Consumerism & Spirituality

Recently I’ve heard two great audio pieces on the relationship between consumerism/materialism and spirituality/values, and I thought I’d share them.  One is about China, and one is more about us as Americans.

Two nights ago, Marketplace (on NPR, broadcasting from China this week) had an amazing trio of articles about the emergence of prosperity in China, especially as coupled with the post-communist vacuum of religion/spirituality/values.  If you have the bandwidth to listen to RealAudio over the web, I highly recommend you listen to the audio archive from 1/17/06(pm).  We as Americans can learn a lot from the Chinese in this department — by which I mean we should learn from their mistakes.  The picture painted by this article is that they are just like us, but worse!

The other was an interview on Mars Hill #69 with Vincent Miller concerning his book Consuming Religion: Religious Belief and Practice in a Consumer Culture.  He describes how, in a society where everybody views themselves as consumers, they can only approach religion as a matter of choice (which religion should I choose for myself?), and are by nature unable to conceive of a religion in which they are chosen.  (I think this also has a clear relationship with our culture’s predilection for Credobaptism instead of Paedobaptism (see also an unfinished blog treatment of infant baptism here (and a few subsequent blogs)).

The two effects he predicts (both of which are evident in our modern church) are: church marketing, involving watering down, compromising, and in all possible ways conforming to the desires of the consumer in order to be chosen; and separationism, where churches wall themselves off from the common outside culture (which hampers their ability to outreach).  Miller started talking about a middle road, but it didn’t really resonate with me.  Probably because of the limited time in the interview he didn’t get to fully explain it.  I should read the book.  You should read the book.  You should listen to the tape.  You should listen to all Mars Hill tapes.

(As a side note, that same tape also had an amazing interview with John McWhorter, about his book Doing our Own Thing: The Degradation of Language and Music and Why We Should, Like Care.  You can buy used (in hardcover!) for $0.55 plus shipping — I did, and I can’t wait to start reading it!)


6 Responses

  1. Hi Reuben. Wow. I think I will watch you think. Thanks n

    You’re my first blog ever. I enjoyed the “bloghorrhea” term. Ha!

  2. Is Mars Hill still on tape? I notice they’ve got CDs too, but not MP3 podcasting. They’ve got some catching up to do …

    I haven’t heard the tapes, but I’ll tell you my perspective from a year in China. Two factors propel the Chinese into boundless commercialism: a steady diet of strict materialist philosophy, and a national loss of face when they opened their doors to the world only to learn that they were behind the times. The materialism shields the Chinese from concern for their fellow citizens, and the shame makes them desperate to clothe themselves in technology. Plus, thanks to the One Child Policy, the entire nation enjoys only child syndrome — a belief that the world revolves around them. Altogether a potent recipe for graballicanism.

    Is that the gist of the Mars Hill segment, or did it follow a different tack altogether?

  3. My church library is only now switching their MH subscription from tape to CD. Thanks for your perspective on the Chinese mentality from your experience. It was not the MH but the APR/NPR Marketplace report that discussed China. He did discuss the materialist philosophy as being the only thing left from Communism, but your national loss of face and national only-child syndrome points are also very enlightening!.

  4. R, I don’t know if you read the exchanges about worship music on my blog a few weeks ago with the most passionate of those concerning the consumerist undergirding of most of what evangelicals sing these days, a consumerism my friend calls idolatry. That conversation evolved into an email exchange that you might appreciate (ask me).

    Additionally, you might enjoy reading the blog of one of J’s grad school friends who is more Reformed than the Dutch I grew up with and who defends not only paedobaptism but paedocommunion. He and his wife record a lot also about living with five children (they believe in the quiverful philosophy and she does a lot of homemaking that machines have taken over for many of us) and teaching at a classical Christian academy (ask me.

    We stopped listening to MH when our subscription ran out a couple of years ago while we were on sabbatical. Do you think reading Books and Culture is sufficient?

  5. Well, I don’t know what Books and Culture is, but it sounds about in the same line. But I know I can always trust that the quantity/quality of reading you do is sufficient!

  6. B&C is like an evangelical New York Times Book Review, even in the same format. They wouldn’t take my Rushdie review though :( , the one eventually published by Pro Rege [ed: on the web here; but you probably need to have read Satanic Verses] and which I hope to give as a talk at the Calvin Festival of Faith & Writing (in abbreviated form). They have a stable of excellent writers….in fact, I should get to the current issue tonight.

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