As I read Vincent J. Miller’s “Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture,” I couldn’t help but think of Spider-Man 3 and the identity struggle that ensues when Peter Parker’s Spider Man bonds with the Symbiote. Perhaps this connection was also encouraged as I read Jason Clark’s engagement with Miller’s central thesis. Clark writes:
“As Lyotard predicted, modernity has fragmented into ever new modernisms, until we are left with a war of all against all, and I suggest, arrive at a war of self against self. The sheer energy required for creating a self and life within the consumerism of late capitalism leave little left for creating Christian identity. Moreover, commodification is more likely to result in the resources of Christian faith being consumed as raw materials for creating this consumer identity.”
This paints a pretty bleak picture of the impact commodification has on how self-identified Christians living in the milieu of consumerism practice their faith. Miller contends that his book “…focuses on…how the habits of consumption transform our relationship to the religious beliefs we profess.” He focuses on commodification as being a key “cultural dynamism” since the late eighteenth century, even as he acknowledges its intersection with many other critical dynamisms at work in the world today. Miller believes commodification is worthy of his focused attention because it is so resistant to any form of ideological or theological critique. Instead, it simply turns critique into the next marketing hook to sell more stuff to religious (and not so religious) people feed up with consumerism. He uses the magazine “Real Simple” as an example of the insidious nature of commodification and its resistance to critique.
Do you feel the Symbiote taking over yet? Miller does, and this is why he writes this book. His hope is to “…provide guidance for living a more authentically Christian life in a culture that is neither entirely Christian in its logic nor entirely alien.” Or, perhaps, in line with Agarwal’s “Sway,” guidance that allows us to become more conscious of the ways in which commodification influences so much in our lives.
Miller uses an introduction, seven chapters, a conclusion, thorough notes, and a detailed index to walk the reader through the methodology of examining the relationship between religion and culture, the ways in which social institutions like the single-family home support commodification, the impact of commodification on religious symbols and the resultant diminishing influence of religious traditions in the public square and in the lives of individuals, the nature of desire, the political value of consumer desire as it is worked out through the practice of bricolage (“the piecing together of meaning through the consumption of religious symbols”), and finally, practical suggestions for how religious traditions can help people navigate the extremes of consumer culture in a more conscious, deliberate, and critical manner. His book is classified under the broad religion, psychology, and philosophy umbrella of the Library of Congress and is specifically housed under Christianity with a focus on special topics.
His chapter on desire especially caught my attention. Scripture references desire in one way or another at least 153 times. Miller writes in his introduction, “The problem arises not from conflicting goals of desire, for example, the love of God versus the love of things, but rather from the focus and texture of desire. Consumer desire is, surprisingly, not really about attachment to things, but about the joys of desiring itself. It is the joy of endless seeking and pursuit.” His words brought me right back to Lieberman and Long’s “Molecule of More.” To what degree is commodification and consumerism driven by the addictive nature of brain chemistry and dopamine gone wild?
I found the most hope in his concluding chapter—practical steps that can be taken to navigate the extremes of consumerism and commodification. For example, paying attention to the sources of the things we buy and the impact their production has on the local communities where they are made. This draws us to attend to justice issues and to monitor our consumption. At a leadership level, I especially appreciated his call for those of us working in the world of theology to develop the skills and methods necessary to truly pay attention to the “implicit logics” of our communities’ practices “…and the texture of their daily lives.” This challenges me to pay even more attention to the hermeneutical work of understanding deeply the community of Christ-followers I am called to serve among, the wider community/society of which they are a part, and the biblical text revealing the heart and ways of the Triune God.
 Miller, Vincent Jude. 2013. Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Religion. Repr. New York: Continuum.
 Clark, Jason Paul, “Evangelicalism and Capitalism: A Reparative Account and Diagnosis of Pathogeneses in the Relationship” (2018). Faculty Publications – Portland Seminary. 132. https://digitalcommons.georgefox.edu/gfes/132
 Miller, 11.
 Ibid., 12.
 Ibid., 2.
 Ibid., 13.
 Agarwal, Pragya. 2021. Sway: Unravelling Unconscious Bias. London: Bloomsbury Sigma.
 Miller, 107ff.
 Ibid., 7.
 Lieberman, Daniel Z, and Michael E Long. 2019. The Molecule of More: How a Single Chemical in Your Brain Drives Love, Sex, and Creativity-and Will Determine the Fate of the Human Race. Dallas, TX: BenBella Books, Inc.
 Miller, 227.