Materialism—A Deadly Philosophy
The highest values of living lie in material well-being and in the furtherance of material progress.
Why is it deadly? How can you avoid becoming infected?
“AFFLUENT SOCIETY HAS LED TO MATERIALISM,” read a boldfaced headline in the Edinburgh (Scotland) Evening News of May 18, 1963. “POSSESSIONS NOW ‘MORE IMPORTANT THAN PEOPLE,’” the secondary headline continued.
The article that followed observed that today people are concentrating attention on attaining material things, to the neglect of relationships with fellow humans. The community “has become merely a place to earn the money to buy things, and the idea that a man might make friends there and get emotional satisfaction out of relationships with his mates has gone by the board,” a prominent Leicester University lecturer noted.
Few observant people will deny that this is often true. The materialistic philosophy embraced by godless communism, namely, that ‘the highest values of living lie in material well-being and in the furtherance of material progress,’a is as closely adhered to in Christendom as it is in Communist lands. Observed a news commentator in U.S. News & World Report (October 19, 1959): “America stands self-hypnotized hugging the Communist philosophy of life with all the zip and gusto of a parvenu nation. . . . America, in clear violation of her own past traditions and the beliefs of her Founding Fathers, has today accepted this deadly philosophy in toto.” Not only is this materialistic outlook prevalent in America; it is characteristic of much of the world.
But why is materialism called a “deadly philosophy”? ‘In what way is it deadly?’ you may ask. ‘Do not nice homes, fine clothes and good food bring happiness and a sense of well-being? Therefore, is it not realistic to make one’s goal the obtaining of these material things? Why, it is only practical to place the highest value on material well-being and the furtherance of material progress!’
This is rapidly becoming the attitude of the majority of Christendom’s population. But “this belief, which has been lifted straight from Karl Marx’s ‘Manifesto,’ has obscured America’s vision,” lamented the above-quoted news commentator. It “has made American theoreticians and statesmen the sappers and miners of world Communism, and has made American propaganda a complement to the Kremlin’s campaign of lies.”
Yes, Christendom’s pursuit of materialism has paved the way for the advance of the godless ideology of communism! Materialism is not based on the teachings of God-fearing men, but, rather, is in line with the teachings of the father of modern-day communism, Karl Marx. By adopting such a materialistic philosophy Christendom has caused people to forget God and to trust instead in material possessions, resulting in a fertile field for the spread of atheistic communism. Such a philosophy can lead only to God’s adverse judgment.
Regarding this, one wise servant of God long ago wrote: “If I have put gold as my confidence, or to gold I have said, ‘You are my trust!’ if I used to rejoice because my property was much, and because my hand had found a lot of things; . . . that too would be an error for attention by the justices, for I should have denied the true God above.”—Job 31:24-28.
Jesus Christ, the Founder of Christianity, also recognized the danger of making material possessions one’s chief goal in life. He realized that it would cause one to become proud and selfish and to forget God. So time and again he struck right at the heart of materialism. For example, in his famous Sermon on the Mount he said:
“Stop storing up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break in and steal. Rather, store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, . . . Observe intently the birds of heaven, because they do not sow seed or reap or gather into storehouses; still your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth more than they are? . . . So never be anxious and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or, ‘What are we to drink?’ or, ‘What are we to put on?’ For all these are the things the nations are eagerly pursuing. For your heavenly Father knows you need all these things. Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you.” How different Jesus’ teachings are from the popular materialistic attitude of today!—Matt. 6:19-33.
AN UNREASONABLE PHILOSOPHY
But despite these words of Jesus, many people, even church members, feel it is unreasonable to put the worship of God first in their lives. They relegate it to a secondary place. Why is this so? It is because they have not really been instructed in the teachings of God’s Word, but have instead been regularly indoctrinated with materialistic philosophy. Note what the Nation magazine said relative to the recent shift of values in support of materialism:
“The shift of values inevitably has caused some strain in the American ethical consciousness. Frugality, once a virtue, is now a threat to the economy. Debt for the sake of indulgence, once impossible or sinful, now promotes prosperity. Where once greed was opposed to human welfare, we now hear that greed (both for profits and for consumers’ goods) is a public benefit. Traditional faith taught, ‘You cannot serve God and mammon’; editorialists today tell us, ‘You serve God and society best by serving mammon.’”—Matt. 6:24.
Yes, day in and day out the public is indoctrinated with materialism. Buy this! Buy that! Borrow money here! Practically every medium of communication constantly stresses the importance of money and material possessions. Why, even godliness and Christianity have come to be equated with material success, and this is what many are told in their churches. It is, therefore, no wonder that the public consciousness has been conditioned to think that materialism is the only reasonable philosophy of life. But is it?
Stop and think: Who made the heavens, the earth, the sea, trees, flowers, mountains, streams, birds, animals—all the things that make the earth such a pleasant place to live in? The only logical, reasonable conclusion is that given in the Bible: “Jehovah is in truth God. . . . He is the Maker of the earth by his power, the One firmly establishing the productive land by his wisdom, and the One who by his understanding stretched out the heavens.” “Know that Jehovah is God. It is he that has made us, and not we ourselves.”—Jer. 10:10, 12; Ps. 100:3.
