Pope Francis Calls Consumerism a "Virus," Encourages Prayer and Charity

Pope Francis Calls Consumerism a "Virus," Encourages Prayer and Charity

December 2, 20193 min read

In an Advent homily on December 1, Pope Francis urged to "choose prayer and charity over consumerism" during the holiday season.

"Consumerism is a virus that affects the faith at its root because it makes you believe that life depends only on what you have, and so you forget about God," Francis said. "The meaning of life is not to accumulate."

Villanova's experts have weighed in on and provided their thoughts on Francis' latest remarks. 

Mary Hirschfeld, associate professor of theology and religious studies and author of Aquinas and the Market: Toward a Humane Economy

"Francis is echoing the message the Church has consistently given on this. Pope John Paul II warned about thinking of 'progress' as having more. The essence of true progress is being more—growing as a human being, giving oneself more fully to relationships, drawing closer to God.

"God created us to find our happiness in Him. We thus do have a longing for the infinite. The modern mistake is to seek that infinite in the finite goods of this life. But that can never satisfy us, which is why we always look for the next thing and the next thing.

"The one thing I would ask Pope Francis is whether it is our consumerism that is driving out our desire for God, or are we throwing ourselves into consumerism because we have forgotten about God? It could well be both. But for Christians who find themselves swept up in consumerism it is worth asking whether we are seeking out the distractions of things because we are afraid of turning more fully to God. This might be a fruitful line of prayer this Advent season.

"We live in a culture that thinks that happiness consists in getting more. It's built into the economic approach that informs so much public discourse. So, it's not surprising that we all struggle with this.

"And plenty of secular people know this is a problem. That's why there have been episodic movements towards 'simple' living. Marie Kondo's popularity is testimony to the fact that we all recognize that 'more' doesn't lead to 'better' or 'happier.'"

Eugene McCarraher, associate professor of humanities and author of The Enchantments of Mammon

"While I certainly agree with Pope Francis that consumerism is a virus, I don't think it's the most harmful virus with which we have to deal. In fact, I've long thought that consumerism is way of not talking about capitalism.

Capitalism needs consumerism as a structural necessity; capitalists need people to buy a lot of things they either don't need or often don't really want. Hence, the importance of the culture industries such as advertising, marketing and public relations. I also think that criticizing consumerism can end up being a rather tiresome and ineffectual form of moralism.

"Wagging a finger at people for being 'materialistic' has never really worked, and besides, material things are both necessary and good; material life should be cherished and savored. The real issue isn't the amount of material goods that people use; it's the nature of the goods and what sort of people their use helps to cultivate. So, while the pope's remarks are certainly true and pertinent, I think we might use them as a starting point for a very different kind of conversation."

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