Denison Forum – Our Black Friday consumerism is a battleground for America’s soul

You’ve probably heard Black Friday horror stories, like when Wal-Mart employee Jdimytai Damour was trampled and killed in 2008 by crazed shoppers, or when, more commonly, shoppers break out into fights.  

While these horrific stories are fairly rare—and with the rise in online shopping such accidents will hopefully decrease—such Black Friday dashes show an ugly underbelly to American consumerism. 

You may think that “battleground” is hyperbolic or overdramatic. Before you judge the title too harshly, listen to the apostle Paul’s statement on spiritual warfare: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

Satan, who is the “accuser,” the “slanderer,” actively strategizes against us. It seems that Satan would leverage subtle methods to undermine our walk with Christ whenever he can.

That poses the question, what battlegrounds exist in America? 

While some are obvious, and we write on them at Denison Forum frequently, some are perhaps a bit more subtle. 

The subversive element of Jesus’ teaching is that we don’t wrestle with “flesh and blood” (i.e., people themselves) as Paul says. We are called to love and not to fight them, to turn the other cheek. But that doesn’t mean we don’t battle against the powers of spiritual darkness. 

Interestingly, the Greek word for “authorities” or “powers” in Ephesians 6:12 has the root word ousia, which means wealth. 

Consumerism presents a battleground where it appears that Satan continues to gain ground on Christians. Perhaps consumerism gains ground because it is so widespread. Let’s unfold some of Satan’s schemes and common temptations that plague our consumerist culture. 

Consumerism as a battlefield 

Consumerism is “a social and economic order that encourages the acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts.”

The attitude of consumerism refers more to the idea that consumer goods and material possessions lead to happiness. Our culture of consumerism seems particularly driven by instant gratification. The lockdown during the pandemic meant a rise in e-shopping and online sales. While online sales were already overtaking malls and brick-and-mortar stores, COVID quickened America’s spending habits to rely on online shopping. Though convenient, and something I use frequently, online shopping helps feed consumerism. 

I recently heard a phrase that was incredibly helpful: “Lifestyle creep.” The more money we make, the more we tend to spend to match what we picture our lifestyle “should be” given that salary. Many never grow out of the adolescent desire to pose with more expensive name brands that don’t accurately reflect one’s level of wealth. 

All of this deepens an itch for more wealth or more things. When we catch the itch and try to scratch it, we find that the itch persists.

Both natural social pressures and advertisements push us artificially into needs that don’t truly exist or into wants that lead us astray. That social pressure comes from our friends. And that’s a great question to ask in self-reflection: Are your friends influencing you toward lifestyle creep?

Is money your master? 

The sin comes not in buying things, nor in wealth. Rather, it bursts through the door when material possessions or money become the chief thing we glorify, or the chief thing that we long for—when it becomes our master. 

This is why, although getting money is never deemed a sin in the Bible, Jesus teaches, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24 emphasis mine). 

This is one of the hardest sayings from Jesus. We can make masters out of family, friends, children, politics, social status, sex, alcohol, food, clothing, intellectual pursuits, fame, money, or anything else that isn’t the one true Lord. Whatever we make our master becomes an idol, and our worship of it becomes sin. 

If the supply chain problems persist, inflation continues to rise, and some planned purchases are out of reach, what will your response be? 

Even though most (though not all) Americans can live comfortable and secure lives, it seems that the worry around money is only increasing. Even as our wealth increases, Americans are incredibly anxious about money. 

Money was the number one cause of stress for Americans in 2021, higher than personal relationships or work. According to Gallup, America is in the top ten most stressed countries, yet America’s GDP per capita is thirteenth in the world. 

Wealth cannot satisfy us. 

I say all of that to say that each of us tends to put some things over the other. Satan exploits those as best he can, but Jesus redeems them with his ultimate power. 

When I look across our culture, one of the weak spots Satan uses is in that pursuit of more. That dangerous desire looks not to reasonable goals, wise stewardship, or healthy money management, but always to more

In that way, consumerism consumes us

How Black Friday works

Though everyone knows these facts mentally, it’s still easy to be fooled.

Companies make money from Black Friday deals—they’re not doing it for charity. Ask yourself: When shopping for a particular Black Friday deal, did you stop to buy extra things? At the end of the day, are you actually saving money? 

The truth is that Black Friday sales will come around next year, and often better deals for the same products will roll around soon after Christmas. Here are a few psychological tricks Black Friday uses according to CNBC

  • Buying things at a deal is satisfying. 
  • We have a fear of missing out on “limited time offers” (though they’re usually not limited).
  • Shopping momentum makes us buy multiple unrelated items.
  • Shopping can be an escape from the stress of Thanksgiving.

I was recently at a conference where the speaker referred to both financial “savers” and “spenders” for couples. Most couples are a mix of saver and spender. The ones who are both spenders the speaker jokingly called “broke,” and the couples who were both “savers” he called “boring.” 

I’m not advocating for being boring. I’m advocating for sober-mindedness and holding money lightly. Have fun with your purchases, but don’t let consumerism play your heartstrings.

Just remember that a sober-minded perspective will rarely come easily. That mindset is constantly opposed by social pressure and targeted advertising. Consumerism falls under Paul’s idea about the human tradition of empty deceit and philosophy. (Colossians 2:8). 

Like many struggles in life, the solution to overcoming consumerism will vary from person to person. The best general answer to these questions are “good judgment,” or “wisdom.” 

That being said, there are a few pointers from God’s word, as well as a freebie from my experience. 

How to stand firm 

First, become more content in Christ. 

David writes in the psalms, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” (Psalm 42:1–2). 

Second, actively stay aware and awake to the temptation.

While we “cast all our anxieties” on Jesus, we also must “be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:7–8). 

Third, buy what you’d already intended to buy.

I’ll share a practical tip that helps me. Only use Black Friday deals if you were planning on buying the thing in the first place. For instance, in researching for this, I ran across the fact that Apple Watches will go on sale. In the past, I’ve personally decided against buying one. (I’ll stick to my hardy ten-dollar CASIO watch.) 

Yet I have to admit, seeing the deal almost sucked me in.

Interestingly, it seems that both penny-pinching and egregious spending are cut from the same cloth: the worship of money. 

Act with an open hand around money, be generous, and be sober-minded around a season that can hijack our hearts to consume. Stand firm against worldly powers and philosophies, living in peace with the circumstances Christ has given us. 

And of course, remember to be thankful. 

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