There has been an accident. The Church has crashed. Reports have it . . . the Church fell asleep at the wheel. Due to a mixture of loosely monitored motives, a relativistic lens on happiness and life satisfaction, and a whole lot of sin . . . the Church has dosed off and drifted off the road of the Kingdom and crashed into a roadside billboard. Ironically the billboard just so happened to be advertising “Churchmart: Your One Stop Shop for All Your Spiritual Needs.”
In their heavily cerebral books on consumerism and religion, Vincent Miller and William Cavanaugh, take a full-orbed (social, political, economic, cultural and theological) look at consumerism and examine its implication on religious faith and practice in our world. The greatest attempt of each book is to alarm the sleeping, not with implications of an impending dooms day full of hype and drama, but rather a scholarly criticism of the profound cultural reality of consumerism and the deep entrenchments created in our social fabric with intense consequences on a religious (Christian) practice.
In chapter five of Miller’s work, “The Politics of Consumption”, the behavior of “conspicuous consumption” is tethered to the commodification of religion in our culture. Conspicuous consumption is like a “material girl” on steroids. It leads to an all out brutal expression of the obtaining of goods and services. No longer are needs and modest wants the end game, but rather dignity, identity and purpose are now the end game. “Enormous homes, huge parties, expensive food, drink, clothing cars, and travel served not simply as hedonistic excess but also as markers of class identity.” More doesn’t just equal stuff. More equals status. The more the better, the better the higher, the higher the more powerful and suddenly we are welcomed to the culture we just created with ninety-nine percent of the “we” feeding the beast ultimately being lived atop by an actual one percent known as the elites. Who I am and how I am is now an externally developed and manipulated game.
Fundamentally I feel there are two “major collisions” that we, as the Church, should feel responsible and accountable for. First is the fact that the Church has lost its saltiness. Tragically the life and lifestyle lived by those who follow Christ in our culture today are not any different from lives who do not follow Christ. We look the same, act the same, buy the same, go into debt the same, and end up enslaved the same. It is deeply convicting that even our socioeconomic scale, as Christ-followers stays consistent with the world. Our poor look like the world’s poor, our middle class look like the world’s middle class, and our “lifestyles of the rich and famous” look just like the world’s. The cross-socioeconomic divide, to me, is the most incriminating evidence that we are guilty of having been consumed by conspicuous consumption.
Secondly, not only are Christ-followers not any different in how we live, look and have our being, even more tragically we have been equal contributors to the exploitation and domination of humanity through the abuse of power that has been required to build the machine of consumerism in our world. It would be just like us as “consumed” Christians to feel convicted about our idolatrous sin because we have personally been caught up in and feel victimized by the culture, totally unaware of the exploitation and real wickedness we have contributed to in the systemic injustices of our “mass” corrupting of society that has been necessary to make the monster. This second consequence or collision is a far more grievous act because it has exploited our neighbor instead of loving them.
So while the story can be told as though we have fallen asleep at the wheel (if we were ever really behind it), I think the greater reality is we are no longer in the driver seat of where the run-a-way vehicle of our culture is headed and at best have to try to figure out how as one of many passengers we can affect the direction and destination of our world.
Consumer Culture. New York: Continuum, 2004.
 William T. Cavanaugh. Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire.
Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2008.
 Miller, 146.
 Miller, 148