One Man’s “Free Market” Is Another’s “Consumerism”

The possibility that the US may soon, at a federal level, do what several states, Canada, and a number other countries have already done vis-a-vis legalizing same sex marriage has caused any number of folks to restate comprehensive arguments both for and against same-sex marriage. The contra side often includes appeals to some kind of natural law, warnings about churches being persecuted but also arguments of the sort that Alastair makes here about the decline of a sort of marriage culture:

“[T]he re-imagining of marriage taking place in many quarters does not merely rest with the issue of whether two men or two women can marry each other just like a man and a woman. Rather, the very sort of thing that marriage itself is is in the process of being re-imagined. As I have argued elsewhere, marriage is ceasing to be about institutional norms and public values and is gradually moving towards a more privatized lifestyle consumer model.”

One has to pause here and ask what, in all of North American and wider Western culture, is not being remade in a “privatized lifestyle consumer model?” Indeed, by wanting to enter into the institution of marriage, it may be argued that at least some LGBT people are specifically wanting to make a public, lasting commitment to their spouse (while I’m sure not all do, just as not all heterosexual people really *get* marriage). But back to my question: in what spaces are any of us, especially Christians trying to resist a sort of consumerist mentality that privileges individual choice and makes little effort to stand in the way of those sorts of choices? Now I suspect that the standard refrain here might be something about abortion, yet the arguments that I most commonly see against abortion are very libertarian-friendly, that abortion, limits the future choices of another autonomous individual, not so much that it is damaging to society as a whole (though that argument is also advanced sometimes).

Why should the idea of marriage as a public good and a lifelong commitment survive in a society where we no longer expect to work for the same company for our whole adult lives, where business-friendly commentators mock anyone who wants stable, long-term employment as thinking themselves “entitled” to a “job-for-life” and scoff at any retiree naive enough to believe that their pension would be there for them, where workers are told they need to be “flexible” and “competitive” (i.e.: work for cheap with no long-term guarantees)? If we’re told over and over that we need to be flexible and competitive in our work life, how do we not allow that to bleed into our family life? Few conservative pastors or speakers seem to express much interest in opposing the privatized consumer lifestyle model when it comes to most other areas of life. Churches themselves seem to actively employ consumerist models as growth strategies, so it seems that a consumer lifestyle is acceptable, so long as you’re straight.