Worshipping Our Stuff Is Idolatry

I am not an environmental wacko, not by a long shot. But anyone who accuses me of viewing the world "from a scarcity standpoint," as someone suggested to me today, simply doesn't understand my world view.

I do not agree that my view of people living simple, virtuous lives is "a view of the world from a scarcity standpoint." Scarcity has nothing to do with it. It has to do with being wasteful. Using natural resources is fine. Wasting them is something else altogether. I believe we have built up a civilization that unnecessarily wastes natural resources just so that a few wealthy capitalists can rule the earth with blood and horror. I believe in capitalism. But wicked capitalists are not any better than wicked communists. And ruling with blood and horror on this earth needs to be repented of no matter what the political ideology of those who are doing it.

Also I believe in the free market. But where is this free market? It certainly doesn't exist here in the USA. How could it with the national register filled with hundreds of thousands of federal regulations governing every aspect of our lives from who we can hire to what kinds of labels we have to put on our product to how much water per minute can flow from our shower heads or how many gallons of water our toilets can use when they are flushed? In a nation where "private" corporations are merely carrying out government regulations and every citizen is taxed more than half of his real production, where is this "free market" that everyone keeps talking about? Our market in this country is no more "free" than the economy of Italy under Mussolini. The companies might own all the capital, but the government tells them how to run them. That, dear sir, is fascism. That is not "free market capitalism." In a truly free market, the corporation not only owns all of the capital, they also control all that they own without governmental interference. Ownership, in any real sense of the word, implies control. Unless you are free to buy it, sell it, dispose of it, give it away, or do anything you want with it, then it isn't really yours. In reality it belongs to whomever controls it. And in a fascist state like the one we have come to enjoy in this country, that is the government. The only difference between that and communism is the hypocritical matter of a little piece of paper called a "title" or "deed." The real owner is the government.

I'll believe we have a free market in this country when we go back to letting corporations run their businesses the way they please, not the way the government tells them they must. A private company should be free to hire whom they please, fire whom they please for whatever reason they please, provide safe working conditions if they please or not, and maintain sanitary conditions for their customers if they please or not. People don't have to work in an unsafe work environment in a truly free market, and companies that do not provide such an environment would not be able to find help in a truly free market unless they paid so much that they could not be competitive. People would not eat at restaurants that did not keep the cockroaches and ecoli under control. Doctors that engaged in malpractice wouldn't be able to get any patients, and so forth. But to have the government regulating every little aspect of everything we do is NOT freedom, nor is it the "free market." In a truly free market we would all be free to spend our income however we pleased. In reality, we never even see half of our income because it is all taxed away from us in sales taxes, property taxes, income taxes, corporate income taxes passed on to consumers, gasoline taxes, tariffs, and every other scheme imaginable that is used by local, state and federal governments for confiscating our money and spending it in ways that are completely contrary to our own interests. The people in Limhi's day had it easy compared with us. All they had to do was turn over half of all their corn to pay tribute to the king of the Lamanites. We would all get a big pay raise if that was all we had to pay.

I agree that we can (and should) all live a simpler life (well, I'll exclude those who already have reached this high plateau). But we can't get there from here in a heartbeat, and it would be a shame to have a collapse of society just because someone thinks that we should.

