Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

Materialism and Life Satisfaction a Sociological and Christian Comparative Approach

Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

Materialism and Life Satisfaction a Sociological and Christian Comparative Approach

Article excerpt


In the pursuit of happiness, man has considered, along the centuries and in different cultures, that acquisition and possession of goods can bring life satisfaction. At the same time, many religions and theologians have criticised the attachment to material goods and have advocated for focusing on the spiritual and moral life. The rise of sociology in the 19th century happened in the context of the development of capitalist society that brought the "commodity fetishism" (Marx, 1960) and "conspicuous consumption" (Veblen 1965). Later on, Baudrillard (2005, 29) criticised the "formal liturgy of object" because people that have an opulent life are not anymore surrounded by other people, but by objects. Advertising promotes goods and services that offer happiness, the equivalent of redemption in a consumerist society (Baudrillard 2005, 29).

Thus, religion is not the only one that has had a critical approach to happiness-seeking via consumption, some scientists that study society have had similar positions regarding this issue, as well. This paper aims to analyse comparatively the relationship between materialism and life satisfaction from sociological and theological points of view. The discussion is focused on three aspects: the definition of materialism, the relationship between materialism and life satisfaction, and the solutions offered to people by sociology and theology to manage the relationship with objects and particularly with money. Consequently, the paper has two sections dedicated to the sociological and theological approaches and ends with discussions about the differences and similarities between these two perspectives, and about the relationship between religious morality and scientific measurement.

The paper analyses only the Christian approach to materialism by two reasons. First of all, the diversity of religions makes it difficult to present in a few pages their richness of the critical discussions on materialistic life. Moreover, this paper aims to examine the Holy Scripture and the Early Church Fathers' writings. Second of all, the scientific literature examined in this paper is generally from countries where Christianity is the main religion. Therefore, choosing Christianity allows us to compare how the relationship between materialism and life satisfaction is presented by sociologists and by this religion.

This theoretical paper tries to present objectively the relationship between materialism and happiness, one of the main topics in the history of Christianity and a subject of study of capitalist consumerist society in social sciences. The paper does not present true or false considerations regarding the Bible or what theologians have said. At the same time, it tries to avoid having critical analyses which are not value-free, because the neutral axiology is needed in order to distinguish between ascertainment of facts and value approaches (Weber 2001, 139).

2.Materialism and life satisfaction. A sociological approach

2.1.Materialism definition

The paper aims to approach materialism that, in the most widely accepted conceptualization, is defined as a higher concern for acquisition and possession of goods instead of non-material sources of life satisfaction. Thus, in this perspective, materialism does not refer to philosophical theories that explain the ontological reality through the existence of matter, but it makes mention of materialistic values, of what people consider useful or important.

Belk (1985) conceives materialism as trait aspects of living in a material world and examines the human and social impact of this feature of consumerist behaviour. For this author, overall materialism resulted in items from three subscales: possessiveness, nongenerosity, and envy. Therefore, materialistic people do not like to lend things, even to good friends and do not enjoy donating things to charities. The third dimension, envy, is about the desire for others' possessions, no matter if they are objects, experiences, or persons. …

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