Individualism, consumerism and greed ? a response from the Old Testament Prophets and Catholic Social Teaching

Stephen J. McKinney, Honor Hania and Robert J. Hill

This article looks at the response of the Old Testament prophets and Catholic Social Teaching to the problems of individualism, consumerism, and greed. It concludes by suggesting that some common themes emerge: the pre-eminent importance of the relationship with God and with others and the emptiness of the attractions of individualism, consumerism, and greed. Stephen J. McKinney and Honor Hania are from the University of Glasgow, and Robert J. Hill is parish priest of St Patrick?s Anderston, Glasgow.


The confectionary manufacturer and Quaker philanthropist Joseph Rowntree (1836-1925) sought to establish and tackle the underlying causes of ?weakness and evil? in his age.1 In 1904 he established the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and identified the ?great scourges of Humanity? as poverty, war, slavery, intemperance, the opium trade, impurity and gambling. Over a century later, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published the report, What are today?s social evils? (2008). This contained the results of a public consultation exercise (web based and discussion) conducted in 2007 that sought views on today?s social evils. The list outlined ten social evils that are thought to blight contemporary society: a decline in community; individualism; consumerism and greed; a decline of values; the decline of the family; young people as victims or perpetrators; drugs and alcohol; poverty and inequality; immigration and responses to immigration and crime and violence.2 The list had increased since 1904 and in the interceding years there developed a greater emphasis on government responsibility for social welfare and stability.

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