“Consumer Detox”

(Colin Bell)

I’ve been reading “Consumer Detox” by Mark Powley of the Breathe Network, a Christian network for simpler living (less consumerist and more sustainable). This is the “book of the movement”: a manifesto for a more fulfilling life. Mark describes his own journey towards his goal:

I want to know how to live within the system but without it dominating my life.[23]

He is honest about his own struggles, and seems to get the balance about right between encouragement and challenge, being aware from his own experience of the paralysis that can be induced by guilt or uncertainty what to do. The approach is helped by explicitly avoiding trying to apportion blame for the problems of today’s society, or discussion of how it could be changed. The book also stops short of advocacy: the reader is assumed to see certain things as problems.
The focus is purely on what we can do to benefit ourselves and others, although there are hints as to the wider possible effects in terms like “a love that infects and transforms the system, renewing it from within”.

Though there are many interesting side-issues explored, the main thrust of the argument is that we have a choice between two identities. The first is a consumerist, materialist one where we aim to maximise ourselves by our possessions and achievements, never being satisfied, or really having time to appreciate what we have.

The consuming passion of our culture jars with the ultimate rhythm of life. It’s trying to record an orchestra symphony while Jonny the hyperactive child is messing around on the symbols…. No wonder consumerism damages our health, our communities and our environment – it is in near total contradiction with the grace that animates the universe. [201]

The alternative is to see our identity as people who matter because God made us, and our possessions, time and other people as having value for the same reason. Almost all of us (taking the target audience as the UK) are vastly richer in material than almost everyone else in history and we should take time to appreciate those blessings, and to be generous in sharing them with others, as God blesses us. The last section of the book, together with the questions in the “Detox Diary” provoke us to consider how to apply these in our lives.

As the last paragraph suggests, the book is written from an explicitly Christian perspective, presumably partly with the intention of rooting it in the way a Christian sees (or perhaps should see) the world and making it more accessible and effective to that audience. But also, of course, that it is a deeply personal book and issue and could not be written divorced from such an integral part of the author’s life. This makes it very recommendable to Christians who are in any way sympathetic to the message.

However, those coming from any other faith or worldview are likely to be put off, particularly as the book comes close to asserting that there is no meaning to life outside the Christian faith. Writing a similar book of this sort appealing to “whatever gives you meaning” would be difficult to carry off without excessive vagueness, so perhaps the task is for multiple people to take the approach and produce similar resources applicable to different groups in our society.

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