is lured by this animal, pursing it deep into the forest, into unknown territory, becoming lost, where a profound and meaningful mystery may begin.
Could the lures of consumerism be like the lure of the golden stag, appearing to the hunter, and initiating the hunter into a participant in a higher quest?
Perhaps, if we were to take the time to truly appreciate the material things that we receive as gifts and that we give to others, instead of sniffing at them as lowly manifestations of a sinful, fallen world, we might find a deeper appreciation of the gift-giving ritual of the winter holidays.
These objects that we exchange could be revealed as symbols of deep meaning in our lives, if we had the courage to pursue their lures, rather than dismissing them as manifestations of the Satan that we name “Consumerism”.