Summary: Contentment is wanting what you already have.
The Myth of More
Rev. Brian Bill
Society is trying to sell us stuff all the time…and it’s not all that difficult to do because we’re so unsatisfied with what we have. Would you agree that discontentment is our default setting?
Capitalizing on our inherent dissatisfaction, the worldwide marketing machine spends around $450 billion annually to make you unhappy with who you are, with what you have, with how you look and with what you do. At its core, most advertising is designed to make us ungrateful and to feed our greed.
I read an abstract from a study called Social Comparison, Advertising and Consumer Discontent this week: “Consumers encounter countless advertising images during the course of everyday life. Many of these images are idealized, representing life more as it is imagined than as it actually exists…repeated exposure to idealized images raises consumers’ expectations and influences their perceptions of how their lives ought to be, particularly in terms of their material possessions. The result of both these processes, for some consumers, is discontent and an increased desire for more.”
I also came across this summary of a study called “Merchants of Discontent” in which the author writes this: “In this paper, I attempt to draw parallels between the psychology of commercial advertising and marketing and the psychology of addiction. Both appear to be characterized by denial, escapism, narcissism, isolation, insatiability, impatience, and diminished sensitivity. Advertising appeals to these impulses and addiction is marked by them.” Or we could say that advertising simply capitalizes on our coveting hearts.
In a post called, “How to Motivate Your Prospects,” we gain some inside information into what ads are trying to get us to do: “As an advertiser, it is your job to create discontentment inside the psyche of your prospects, and make them desire the change that you`re offering.”
A commentator from Tel Aviv, Israel offers this insight: “Because producers covet consumers’ money, they need to get consumers to covet their goods. Social historians note a change in American advertising after World War I, from conveying product information to manufacturing desire. The public, business people feared, was too frugal. To rev up the economy, products were associated with images, glamour, [and] personal identity. Marketing moved from fulfilling needs to creating them. Thirty years later, the post-World War II boom gave us planned obsolescence, whose most recent incarnation is the need for continual upgrading of our electronic gadgets.” Ouch.
That reminds me of something I heard some time ago: We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.
In contrast to our culture’s clamor for coveting, the tenth commandment dispels the myth of more. Let’s read it together. Exodus 20:17: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
Let’s begin with some observations. I wrote down ten.
1. This command hits close to home. The word “neighbor” is used three times to remind us that we are related to others in community. Coveting involves the things that others have that we want. In this verse that’s property (neighbor’s house), people (wife and servants) and possessions (ox and donkey and everything else). We seldom covet those things far from us but it’s those things we see every day that are so enticing.
2. The command is forceful. We’re told to not covet two times in the verse. This double negation is found only in the 10th Commandment.
3. Unique. As far as I can tell, there is nothing like this command in other codes from other civilizations.
4. Coveting is an invisible sin. In this last command we move from actions to the realm of attitude. In that sense, this sin is hard to spot in others or even in ourselves because it deals with the internal, not external. It’s not so much directed at what we do but at what we want to do.
5. This command is a book-end with the first one. To have no other gods underlies all the commands and to not covet explains all the commands in retrospect.
6. This command is more detailed than the last four we looked at. These categories represent all that a neighbor could have…and all that we might want.
7. The prohibition against coveting is probably the most often broken commandment. Check out what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 7:7-8: “For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘Do not covet.’ But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire.”
8. Most of us don’t take coveting all that seriously. We could call it, “The Sin that Nobody Will Admit.”