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Each time I visit the United States I feel an almost suffocating despair for the spirituality of this country, and indirectly for the whole world. Perhaps the most frustrating part of this despair is a recognition of how totally ignorant most Americans are about what it is that bothers me, and that bothers others like me.

What I am talking about is American materialism. I thank God that he took me out of this country when I was in my early twenties, enabling me to view from a distance, what has been going on in America for several generations. From a distance I was able to see a country full of people who have been reared on a steady diet of materialistic values which leaves most of them convinced that happiness can be found through things they can buy with money. There are some (both in and out of the church) who pay lip service to the truism that money cannot buy happiness. But up close, it becomes clear that they too are chasing after it... that they too are swept along by one stupid fad after another... and that they too dream constantly of being richer than they already are.

When I was in high school, I would go out with other young people from my church on Saturday nights, and on our way home we would stop off at a hamburger joint for a hamburger and, if we were lucky, some french fries. It was the highlight of the week. A hamburger was just that -- basically a burger, a bun and some ketchup. It was a great way to end a night out, and we enjoyed it. But over the years, the burgers have become bigger, the number of ingredients have increased, and they have been replaced altogether by fried chicken, pizza, steak fajitas, Chinese take-away, and then all-you-can-eat buffets, with dozens of items on the menu. Now I hear people all over America even bad mouthing the buffets, and looking for something better.

While the country is literally dying from obesity, very few think to ask themselves whether the process needs to be reversed... whether we need to actually seek out a poorer lifestyle, in order to reawaken an appreciation for a simple hamburger and an order of french fries. You see, poverty, to me, is not some kind of a torture. It's actually a stepping stone to real pleasure. They say that "hunger is the best sauce" on any meal. If we never allow ourselves to be hungry, we end up destroying ourselves through a virtually uninterrupted (and rather boring) saga of pleasure through food... or some other source of pleasure. God created pleasure, and he wants us to experience it. But he wants us to experience it in it's fullness, and that requires us to experience brief periods of abstinence.

Although I have so far been writing about food and overeating, actually that is probably the cheapest and most conservative expression of materialism in America. (Remember that materialism is an effort to find happiness through something that you can buy with money.) There are limits to how much we can eat, how much we can pay for it, and how much weight we can gain before we die. But this same pattern of seeking out more and more plays itself out in other areas of spiritual vacuum. The glutton, the drug addict, or the sex fiend, pretty much gives in to an easily fulfilled desire for pleasure. You engage in sex, take a hit, or you put food into your mouth until the appetite is satiated, and then you stop at least briefly. You have achieved what you were seeking after, even if it does not last for very long. But when it comes to our need for acceptance (popularity, respectability, fame, or whatever you want to call it), materialism takes some really bizarre forms. People can end up spending all the wealth in the world trying to find satisfaction, and still have only brief periods of genuine pleasure, if, indeed they can call it pleasure at all.

Clothing is a fairly basic and universal need; but materialistic effort, to gain acceptance, causes people to pay unbelievable amounts of money for clothing that they don't really need. From a more spiritual perspective it is easy for us to see that the proverbial "Joneses" and all the others with whom we are trying to find approval are doing the same thing, i.e. trying to find acceptance through all of the things that they buy... in this case, clothes. But no one is really getting what they are paying for. Instead, they just make bigger and bigger fools of themselves in what they will buy, what they will pay for it, and what they will wear in order to look cool. It is truly sad to see a whole nation of people wasting billions of dollars on clothes which they don't really need, all in an effort to gain acceptance. While their closets get more and more crowded, they continue to complain of having nothing to wear. Why?

Because what they really mean is that everything they bought previously, failed to meet their need for acceptance. Yet rather than look elsewhere, they continue to look for acceptance through still more clothes. And the same can be said for all of the other junk that they buy, in the hope of finding the happiness that they believe everyone else has found through those things.

Materialism dominates what most Americans do with their lives. We have written elsewhere about the amount of time that people spend the world over, working to get more money. But in some parts of the world people are actually working to give their families basic food, clothing and shelter. Not so in America. If they had learned to be happy with plain hamburgers and french fries (or second-hand shirts and pants) thirty years ago, most of them would either be able get by with a part-time job by now, or they would have accumulated a fortune in wealth to be used for something really worthwhile. But they have done the same with clothes (and with their cars, their housing, their entertainment, and all that they put in their houses) that they have done with their food... until now it has reached the point where they think that they could not exist without these things.

In the end such people become addicted to spending money just for the sake of spending money. They get their paycheck and head for the mall to find ways to spend it. The junk they accumulate overflows their closets, attics, and garages, but they go on spending.

If you questioned any of these people, they would tell you that they get some form of pleasure from all of it... pleasure from their new clothes, their games, music, and other forms of entertainment, their toys, trinkets, and works of art. But it doesn't take much discernment to see that all of these things do not bring deep and lasting happiness. Divorces, suicides, depression, murders, assaults... all of these things actually seem to increase as people get richer.

But maybe it is not as easy as we think for people to see what is going on. As I said at the start of this article, much of the western world has grown up hearing that such behaviour is normal and healthy. They have been systematically brainwashed by the media, and even by churches, schools, and their own families, into thinking that success means being rich, and happiness will come from being even richer.

We write from the perspective of people who heard Jesus say, "Forsake it all. Sell what you have and give to the poor, and come and follow me." It sounds totally off the wall at first -- foolish fanaticism. But we felt it was a choice between obeying Jesus or living a lie with regard to our professed faith in him. What has come as a result of that decision is true, lasting, eternal happiness... and the ability to see through the lie of materialism.

We watch TV programs like "The Price is Right" where pathetic pawns in the hands of the captains of industry... scream hysterically and jump up and down over such useless pieces of junk as a $1700 clock, a $1000 vase, or a $600 trash compactor, and we feel frustration at not being able to rescue people from the maddening rat race that their lives have become. We see friends and loved ones marching toward eternity without the truth that Jesus came to proclaim. We see them actually fighting against what we say, and it breaks our hearts. But we continue to do what we can through things like this article, to get them to listen to and understand what God thinks about materialism (the love of money) and what he offers as a replacement, to make our lives truly satisfying.

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