True, we "can't get there from here in a heartbeat." And we cannot get there at all if no one wants to go. And I don't believe that many do. They would much rather continue filling up their homes with junk from garage sales and buy "stuff" that will all end up in a landfill in just a couple of years. And for that we work a longer work week with fewer days off during the year than any other people on earth. Gotta have more "stuff." Then we gotta have a bigger house to put it all in. Then we gotta buy a pickup truck to haul it around in. Of course, we have to work ourselves to death to pay the interest on the credit cards we use to get all of it. If some expensive "stuff" malfunctions, just throw it out and go buy more. No reason to have it fixed. It would cost more to fix it than to buy another one. We have to have a color TV in every room but the bathroom, and at least one vehicle for everyone living under the same roof. Does our car have a few dents in it? Gotta buy a new one. Wouldn't want to park a wreck in the Church parking lot during Sacrament Meeting. And we definitely need more CDs, DVDs, video games for our video game consoles, and of course we need home networking equipment for our many computers. It would be a shame if we had to fight with each other over only one. And of course we need more books. We could use the library, but why bother? Just keep buying them for the home. Of course, that means we have to buy more bookshelves. And if we have too many of those, we obviously need to move into a bigger house again. How many expensive pots does your wife need to make a meal? You would be astounded by the excellence of my wife's collection. Each one of her pots is worth more than all of the pots my mother ever owned. I'm not complaining, I love those pots myself. They clean up much nicer and I'm the one who has to clean them. And wow, can my wife ever put gourmet food on the table whenever she uses them. And at a mere 270 lbs I really need more gourmet meals. Heaven forbid I should ever have to eat simple fare that is more healthy for me and not nearly as expensive as the rib steaks that I eat so many of. My couch has to be leather, and of course I can't have one of the regular toothbrushes. I have to have one of those Sonicare ones. And the Waterpick is pretty important too. I wonder how my ancestors ever got along without one? Yep, heaven forbid I should have to do without any of that "stuff" that they keep advertising on the TV. I wouldn't want to be "poor." It's a good thing I can get my shoes really cheap at Wal-Mart. Imagine how awful it would be if I had to pay a hundred dollars for a real pair of shoes. I couldn't afford many pairs that way, could I? You should see my vacuum cleaner. It would do just fine for a 6500 sq. foot home. In fact it would probably be overkill even then. But it sure does a nice job in this little apartment of little more than 900 sq. feet. Fortunately I don't always have to use it. Sometimes I can just use the little rechargeable hand vacuum I picked up at Wal-Mart.

Fortunately, I got rid of nearly 90 percent of my stuff before I moved into this little place a little over two years ago. You should have seen all of the "stuff" I had in that place. It was 2,800 sq. ft stuffed to the rafters with my "stuff" most of it things that I paid a lot for but couldn't get 10 cents on the dollar for when I had to get rid of it to fit into this much smaller place. I made dozens of trips to the dump just to get rid of the stuff I couldn't even give away at the garage sale we held. And we made nearly 1600 dollars in a single Saturday morning selling all the extra ballast at only 10 cents on the dollar. I must have given away 30 boxes of hardback and paperback books to the local thrift store and now I only have a couple of bookcases full of books left.

My wife and I don't even own our own place. We rent. And we always have. I don't ever plan to buy a place either. What's the point? It takes 30 years to pay for it, and by that time you have paid more in interest than the house cost in the first place. Who really owns that house before it is paid off, you or the bank? I've got a friend who says he just rents the house he is buying from the bank. That sounds about right to me. And by the time it is paid off, it is so full of "stuff" you don't have any more room to live in than you would if you were renting a little apartment anyway. How many retired seniors just have to sell their house to have a retirement income anyway? For a lot of people, the equity in their homes is all the retirement money they have. And President Monson was most emphatic in this last General Conference. We mustn't borrow against our equity just so we can buy more "stuff." Then we never will pay it off, will we? I hope I never have to put all of this stuff into a wagon and make a trek like the early saints had to make to Salt Lake City. I don't think I could fit it all in.

In my opinion we live like a bunch of idiots in this country. We worship "stuff." Keeping up with the Jones is all that is really important to most of us. And many of us don't even realize it. We are such slaves of our culture we cannot even see it in ourselves. We used to be "poor," Esperanza and I. Back then we had just as much "stuff." It was just cheaper stuff. But if our "stuff" is somewhat nicer now, it is still just so much ballast, so much baggage. We still aren't going to be able to take it with us when we pass on. And I don't think it makes us any happier just because it is a little nicer than the worthless "stuff" we had during the early years of our marriage.