Our life came from God. Our greatest happiness comes from using our lives in harmony with his will. Therefore, it is only reasonable that human creatures should seek first to learn about His wonderful provisions for mankind, and should strive to prove worthy of receiving his blessing. How unreasonable it is to put more confidence in material things, such as gold, than in the One who caused this beautiful metal to be formed! A philosophy that places higher value on what is created rather than on the Creator is utter foolishness!
ITS GRIP ON PEOPLE
However, due to constant indoctrination, materialism holds a tight grip on the majority of people world wide, both the rich and the poor. For example, take a look at Hong Kong. In this British colony, where nearly four million Chinese are crowded together into a twenty-five-square-mile area, there are generally two main groups —those who have sufficient materially, and those striving to eke out an existence. It is interesting to observe how materialism affects both groups.
Those in the first group have employment that provides them money enough to furnish their homes comfortably and to take care of the other needs of their families. But they want more. Hong Kong, known the world over as a shopper’s paradise, offers many attractive luxuries that can be purchased on the installment plan, with a small deposit and monthly payments. So the husband takes on additional employment and often the wife gets a servant to care for the children so she can go to work too. They become so engrossed in the pursuit of material possessions that they have no time for anything spiritual—not even to discuss God’s Word!
There is no question that these Chinese, and people like them world wide, have succumbed to the deadly philosophy of materialism. They are storing up treasure on earth, instead of heeding Jesus’ counsel to store up treasures in heaven. However, the Scriptures make clear that an abundance of material possessions will not win God’s favor: “Valuable things will be of no benefit on the day of [Jehovah’s] fury, but righteousness itself will deliver from death.” Therefore, the Bible command is: “Seek Jehovah, [not silver or gold] . . . Seek righteousness, seek meekness. Probably you may be concealed in the day of Jehovah’s anger.”—Prov. 11:4; Zeph. 2:3; 1:18.
But what about the other group? How can it be said that the hundreds of thousands of Chinese struggling to eke out a livelihood are also materialistic? They hardly have enough to eat. The husband and wife and up to five or six children often live in a single room, no larger than ten feet square. The man may earn only two to four dollars a day, from which wage all family expenses must be paid. But despite such poverty, these people are also often materialistic.
Remember, possessing material things is not what makes one a materialist. It is not materialism to provide oneself food and nice clothes and a comfortable home. Materialism is the putting of such material things first, making them the chief goal in life, instead of serving God and seeking to learn and to do his will. So even if a person is very poor, if his entire concern in life is to eke out a material existence, he, too, is infected by the deadly philosophy of materialism.
This is the case with many of the poor people of Hong Kong. Their entire attention is centered on obtaining rice, clothing and shelter. When they are spoken to about God’s kingdom and the importance of serving God, they fail to see their value, because they think only in materialistic terms. As one recently remarked: “Of what use is this? We Chinese are a practical people. We believe in what we can see and use to our benefit.” In another instance, two daughters severely criticized their mother for spending her time studying the Bible, for, as they said, “This does not provide rice.” Such betrays a failure to appreciate that “man must live, not on bread [or rice] alone.”—Matt. 4:4.
Instead of counteracting this materialistic attitude, the religions of Christendom in Hong Kong actually encourage it. They show that they have adopted the world’s materialistic philosophy by seeking converts with material enticements. They provide prospective converts with rice and clothing, and promise high-paying jobs to those who graduate from their schools.
In this connection, the comments of Harold DeWolf, professor of theology at Boston University, are interesting. He said that years ago Africans came to associate material prosperity with Christendom’s religions. “They thought that conversion to the white man’s religion would bring an instant shower of material wealth.” Now, after acquaintance for some years with Christendom’s way of life, DeWolf lamented, “the missionary movement has to contend with selfishness and materialism born of exposure to a civilized society.” What an indictment, that Christendom and her religions are actually apostles of this deadly philosophy!
FLEE FROM MATERIALISM FOR YOUR LIFE!
Although relatively few persons may consciously accept the philosophy of materialism, by far the majority of mankind show, by their course of action, that they have made it their way of life. Is this true of you? Do you only profess to believe that God exists, and yet ignore him and spend all your time in the pursuit of material things? Do you acknowledge God as a loving Father, and then refuse to accept the spiritual guidance of His Word the Bible? Really, is the life of a person who does not worship God any more spiritual than the life of a beast that eats, drinks, plays and performs other physical activities and functions?
Humans who do not honor their Maker are misusing the marvelous faculties with which they were endowed. God made man superior to the animals, with the capacity to love and to be loved, to live according to high ideals and, above all, to worship and serve his Creator. Those who refuse to attach importance to such spiritual values lower themselves to the level of beasts, which the Scriptures say are “born naturally to be caught and destroyed.” To what depths the deadly philosophy of materialism degrades one!—2 Pet. 2:12.
So be on guard! Do not become senseless like a beast by making material things your chief goal in life. True, it may take most of your time to supply necessary physical needs, but never let these things crowd out the more important spiritual values. Study God’s Word, learn about your Creator and his wonderful promises of life in a new system of things. Then put his service first in your life. Flee from materialism to preserve your life!
a Webster’s Third New International Dictionary.