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

Religious unawareness, self-deception, and shame.

Written by: on November 9, 2023

Years ago, I heard a story of a middle-aged woman named Nancy who lived in Pennsylvania and one summer traveled to California to visit her sister. Nancy and her sister decided to go shopping in Tijuana, a Mexican border town below California. On their way back to the car to head to California, Nancy saw a little dog shivering in the gutter. Her heart immediately went out to the dog and in anger she said to her sister, “What idiot would leave their Chihuahua her to die?” Nancy picked up the dog and it barely responded to her. She could see it was dying and barely breathing. On their way back to her sister’s home she bought dog food and tried to feed the dog. He did not eat and barely responded to Nancy.

That evening Nancy allowed the dog to sleep with her hoping she could provide some motherly comfort. But in the morning, there was barely any response from the dog. Nancy took the dog to the veterinarian, and he was able to inspect it. In less than thirty seconds the doctor asked, “Mam, where did you get this animal?” Nancy knew it was illegal to bring a dog from Mexico to California, so she lied and said, “My sister is on vacation, and I am watching her little sweet Chihuahua until she returns.” But the doctor firmly insisted, “Where did you get this animal?” Nancy fearfully replied, “I found the Chihuahua in the gutter dying and my heart went out to him. I wasn’t gonna let him die right there!” The doctor quietly responded, “Mam, this is no Chihuahua. This is a Mexican rabid river rat. One bite and your dead.”

I thought about Nancy’s story a couple of times as I read Consuming Religion by Vincent Miller. I am sure you are thinking, what in the world do they have in common? Well, they have three things in common I want to emphasize.

1. Unawareness.
2. Self-deception.
3. Shame .


Nancy was unaware of the difference between a Chihuahua and a Mexican river rat. Miller analyzes how consumer culture commodifies everything, including religious practice, making it impossible to confront it head on. “This book explores how consumer culture changes our relationship with religious beliefs, narratives, and symbols.”1 It changes our relationship with religious beliefs because we have been unaware of how consumerism has influenced us. It is rare for us to question ourselves by asking, “How unaware am I of being influenced by consumer culture?” Most of us do not realize the origins of where a consumer product comes from. We are unaware. When we buy a product, we tend not to think, “Was this made in a sweat shop? How does this company treat its employees? Is there a problem or negative pattern with many people who have been fired from this company in the past ten years? Even though I can afford this, how much money will it take away from investing in the poor? Will this promotion impact my Sunday morning attendance? When I miss church due to a better job or because I need to work to pay for my shiny toys, who are the people that will be missing out on my ministry to them?” Like Nancy, we tend to be totally blinded or are unaware of our decisions.


Since Nancy had no awareness of the danger of her decision her compassion, kindness, love, and grace actually compelled her to hold onto something that was dangerous. She even used her money unwisely to help her cause. Webster’s Dictionary defines self-deception as “the action or practice of allowing oneself to believe that a false or unvalidated feeling, idea, or situation is true.”2 Miller asks, “If consumption is a dominant social practice, we must consider what people are able to accomplish through it. Are beliefs and values completely reduced to disposable objects of consumption, or are people able to accomplish politically significant things through such consumption?”3 Could it be that since we can afford so much, we think we are always accomplishing so much? Could it be because we have so much, we actually feel blessed because of our material gain? Is there any truth to the fact that we might deeply think, “the bigger the church the better.” Miller has proven that we are valuing stuff over relationships. Deep down inside I do not believe we want to but that’s what self-deception does. “Consumer culture disarms religious traditions.”4 Consumer culture brings an ever increasing self-deception. It blinds us to how we are actually hurting ourselves and others. Nancy put herself and her sister in danger.


Once Nancy was confronted with the truth, due to her compassion, she dug in with her belief of doing the right thing. As she was confronted a little deeper and was told what was really going on, there was most likely shame, fear, and “Oh no, what did I do! Do I have rabi’s?” Because of consumer culture religion becomes something that must be personalized to suit the individual consumer. Consumerism may lead people to make choices that prioritize their own desires and comforts over the needs of others. It can foster an environment where economic disparities persist, and vulnerable populations suffer. Consumerism often fosters greed, envy, and a sense of entitlement. The Bible contains numerous passages that caution against the dangers of materialism and greed. For instance, in the New Testament, Jesus warns, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money”5

When a person becomes aware of her consumeristic ways, it can lead to shame because of understanding all the ways she was unaware of her self-deception and unaware of treating others including herself like a commodity. “Believers increasingly relate to religious traditions as repositories of insights and practices that they appropriate for their own personal syntheses.”6 So, why did Nancy really pick up that animal when she knew it was illegal to bring it across the border. Could it be because consumerism often fosters greed, envy, and a sense of entitlement?