Shopping and buying "stuff" has become a national pastime, almost an obsession. We do it for the thrill of owning something new and because our money burns a hole in our pocket. Sure we ought to invest it, but buying "stuff" is just so much more fun. Right now I need a new PDA, a newer computer, an external hard drive to keep all the ripped mp3s from all the CDs I bought. Do you realize that my computer won't even let me play Elder Scroll IV: Oblivion? I can't believe it. I don't have the needed minimum of a Pentium III with a clock speed of at least 2.0 GHz. My pathetic Intel Celeron with only 1.7 GHz clock speed just won't cut the mustard. And I've got the needed 512 MB of RAM, but I really should have at least 1 GB according to the box. Gotta get more stuff. Mustn't have an obsolete computer. How will I ever run Vista when it comes out next year?

The ancient prophets warned us about worshipping the "workmanship of man's hand." It is called idolatry. And we all do it. It is part of our culture. We think we are poor when we haven't the slightest idea what that word means. Poor is missing meals because you don't have enough to buy the needed food. It is getting sick because you don't have a warm, dry place to sleep. It is dying young because you cannot afford to see a doctor, or losing your teeth in your 30s or 40s because you cannot afford to go to a dentist. It is two children taking turns going to school on alternate days because they only have one pair of shoes between them. My wife grew up that way in El Salvador. She got to drink a soda once a year or so, at least half a bottle, but only if she was sick because a soda pop was only for a sick child. Most days they had no food in the house, but they would take the equivalent of a quarter to the open market and buy a piece of fruit or something for their daily meal and feel thankful to Heavenly Father that they had the quarter. I didn't live like that growing up. We thought we were poor because we bought margarine instead of butter and sometimes my mother breaded the ground beef when we had hamburgers. But my kids didn't grow up like that. I don't think my children even know what margarine tastes like. And they never ate any Velveeta. Only hard cheeses were good enough for my kids. But I don't suppose I should beat myself up too much for being so worldly. My parents didn't even have Velveeta when they were growing up. They grew up during the Depression, and they were almost as poor as the rest of the world is now.

Gosh, is gasoline up over $3.00 a gallon? This is terrible! The summer driving season is coming up, how can we afford such expensive gasoline? I don't suppose anyone ever thought about staying home for a change. Oh well, maybe we can cash in some of our frequent flier miles with the airlines. But darn, we will have to wait in line while they go through all of our "stuff" to make sure we aren't smuggling any hair pins or pocket knives onto the airplane. We sure have it rough.

I don't think there is anything wrong with having stuff as long as we don't put it at the top of our priorities. But do we need to be so wasteful? Scarcity isn't the problem. Being wasteful is the problem. This consumer society that we live in is unwholesome, unhealthy. It is bad for our spiritual welfare. It cankers the soul. It saps us of our spiritual strength. It is a constant temptation to forget what is really important in our lives: family, friends, devotion to God and to our Church. We all spend too much time worrying about how to get it, how to keep it once we have it, how to take care of it, how to get more when it is gone, where to put it, how to clean it, where to get it fixed when it is broken, and so forth. It is a never ending source of aggravation and it occupies all too much of our time and attention over a lifetime. Just consider the amount of time we waste watching commercials on television run by people who are trying to sell us more "stuff." I've got a Tivo (of course) and it is amazing how much time I spend just skipping all of those commercials while trying to get to the next part of the program I want to watch. And that is just watching the news. Imagine how much time I would waste if I were to spend more time watching TV shows like the occasional movie or episode of Battlestar Galactica that I watch. At least when I am writing an email like this one I am doing some thinking, and leaving a record of that thought for any of my posterity that might be interested. Heaven help any of them if they should have to wade back through the 13 years of email archives I have saved.

