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Lab Rats No Longer

• Greg Boyd

In American culture, we are constantly being told to buy products and be discontent with our current situation. Like lab rats, we are constantly stimulated and tested to change our situation. Greg speaks to how we are called to step out of this consumerism rat trap and find a different way of living.

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If you want to boil a frog, you have to slowly heat up the pot while the frog is in it. This is because a reptile is cold-blooded and therefore will acclimate itself to whatever temperature is around it. A sudden change will cause the frog to leap out of the water, but a slow boil will make it think everything is fine. And, while we don’t believe in hurting animals in this way, we do think it is a good analogy for how we are being changed by culture.

In western American culture, we are very afraid of sudden changes that will affect our faith. But, like frogs, we are slowly boiling, and this is our greatest threat. This slow boil is consumerism.

Consumerism is alive and well in western culture, and it even affects a lot of theology in America. Consumerism is built on the premise that we need something else to make ourselves happy. We need the next new gadget, toy, book or entertainment. Otherwise, we are missing out on something. Our theology can mirror this consumerism need. Whether it is the health and wealth gospel or our own desires for more, we see a drive and normalization of consumerism within Christian circles in western culture.

We are culturally conditioned to chase this American dream, and it’s hindering our growth in living outrageously, generous lives. It’s not a recent phenomenon either, as it was predicted by Alexis de Tocqueville in 1835. And this conditioning is so important that companies are taking the best and the brightest in neuroscience to figure out how to best manipulate the consumers to buy their product. Hundreds of times a day we are hit with messages designed by brilliant scientists to brainwash us.

Jesus calls us to not be like pagans who chase after stuff. We are to put the Kingdom first. Jesus is telling us to not consider anything our own. Now, Jesus did own things. He owned his clothes and he bought food and had money. His disciples as well. But Jesus never considered these things as his. For Jesus, they were God’s to do with as he willed. And, we are to manifest this exact same posture towards our things. Our house, cars, clothes and all possessions belong to God. We can enjoy them while we have them, but if we ever feel that God is asking us to give them away, then we need to obey.

Affluenza is described by social scientists as the bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses. We are conditioned to feel unfulfilled, and we spend our entire lives chasing this elusive dream where we will never be fulfilled. And this is reflected in the debt in our lives. The average family credit card debt is $15,159, which has tripled since 1990. Part of the American dream is to buy now and pay later. Not to sound conspiratorial, but there are forces out there that are wanting to reduce us to mere consumers influenced by their products. We’re like lab rats being toyed with on a moment by moment basis. And it’s time that we finally stopped being lab rats.

First, we need to wake up to the way we are being brainwashed. Second, we need to realize that what we are really hungry for is God. Third, we should carve time out for God in our daily lives. Finally, we need to be in prayerful conversations with others. These steps will allow us to wake up to the boiling water around us and begin the process of fighting back against consumerism.

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Topics: Generosity, Money, Sacrifice

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Focus Scripture:

  • Matthew 6:31-33

    31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

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11 thoughts on “Lab Rats No Longer

  1. Matt O'Connor says:

    I think one of the biggest threats to Christianity is shame. Nothing else destroys the capacity to face reality and change to reflect Jesus’s desires more than it.

  2. Paul Morley says:

    He came unto his own, but they did not receive him. How heartbreaking! In order to receive someone your arms must be empty, not full of stuff, so that you can actually open them to give an embrace. God save us from our false appetites!

  3. Dave Pritchard says:

    Story of Stuff, Full Version; How Things Work, About Stuff – YouTube
    ► 21:16► 21:16
    13 Jul 2008 – Uploaded by PsycheTruth
    You need Adobe Flash Player to watch this video. … The Story of Stuff is a 20- minute, fast …

  4. Ann says:

    For a good start – get yourself an ad-blocker!
    How much we are bombarded with these messages when online. It was great when it all stopped.

  5. Gopher says:

    There are some good statements here. There is also a lot of over-generalization and some cliched and un-rigorous thinking in this message. Have you ever been an entrepreneur, Greg? If so, perhaps you would think differently about advertising. The advertisements that we see, that you say we are “bombarded with,” is simply an aggregate of people making offers that potential consumers are free to decline. I do not believe that this is a “system” in the sense that you mean it. People are free to make choices. They are not lab rats. You attribute way too much power and sinister motive to the public face of the marketplace, as expressed in advertising. Perhaps advertising, like everything else, is a Rorshach test. If someone sees in advertising some evil force pushing him down some slippery slope into spiritual emptiness, then perhaps what we’re really glimpsing in someone who claims that advertising is “anti-Christ mind control” is some sense of insecurity, spiritual or otherwise, in that person. On the other hand, your comments about the importance of living within your means are good.

