In the most recent encyclical Laudato si', Pope Francis condemns consumerism. What does he mean by the word consumerism? And what does he see wrong with it?

To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues

When someone consumes something, it means that the consumer enjoys and benefits from it. Why is it wrong?

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    Not a complete answer, but it's a focus on and preoccupation with acquiring consumer goods, which takes focus off of relationship with God, and with others, and can blind you to the detrimental impact that creation of all those goods can have on "the Earth, our sister." Jun 20, 2015 at 13:52
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    I don't see any reason to think that the Pope means anything significantly different from what everyone else who uses the term means. Jun 20, 2015 at 19:19
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    Did you read the encyclical? It pretty much explains what the Pope thinks about it. Jun 20, 2015 at 19:24
  • Well I see a couple of different definitions of the word in Merriam Webster and Oxford Dictionaries Online. It's a fair question. Jun 20, 2015 at 19:33
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    @Flimzy "and what does the Pope see wrong with it?" Not off-topic.
    – user3961
    Jun 30, 2015 at 17:02

1 Answer 1


"The problem" with consumerism, says a Christianity Today article, is "living to consume." Consumerism "defines our relationships and actions primarily through a matrix of consumption."

In the encyclical, Pope Francis says that consumerism "prioritizes short-term gain and private interest."

Similarly, this blog post by a Lutheran pastor states that consumerism taken to its logical extreme is "being in love with an abundance of 'stuff,' buying goods as a solution for joy, and caring more about material possessions than our neighbor."

The problems with it can probably be most starkly seen when contrasted with its alternatives. The main Christian alternatives to consumerism would be sustainability and charity (in the sense of giving).

Consumerism in contrast to sustainability is the bigger concern for Pope Francis in Laudato si', simply because it's all about care for creation. Consumerist tendencies are not sustainable because natural resources that become the raw materials for consumer products are limited and running out, and in many cases their byproducts pollute the planet. Case in point when Pope Francis identifies consumerism as the "present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption."

But charity also comes into play for Francis (unsurprisingly), even in this particular encyclical, for example when he says, "approximately a third of all food produced is discarded, and 'whenever food is thrown out it is as if it were stolen from the table of the poor.'" quoting an address he previously gave in 2013.

  • Maybe I should read the Pope's encyclicals. Those are not reasons I would expect from a Catholic. They're very ... pragmatic.
    – user3961
    Jun 23, 2015 at 20:16
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    @fredsbend What reasons would you expect instead? Jun 23, 2015 at 20:40
  • Ones more similar to their reasons that contraceptive is bad. Those reasons are all about the spiritual well being of the individual. These reasons are physical and centered around the well being for society.
    – user3961
    Jun 23, 2015 at 22:52
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    @fredsbend it goes back to the spiritual well-being of people, in that it has to do with our moral obligation to care for creation and for each other. Jun 24, 2015 at 2:20

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