I'm all for drilling the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, but first I want to be convinced that we really need all that oil, or even half the oil we are already using in this country. I'm not worried about scarcity. I'm worrying about us consuming ourselves into a complete spiritual stupor. I'm worrying about our whole society becoming consumers for the sake of consuming, of becoming idolaters who worship their "stuff" more than they worship God. I believe that it is a sickness. And we need to heal ourselves.

I wonder if any of my kids are going to want any of my "stuff" after I'm gone? I doubt it. I have a few old photographs that they might want to keep. And they will want the quilts that my wife has made over a lifetime. But a lot of my stuff is just electronics gear, computer stuff, books, and media that will be obsolete long before I go unless I kick the bucket real soon. I got a couple of nice things from my mother when she died, but it was all beat up with dings and dents from her hauling it around for a lifetime. She lasted much longer than most of her "stuff" did. We would all be much better off if we spent more of our time and money on things we can take with us when we pass on. All this "stuff" just isn't good for us.

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7 Responses to Worshipping Our Stuff Is Idolatry

  1. anon says:

    I agree with a lot of what you said, but disagree that there is no point in owning a home. Home ownership is one of the best ways to build wealth. It’s not about owning stuff – you have to have a place to live, you might as well own it and have the potential to make money off of it. Renting is just throwing that money away. We’ve owned three homes and are looking for our fourth, since my husband has been relocated again. We purchased our first home for $105K and sold it for $279K. We bought our next home for $289K, putting $160K down. We sold it for $475K. Our next home cost $359K and we paid cash for it. We are currently selling it for $570K. We will be able to pay cash for our next home as well, fund college educations, retirement, etc. And if we’d rented, guess how much money we would have? Zero. We’ve been lucky, undoubtedly, but for the average person, ownership and appreciation on real estate they own is their primary source of wealth.

  2. Judy, as I’m sure you already know, counsel that is wise and truly generally, does not always scale well in every individual siituation. There are factors involved in my own particular case that has made the generally good counsel of the prophets on home ownership inapplicable or at least less applicable. I would be glad to share more of the story in private email, but I wouldn’t care to say more in a publicly accessible blog comment.

    Prophetic counsel that we buy our own homes is good counsel in many and perhaps even in most circumstances. But a person can have faith in Christ, repent of his sins, be valiant in the testimony of Jesus, and obtain eternal life even if he is a renter and never owns a home. While home ownership is generally a good thing, it is not always a requirement for eternal life.

    You may also notice that most such prophetic advice was given to the Church back when most of the Church resided in Utah or at least within the USA. There are many places in the world where Church members are often not able to own their own homes, and where only the relatively wealthy have that opportunity. While it is common here in the USA to associate renting with people who are transient and less than steady or reliable, that is not always the case. Some of our attitudes towards home ownership are cultural and descend from our agricultural roots of only a couple of generations ago when well over 90 percent of the population lived on farms and were involved in agriculture either as farm owners or tenant farmers. Times change. And individual circumstance vary.

    Finally, if you will review recent comments made in General Conference relative to home ownership, I think you will find that most of it has been not an encouragement to own your home, but a caution to avoid buying more home than you can afford. That is, we have been counseled to keep our mortgage payments small enough so that a full-time mother can be available while there are still minor children in the home. And in our most recent conference, President Monson even added the caution that we should avoid borrowing against our equity in order to support a more lavish lifestyle than we could otherwise achieve.

  3. J. Stapley says:

    Whoa, Josef, you are freaking my out. You’re view of Mormonism is so twisted as to be unrecognizable…perhaps you have been hanging out with conspiracy theorists too long.

    John, nice write up. I remember Kimball’s missives on idolatry, ehich have always been very important to me. Definately some resonance here.

  4. Josef says:

    And now i have a question to you. Why did Joseph Smith join freemasonry?
    Freemasonry is a secret combinations organisation and God dont like that. One explanation is that he needed friends among the enemies to survive.. but still i wonder if you have a wider explanation of it.