  6. Jill says:

    Great message as always! Please don’t ever stop preaching! When Greg asked what’s the biggest threat to Christians today, I said “I think it’s consumerism” right away to my husband. He couldn’t believe it when he said that’s what it was.

    Gopher – I thought he made mention of how he doesn’t blame the advertisers, they are doing their job. And the lab rats are us because of the choices we make to keep trying to please ourselves with ‘things’. And, if we buy into the game it is an insecurity of some sort, and that’s exactly what he was saying, don’t buy into this, opt out, live differently! That’s how I interpreted it.

  7. Maggi says:

    This message is a powerful confirmation to me about the direction I am trying to head.

    Getting rid of MY stuff is a scary thing for a pack rat like me. My stuff has been my security blanket for decades. It has taking me years of slowly transferring my trust onto God and away from my stuff. I am still in process but am already feeling more calm, joyful and stable with a firmer foundation of God’s love and awareness of his presence.

  8. Peter says:

    Interestingly in the garden of Eden we have in a sense the first recorded ‘advertisement’…..eat this fruit and you will become as God etc……… In believing this lie that you no longer have to serve God but be as Him, then man finding out the error of this belief is subsequently, essentially, believing all the other advertising to provide security in his life comes from the world system be it power, wealth, ‘religion’, goods and so the list continues. The unfulfilled need that man lost in the garden can only be truely met through Christ.
    So advertising is largely an hideous distortion of the Truth that pretents it meets man’s real needs of love, security and significance but essentially provides a ‘cheap’ or false replacement that only God can provide.

  9. Tim G. says:

    Dave Pritchard: Lots of truth that we need to understand in the video you posted but, just as some on the other side of this issue have done, this video uses a lot of truths and data while allowing no grey area.

  10. Tim G. says:

    Dave Pritchard: Sorry I didn’t mean to send my last comment yet. The video you posted is a political video using scare tactics that Jonathan Edwards would be proud of. 😉 You’d think the life expectancy of the average American would be 20 after watching this. Bush( not my favorite President) actually asked Americans to pray and do other things before his ridiculous “go buy stuff” comment. According to the Bible, the poor have been and will always be with us and death is certain. We (Christians) are to love and care for others and not be selfish but we aren’t not called to make this world a better platform for the majority of people to leave from for hell. None of this stuff is new in theory but only in practice as technology advances. Both sides of this issue manipulate data to confirm their perceived ends.

  11. Dave Pritchard says:

    On one hand, I couldn’t agree more. I saw this video a ways back and thought it partly relevant. I wanted to add that according to Adam Smith –

    “International trade is advantageous for nations because it gives a value to their superfluities, by exchanging them for something else, which may satisfy a part of their wants, and increase their enjoyments. By means of it the narrowness of the home market does not hinder the division of labour in any particular branch of art or manufacture from being carried to the highest perfection. By opening a more extensive market for whatever part of the produce of their labour may exceed the home consumption, it encourages them to improve its productive powers, and to augment its annual produce to the utmost, and thereby to increase the real revenue and wealth of the society”

    I see this as a trap though in that it requires an ever increasing production and consumption of products, good and services at the expense of moral virtue and environmental responsibility. An economic structure that embodies the “Cross-like Love” that Greg’s been talking about, should seek the maximum benefit for both the producer and the consumer, while simultaneously requiring sustainability for the environment.

    “Superfluity addiction” though, is a manifestation where the forces of darkness have woven themselves into the heart of man, always demanding more, newer, better, improved, Jumbo sized, etc… always playing into our innate appetites like a corrosive virus that parasites our minds.

    Television was and now the Internet is, becoming yet another vehicle for the transmission of the “Superfluity Virus”. If you can create an anxiety in the observer through salacious and or obligatory provocation, i.e. – “You owe it to yourself”, then the process of entrapment begins. Like rats in some “B. F.” Skinner nightmare, we become as disposable as the products we habitually consume.

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