Affluenza. When I started seeing this term in the news it was new to me. Turns out it was first used in the 1950's. It’s an amalgam of two words: affluence and influenza. The term was popularized by a PBS documentary in 1997 and a follow-on book, Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic (2001), which defined the term as "a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more." More recently it has been used as a criminal defense strategy in which it refers to the inability to understand the consequences of one’s actions because of affluence and privilege.
Whether or not this constitutes a legal defense I’ll leave to the courts but it doesn’t take more that a cursory look at our society to see that affluenza is a real thing, a real sickness in which the pursuit of status, wealth, possessions and appearances leaves us empty and unsatisfied. And, we must add, deeply in debt. The average American carries $225,000 in debt.
The beginning of a new year is often a time in our lives when we try to sort things out and make resolutions for a new and improved life. Paul’s words to Timothy seem apropos for guiding our efforts:
6 But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. 7 For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either . . .
1 Timothy 6:6-7
As people of faith we must remember that the real gain in life is not measured by possessions, bank accounts and net worth. It is measured in our relationship with God. The goal is to become godly, more like our heavenly Father. The “dogged pursuit of more” will lead us astray everytime. Paul went on in chapter six to say this to Timothy:
9 But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.I Timothy 6:9-10
This might be just the time to take stock of our relationship with material things. And, although it sounds counterintuitive, it is most always true: less is more.
May God lead us all to godliness with contentment in 2016.