    “. . . Latter-day Saints should have nothing to do with the secret combinations and groups antagonistic to the constitutional law of the land, which the Lord ‘suffered to be established,’ and which ‘should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh according to just and holy principles.’ ” (Gospel Ideals, by David O. McKay p. 306. Italics added.)

    And about the Gadianton Robbers. We shall not so easily interpret them as a visible robber band riding horses in the field trying to overthrow the government. No.. today they have money, a suit. They are Lawers, Senators, Bankers and so on. They are in the midst of us. Even among the mormons. Wolves among the sheeps.

  5. Josef says:


    There is no Communistic/Socialistic secret organisation in America. He is calling it by the wrong name. The true name is Illuministic/Freemason Organisation. Council on Foreign Relations, Bilderbergs. It is in fact already to late for america. Your government is overthrown if not now but decades ago. There has always been a shadowgovernment trying to gain power since the day Abraham Lincoln was murdered by a freemason, since the day John F Kennedy was murdered by Mossad/Freemasons/Secret Service and inside Government people. For example Alex Jones http://www.prisonplanet.com have interesting facts. Im sorry John, your worse fears have been brought up to light. Can it be that bad you are asking yourself? Yes it is. and its even more worse. Are we dealing with a second class angel?

    We are dealing with Satan/Lucifer, Second in rang after Christ. powerful enough to present an alternative salvation plan. And is he diminished? If Jesus Christ was a “God” and made planets when he was a spiritchildren of God in the premortal life. can we not assume Lucifer had the same powers?
    With 6 thousand years in human fleshly behavior studies he is also an expert on that area. And do yo then think his kingdom is easy to reveal, to understand?
    Its everywhere and his angels are both visible and unvisible, both on earth and other planets. We can strongly assume there is a Galactic war in universe. A massive Rebellion with Satan as one of the leaders.
    In D&C 88:51-62. Those kingdoms are planets under the same salvation plan. And Jesus is visiting each planet 1000 years and for now in verse 62 he is “close”. most likely in our own galaxy. We need to see it more in a broad perspective and realise that earthly like technology is in heaven but more sophisticated and advanced. And that there are feelings in heaven also. That Angels can rebell and fall. Maybe even Gods fell million years ago and that lead to the salvation plan we have today?
    And God and his wife came to this earth and gave birth as humans do. They gave birth to Adam and Eve and they grew up like little children.
    Anyway.. Why believe Bush because he says he believes in God?
    He was once a drunk alcoholist. and anyone can have a false appearance. its just to easy to swallow.. aha .. ok.. all is well.. then i can sleep again because Bush and Hinckley said all is well.. sleep again to the tv giving me babymilk.

    There is no conspiracies.. all conspiracy theories are false.. phew.. gosh.. i feel so reliefed now… so Bush is telling me all is well? Come on Americans. I admire your people and your country but wake up…i cant complain.. its the same in Sweden.. Darkness is heavy here concerning the truth about true religion, politics and history. Everything is twisted of satan in the world. You got to realise that he controls Massmedia, Governments, Finances and so on.. this world is his. A Movie i can recommend is “They Live”..

    Its important not only to pray about things.. first investigate things, use all your skills to find the truth.. THEN ASK GOD…
    So go and start to study the alternative side… wich is more true than the official world massmedia side.

  6. Judy Jones says:

    The church has told us to work toward home ownership, so how do you justify renting? We are told we can into debt for a house and for education.

  7. Mary Adams says:

    John, you make some terrific points and you inspire me to rethink some of the things I do and the “stuff” I accumulate. I liked your points about our “free market,” too.

    One thing that I have thought about in the last few days is whether the high gas prices will help us to make the effort to use less gasoline/oil products. Will we at least cut our spending in other areas? Or will we just fill up our credit cards with gas charges? People are funny creatures.

    I agree, as well, that all the money and attention we spend on our “stuff” does not translate into any meaningful character growth or service growth–the things that we can take with us.

    Good thoughts!

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