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

Christian Faith and Practice – Overcoming Intrusion in Market Economy

Written by: on March 4, 2014

In Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in A Consuming Market, Vincent J. Miller begins with the premise that the culture of the consumer in the market place has established ideals, but more important, the practice of consumer cultural ideologies diminishes and displaces belief as a significant factor in consumer spending habits. Miller states his purpose is to explore “how consumer culture changes our relationship with religious beliefs, narratives and symbols.”[1] Culture, according to Miller, cannot be reduced to a set of beliefs. Current cultural studies have diminished or lessened meaning and belief as central to the development of cultural. Culture is “marked by mixture [cross or intercultural], change, and conflict”[2] as global influences rather than confined geographic boundaries define cultural characteristics.

Commodification is a dynamic of consumer culture. Basically, it is the separation (alienation) of the producer (laborer) from the product produced. Its affect is to establish a consumption or “exchange value” as opposed to the simple “use value” had the product been consumed by the producer.[3] In addition, commodifing a product is used in marketing to enhance desire or create a false desire in consumer culture. The beliefs and values of culture, as opposed to literal products, are commodified by association. This is achieved, according to William Cavanaugh in Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire, by marketing that “is based not on providing information but on associating products with evocative images and themes not directly related to the product itself.”[4] Concepts of love, friendship, sex, and self-esteem are attached to or commodified as a part of a literal product, usually through visual imagery, thereby adding value and creating desire.[5] The tragedy of commodifing cultural and religious traditions and beliefs is that “they lose their power to inform concrete practices in life.”[6]

Consumer Culture: A significant issue concerning the consumer culture is the intervention of state (all levels of government) in the free market and the impact of this intervention on Christian faith and practice in the market place. Our present political environment in the U.S. is characterized by the banter back and forth between political parties situated with various philosophical underpinnings across a broad tangent from the extreme left to the far right. The line that runs between the two extremes is anything but straight and it is often blurred. This is most often the case because of the confusion and vacillation of the political pundits who position themselves along the spectrum and spew forth their political rhetoric. One must believe that those who are advocating for or against political agenda have a right to speak as experts in their field: government, economics, constitutional law, politics, foreign/domestic policy and a host of other relevant fields of study that are applicable to dispensing politics.

As I reflect on the politics of consumer culture and consumerism, it seems to me we are participating in and being treated as “political consumers,” passionate to make a purchase between political ideologies espousing competing political philosophies and agendas. It was intriguing to consider the possibility of political participation (consumption) existing in a free marketplace. What makes a marketplace free? According to Cavanaugh there are two primary components that indicate the economy of a market is free: the parties entering the exchange (market) do so voluntarily and the parties expect to benefit.[7]This advocates for the larger question, “Is it possible to have freedom when the consumer choice and response is mandated or severely restricted in the market?” The current political agenda is requiring individuals and even large groups to comply with predetermined market demands that go against ethical and ascetic values held by many.

This is especially relevant when we consider this from the perspective of “Christian faith and practice in a in a consumer culture.”[8] In the context of Christian living, this is a two-sided coin: as a consumer, the Christian is encumbered with the responsibility of exhibiting Christ-like characteristics as they interact in the marketplace. The other side of the coin is the environment created by the state in controlling marketplace interaction based on the state’s intervention in the marketplace. In the practical world of democratic political choice, it seems on the surface that the individual is forced to succumb to the political agenda of those in power. The experience in current politics is leaning toward the state interfering in the markets as witnessed by such things as printing money in order to inject cash into the finance markets, mandating price supports, minimum wage requirements and control of health care choice. There is a broad range of issues at stake in the intervention of the state in the free market. The state, however, is not the only factor that intervenes in the economy of a free market space.

Creating Space – Engaging Christian Faith: Cavanaugh implies that the engagement of Christian faith is not governed by the intrusion of outside forces.[9]  Coercive activities can be undertaken by the state, corporate bodies, and through manipulate marketing techniques such as advertising practices. It is the absence of “any objective concept of the good”[10] that allows coercion and intensive persuasion to thwart both a free market exchange and the practice of Christian faith in the marketplace economy. “Christians … are called to create concrete alternative practices that open up a different kind of economic space.”[11] Miller sees this “space” as providing the place for “a politically potent ‘use’ of culture.”[12] He provides numerous examples of practicing Christian culture by the clergy, laity and in liturgical practices. The opportunity is created through exchange in the market place to practice the call to benevolence.[13] It is a different economy that can only be characterized as embedding Christian faith and practice in the marketplace exchange. It is the freedom to exhibit a oneness as taught in scripture “Without losing our identities as unique persons – Paul’s analogy of the body extols the diversity of eyes and hands, heads and feet – we cease to be merely ‘the other’ to each other by being incorporated into the body of Christ.”[14]

[1] Vincent J. Miller, Consuming Religion Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture (London, UK: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2009), 3.

[2] Ibid., 23.

[3] Ibid., 34-36.

[4] William T. Cavanaugh, Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 2009), Kindle Ed., 233.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Miller, Ibid., 13, 32.

[7] Cavanaugh, loc.88.

[8] Miller, Ibid,.

[9] Cavanaugh, Ibid., 19

[10] Ibid. 224

[11] Ibid. 19

[12] Miller, Ibid. 215.

[13] Cavanaugh, 959

[14] Miller, 1009.

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