Shopping carts in ABC Tikkula.

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Thanksgiving Day is nearly upon us, but instead of focusing on thanking God for blessings, television blares ads about the day after Thanksgiving. News outlets report the latest prediction about sales on Friday, the biggest shopping day of the season. And when Friday arrives, long lines will form around stores, with some people camped out the previous night in the cold to be the first shoppers to buy bargains.

Even apart from Thanksgiving or the second day of Christmas (December 26, which the secularized world calls the “day after Christmas”), consumption drives modern Western economies. Shopping becomes an obsession with some people, both men and women. Women look for the latest fashions, and men look for the latest gadgets. Both, underneath the happy surface on shopping days, are lost and miserable.

Shopping has become one way to run from death. If we’re out and about and busy, we don’t have to think about the finality of life. Maybe if we keep shopping, we’ll never drop and we’ll live forever! Perhaps late on some insomniac night a sane person will remember her inevitable doom and weep, but most people allow such thoughts to seep out of their mind, lost in the busyness of life. Now I’m not implying that everyone who enjoys shopping is running from death, but the extent of the bustle, the extent to which shopping becomes an end in itself, suggests that is exactly what some people do. It is almost as if finding a bargain becomes a substitute for the transcendent–and a paltry substitute. No matter what a person buys, one day those clothes, appliances, home decor items, and so forth will either travel to the local trash heap or to the nearest thrift store after the owner of those items lies beneath six feet of soil.

American culture is rapidly secularizing to the point that it may one day be as secular as Western Europe. In a world that does not believe in the truly transcendent, a God who loves mankind and calls us to repentance, all that remains is mindless bustle and lust for wealth, sexual fulfillment, fame, or the other false gods of the contemporary world. I suppose these gods are not as dangerous as the worship of the state, but while they may not take physical life, they will, if sought as ends in themselves, destroy the soul.

So shop if you enjoy it–but realize that shopping is not an end in itself. Otherwise, shopping becomes an idol that enslaves, like any other idol that is finite. As both Augustine and Kierkegaard recognized, only an infinite being can satisfy an infinite longing. Only God can fill an empty soul.