by John Ellis
Several days ago, I bought two bags of organic carrots. While picking up two bags of normal carrots, the Giant grocer advised, “The organic carrots are on sale for ninety-nine cents a bag.” And that’s the story of how I ended up with two bags of organic carrots.
For many, my organic carrots story is a boring story, and a strange way to begin an article. However, for those who hang out with me on at least a semi-regular basis, the revelation that John Ellis bought organic anything is enough to raise at least one eyebrow. John Ellis doesn’t buy organic food. Unless, of course, and speaking for John Ellis, the organic food is on sale and cheaper than the normal food.
I don’t buy organic food for two reasons, one of which I’ve basically already stated: 1. I’m personally opposed to spending more money on something for no good reason. Like many others, I’ve read the research, and I remain highly skeptical of the claims made by organic missionaries that organic food is healthier and/or tastier. However, if you want to exercise your choice as a consumer and buy organic food, I’m happy for you that you have that consumer option. 2. I don’t generally buy organic food because of the religiosity about organic food that exists among many of those who consume organic food.
Here’s the thing, and my point with this article, I take almost zero issue with those who disagree with my first listed reason for generally not buying organic food. My second reason, however, is a growing problem among Christians who live in the West. Extending past organic food, the growing legalism associated with the so-called crunchy movement is causing people to take their eyes off Jesus.
Consumerism is a popular boogeyman to rant against among crunchy Christians. For the record, I, too, believe that consumerism is an ideology that is at odds with Christianity. Sadly, many professing Christians buy into the lie that contentment and happiness (however that’s defined) are found in acquired more and more goods. Bigger televisions, upgraded vehicles, and larger homes replete with the latest technological advances are the goals of many. For those who buy the lies of Consumerism, their hearts are full of idols. This is manifest in the ways in which many churches in this country operate, and the way many Christians church-shop. Consumerism is indeed a problem among Christians in America.
However, another problem is that many crunchy Christians have ungenerously conflated those who are exercising their liberty in Christ in full faith before God as they make choices as consumers with the contra-Biblical ideology named Consumerism. In doing so, those crunchy Christians are making the same error as those who embrace Consumerism; many crunchy Christians believe that contentment and happiness (however that’s defined) are found in “authentic” living.
For starters, the claim of “authentic” is laughably nonsensical to begin with. Why does anyone else get to decide what’s authentic for others? It’s not necessarily less authentic to shop at Wal-Mart than it is to shop at a local farmer’s market. It’s not necessarily less authentic to eat processed meat than it is to eat organic quinoa. To claim that your choices are “authentic” while the choices of others are not is a level of hubris that creates cultural hierarchies (classism) within the Church.
Make no mistake, cultural hierarchies do exist. For some, if you live in McMansion at the end of a cul-de-sac, you are guilty of the sin of consumerism and you are living an inauthentic life. Translation – you’re less of a Christian.
When the Bible speaks of the new earth, it points to both a garden and a city. Jesus was born in a small town. Towards the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus spent much of his time hanging out with his friends who lived in a “suburb” of Jerusalem. The Bible never claims a spiritual or ethical superiority for any culturally defined “authentic” way of living. In fact, one of the main themes of the Bible is that God’s Kingdom encompasses all tribes, tongues, and nations. It’s not how we live that makes us a part of God’s Kingdom, it’s whom we’re placing our faith in as we live wherever and however.
An irony in all this is that “authentic” living is often a form of consumerism, too. The ability and opportunity to spend extra money at the local farmer’s market instead of the big box grocery store is a product of wealth and privilege. For the vast majority of human history, raising goats and chickens wasn’t an option; it was the only path to subsistence. The fact that many Americans raise goats and chickens in their backyard communicates nothing more than that they are rich by the standards of history and have chosen to spend their wealth (act as consumers) in a specific way. The crunchy lifestyle is necessarily neither more noble nor more authentic than buying eggs, meat, and cheese at a Wal-Mart.
Some of the godliest people I know live in cookie-cutter McMansions and enjoy eating at The Olive Garden. Some of the most spiritually anemic Christians I know raise goats in their backyard and make their own soap. Inversely, some of the godliest people I know raise goats in their backyard and make their own soap. Some of the most spiritually anemic Christians I know live in cookie-cutter McMansions and enjoy eating at The Olive Garden. We need to stop heaping guilt on the heads of brothers and sisters in Christ because they make different choices as consumers than is our preference. We also need to make sure that we’re keeping our eyes on Jesus and not our specific consumer choices.
 Giant as in the grocery store, not Goliath nor Joffre.
 With the assumption, of course, that “wherever” and “however” doesn’t involve explicit sin. For example, I don’t believe that a Christian can legitimately live in a nudist colony.