Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

A Consuming Consumerism!

Written by: on March 7, 2014


I thought of Ash Wednesday differently during the course of this week’s reading assignments. Miller’s book Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in A Consuming Market, and Cavanaugh book’s, Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire; bore the effects of a one-two punch combination. Ash symbolized the nostalgia with which I still think about consumption as something human being participate in within reason and balance. The reality is that consuming habits are out of control and are yielding distraction. As I interacted with the literature, I  wondered as who is not affected and infected by the consumer culture? I look around and I recognize that as a follower of Christ, I am in a consumer economy and culture in which various forces compete for my purchasing power.

The authors discuss in detail the enormity of the consumerism plus its impact on a religion and culture. I am here reminded of Miller’s assertion about the notion of one’s detachment from the original context from which consumer goods emerge; and the implications of such estrangements on religious values and culture. Commodification seems to be a consequential effect when consumer societies are removed from the initial environment of the items they consume. For instance, Miller refers to the idea of “dual dynamisms of commodification in religion”[1]. He continues to explain:

On the one hand, there is consumer capitalism’s insatiable hunger for marketable stuff, which creates a world where everything is transformed into a commodity that can be brought to market, exchanged, and consumed: selves, others, culture, religion. On the other hand, we witness a great hollowing out. Exchange demands interchangeability, equivalence. Anything that stands in the way of exchange becomes a problem. Rough edges must be smoothed. Objects must now function outside of their original contexts.[2]

One can and should certainly try to find out as much as possible about the origins of goods on the market. I have attempted such a practice but admittedly with irregularity. Having been raised in Africa, I was also curious about the nature mineral industry namely gold, diamond and coltan- a mineral used in the manufacturing of the billions of cell phones circulated around the world. I knew of horrific stories of the commodification of the miners involved in the mineral trade in Africa and its profit driven thirst. To demonstrate my curiosity further a few years after arriving in the United States, I visited a number of Jewelry shops to inquire how much they know about the diamond mining industry in Africa. What I learned was fascinating and at the same time, I was left to reflect on just how practical it is for one to know everything about the commodities, she or he would like to buy from the store? I think that the preceding question is very significant and daunting. In fact, it warrants a careful response as well, because a careless answer might call for more consumption of knowledge, thus the need for a booming consumer market of information. Yet if commodification is a pit fall in culture and to religion as Miller shows, “When consumption becomes the dominant cultural practice, belief is systematically misdirected from traditional religious practices into consumption…. Traditional practices of self-transformation are subordinated to consumer choice”[3], then society needs guidance.

But what kind of compass will do if the market and its siblings mainly; capitalism, financial institutions, governments, consumer goods and commodity booms, are in fact purported as the normal ingredients of economic livelihood and financial emancipation to the global masses , the church included?

Will the doctrine of the sacrament of Eucharist do as Miller suggests? This too depends on whether one believes in the existence of God. Then if a person happens to believe in God, then what about that theological debate of old regarding transubstantiation?

Since I belong to the global body of Church, I will always come back to the Church and its role in a chaotic and confused world. Let me underscore that fact that there is no good in Church bashing, to the contrary, the Church ought to always be admonished and edified to be the body and bride of Christ. Hauerwas and Williomon write:

From a Christian point of view, the world needs the church, not to help the world run more smoothly or to make the world a better and safer place…. Rather, the world needs the church because, without the church, the world does not know who it is. The only way for the world to know that it is being redeemed is for the church to point to the Redeemer by being a redeeming people. The way for the world to know that it needs redeeming, that it is broken and fallen, is for the church to enable the world to strike hard against something which is an alternative to what the world offers.[4]

The same authors also warn about a self-preserving and “an accommodationist church.”[5] In my opinion, Miller and Cavanaugh, are voices calling the Church to resist and turn from the wilderness of commodification and a commuseristic climate which can subtly blindside Christian leaders to the point that Church life becomes:

…. So intent on running errands for the world, is giving the world less and less in which to disbelieve. Atheism slips into the church where God really does not matter, as we go about building bigger and better congregations (Church administration), confirming people’s self-esteem (worship), enabling people to adjust to their anxieties brought on by their materialism (pastoral care), and making Christ a worthy subject for poetic reflection (preaching).

Isolationism of the church from the public affairs is not a good option. So what then? Christians would be best served to consider Cavanaugh’s council and outlook that show how all of creation, along with the material world, is sanctified and therefore provides the opportunity for humanity to participate in God’s glory.[6] It is healthy to know that “we may possess property, but use it only for the common good, especially for the sake of the neediest among us.” [7] Christians ought to serve God and fellow humanity as God deserves.

[1] Vincent J. Miller, Consuming Religion Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture (London, UK: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2009), 77.

[2] Ibid., 77.

[3] Ibid., 225.

[4] Hauerwas, Stanley, and William H. Willimon. Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989), 94.

[5] Ibid., 94.

[6] William T. Cavanaugh, Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 2009), 45.

[7] Ibid., 46.

About the Author

Michael Badriaki

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