Consumerism and the Dignity of Man

There has been lively debate in the media over whether it is a good idea for stores to start their Black Friday sales on Thursday evening – if the consumerism mentality tarnishes the Thanksgiving holiday and Christmas Season. The question as to whether Black Friday tarnishes Thanksgiving and Christmas has become moot since it seems Black Friday has become its very own holiday. People anticipate it and faithfully observe it every year. Throughout the nation, people are absent from work in observance. Ads running on TV put lyrics about shopping to the tune of famous holiday jingles. The media, advertising industry and large retail stores speak of the day as if it were a major federal or religious holiday.

Many Americans have bought into the hype. Even economists and financiers join in the frenzy: Like prophets proclaiming gloom and doom, they give predictions to the financial success and failures. The message of the “Good News” of Black Friday: happiness is found in material goods – the more you have, the happier you’ll be.

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We have to ask ourselves: What are the long-term effects of a culture that places its value in things and not on the value of the human person?

Pope Francis recently called consumerism a poison that threatens true happiness because it is based in empty promises. “[T]he true treasure is the love of God shared with our brethren. That love which comes from God and enables us to share it with one another and to help each other.” The illusion created by the culture of consumerism doesn’t lead to a happier society, but one of gluttony, lust, greed and spiritual poverty, where desires can never be fully satiated. Such an illusion diminishes the identity of the human person and defines him by what he has and not who he is.

Consider the words of Saint John Paul II in Centesimus annus:

It is not wrong to want to live better; what is wrong is a style of life which is presumed to be better when it is directed towards ‘having’ rather than ‘being,’ and which wants to have more, not in order to be more but in order to spend life in enjoyment as an end in itself. It is therefore necessary to create life-styles in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness, and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors, which determine consumer choices, savings, and investments.

Man’s dignity is not rooted in his temporal existence, but in where he has come from and where he is called to go. This calling is found in the Person of Jesus Christ, who fully reveals and brings to light man’s true calling. This revelation does not leave the human person simply dangling haphazardly in his temporal sphere. If man has no value outside his appetites or the temporal realities that surround him, then why would God become man and take on human flesh and die? Why the need for Redemption?

The debate over Black Friday is not merely about debasing Thanksgiving and the holy season of Christmas. The identity of the human person is at stake. The dignity of the human person stems not from what an individual produces or consumes but from one’s identity as a being made in the image and likeness of God. Through the love God has revealed in Jesus Christ, man becomes a new creature finding again the greatness, dignity and value that belong to his humanity. The dilemma is, will the human person enter into the life of Christ or not?

As our nation celebrates Thanksgiving, I invite us to pause and consider the underlying significance of the day — set aside “as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens” for His many blessings. Let us pray for our country, its people, its leaders and its future. Secondly, let us remember the many who have sacrificed to afford us the liberties we have; after all, freedom does not come without sacrifice. Thirdly, let us thank the Lord for the true gift of life afforded to us in Jesus Christ.

Happy Thanksgiving!



About Fr. Shenan J. Boquet

Fr. Shenan J. Boquet has served as president of Human Life International since 2011. He was ordained in 1993 as a priest of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana. As HLI’s president, Fr. Boquet collaborates with fellow laborers in the pro-life and family movement in over 80 countries, offering the Sacraments, giving seminars and trainings, appearing on numerous media outlets, and encouraging people of all walks of life to live as faithful advocates for a Culture of Life and Love. He is available for interviews and bookings on behalf of HLI by emailing hli@hli.org.

2 Comments

  1. Edward J Baker on November 27, 2013 at 6:05 PM

    It is always a safe bet to capitulate to assumptions of cynical, socialist determinism and condemn what is declared to be economic materialism.
    I don’t know anyone with pretentions to holiness who walks around naked, has no
    cookware, has no appliances of communication, or has never given a material
    gift to a loved one. Why is it so horrible for people to pursue opportunities
    to obtain modern necessities of life, at a favorable rate of exchange, without simplistic, sanctimonious condemnation? I can understand why socialists are shallow in their eighth commandment defying presumptuousness. I don’t understand why Christians are.

  2. MDL on November 28, 2013 at 7:52 PM

    Why call it Black Friday? It sounds sinister. I suppose there were always sales after Thanksgiving, but it’s been overrated in recent years. Some wait in line for hours, even days in places, just for the store to open. Would they suffer the same inconvenience to enhance their spiritual life? Is the Mass on Thanksgiving Day as well attended?

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