This is a fantastic book for me for it helped me understand the fate of religion in a consumer culture. The church in Africa is still unaffected by the consumer culture but this will not be the case for long. The consumer culture in the west is spreading in Africa. With half of the population living on less than a dollar a day, the influence of consumerism is not prevalent. Amongst the few middle class and upper class populations in the cities, the influence of consumerism is being felt and it is so in the churches that they attend. The book focusses on the social, political and religious potential of consumption and its significance and potential within the consumer societies. The lack of theological narrative on consumerism has hampered the understanding of this phenomenon in the country. There are many discussions on the whole aspect of money, wealth and the prosperity gospel but no deep theological reflection on the influence of increased wealth in a society. The economic and political leaders are keen to see that wealth increases and rise the population to about 75% above poverty line compared to 45% at the start of the 21st century. The church is preaching sermons and participating in programs that empower the poor. No one is keen to check the influence of increased wealth.
The African culture is predominately communal. The wealth of a people was viewed in relation to the ability of a community to collectively take care of the poor and needy in its midst. The gospel of Jesus and an emphasis of a faith practiced in community were acceptable amongst many groups. These ‘religious communities constitute proper cultures’. On the other hand, the spread of capitalism as the main economic ideology of our time has brought about an increase in individualism. The need for self-actualization and pursuit of maximum profits has cause people to look inward. Even though Henry Ford wanted every worker to afford the cars he was making, this did not necessarily provide for the long term sustainability for the need to fit into a society that is stratified on economic achievements.
There is a contrast between Miller’s writing on the origins of consumer desire and the reality of the poor in Kenya. Miller points out that consumer desire come from ‘a call beyond the self’ (113) while the reality of the poor is one of pure survival to live. There is therefore a great dichotomy between those who have a surplus and can satisfy their extra consumer desires apart from meeting their basic needs. Many people do not have disposable income whereby they desire things other than food, and shelter. Miller points out the need to look at the structures that encourage the fervency of commodification. How can we tame the human urge to acquire more? How can a human being be able to desist from accumulating what may be seen as ‘non-essentials’? There is need to develop a new culture that seeks to counter the influence of advertisers, marketers and the ‘mall culture’.
Consumerism is an obvious result and consequence of capitalism. We have to reflect on the influence to capitalism and increased wealth. Jesus said that the poor will always be with us and if Christians take this words serious and deliberately help the poor, this is be the first step towards ‘storing our treasures in heaven’ and ‘seeking first the Kingdom of God’. Christian faith and practice will rise against the onslaught of a consumer culture