1. Miller, Vincent. Consuming Religion. P. 3.
2. Merriam-Webster Dictionary, New edition, 2022. P. 1043.
3. Miller, Vincent. Consuming Religion. P. 12.
4. Ibid. P.148.
5. Ibid. P.145.
6. Ibid. P. 90.

About the Author

Todd E Henley

Todd is an avid cyclist who loves playing frisbee golf, watching NASCAR, making videos, photography, playing Madden football, and watching sport. He is addicted to reading, eating fruits and vegetables, and drinking H2O. His passion is talking about trauma, epigenetics, chromosomes, and the brain. He has been blessed with a sensationally sweet wife and four fun creative children (one of which resides in heaven). In his free time he teaches at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary and is the Founder/Executive Director of Restore Counseling Center.

18 responses to “Religious unawareness, self-deception, and shame.”

  1. Esther Edwards says:

    You had me locked in with your story…the outcome was a surprise! A river rat! Lol! Such an appropriate picture of how consumerism so deceptively lures us in and has the potential to destroy us.
    Unawareness. Self-deception. Shame.
    How often are we like Nancy, not giving awareness to all the ways we are lured in with a consumeristic mindset.
    I’m curious, how does the topic of consumerism give insight to your NPO?

    • Hello Esther. That is a very good question that really made me think. The main way I see consumerism impacting my NPO is that porn companies make billions of dollars off what they do which makes it so easy for men to access it. Actually I have not even thought about this aspect. Thank you Esther for bringing this up.

  2. mm Russell Chun says:

    Hi Todd,

    I LOVED the Mexican River Rat story.

    You wrote, “Consumerism may lead people to make choices that prioritize their own desires and comforts over the needs of others. It can foster an environment where economic disparities persist, and vulnerable populations suffer. Consumerism often fosters greed, envy, and a sense of entitlement.”

    As we discussed in a previous blogpost, Capitalism and its Consumerism are part of our first world landscape. 1 Timothy 6:10 remains true. Money + consumerism, resting on a bed of capitalism. “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

    But while I agree with Miller, this greed has been part of our human DNA for a long time. I just think that our first world mentalities have let it sneak into our Christian culture. However, I see his book as a shot across the bar. A timely warning for Christians to evaluate their spending habits right before CHRISTMAS!


  3. Jenny Dooley says:

    Hi Todd,
    Thank you for the highlighting the roles unawareness, self-deception, and shame play in consumerism. It is so interesting to see how these three play off of each other in so may aspects of life and relationships. I would love to hear more of your thoughts about how we can counter greed, envy, and entitlement. I seems our consuming habits are in relationship to other people. Does it come down to shame and self-worth? Or some thing else?

  4. Travis Vaughn says:

    Todd, your story had me on edge and is actually quite terrifying the more I think/thought about it. So well done in the way you connected the story with Unawareness, Self-deception, and Shame. For your section on “Unawareness,” I thought of the words rootlessness, ahistorical, ignorance, and apathy. And in reality, how far does this rabbit hole go? I’m looking around my own living room as I write this. I know some of the origins — sort of — of the items, but not for most of what’s here. There is so much that correlates to Christian faith, at least the lived Christianity (and much of its “cultural robes”) I’ve experienced in so much of my life. Your post is spot on with the window you’ve opened into this subject. And the terrifying thought of the chihuahua-looking rat will stay with me for quite some time, I am sure.

  5. Cathy Glei says:

    Thank you for the compelling story, Todd. Wow, a river rat! The commonalities you highlighted (unawareness, self-deception, and shame) sound like a part of the “Great Suppression” (Opposite of a Great Awakening in believers). You mentioned that Consumer culture blinds us to how we are actually hurting ourselves and others. . . . the opposite of love.

  6. mm Pam Lau says:

    You clearly gave this week’s reading some deep thought and feeling. Thank you for talking about shame and consumerism–something I believe our younger people voice, experience and are talking about but we have a hard time really hearing. I can hear your compassionate self all through your blog!

  7. mm Jana Dluehosh says:

    Your blog is very compelling. I wonder how our sense of entitlement and access to consuming things brings us to positions of power where we think we can “help” the other, even if they didn’t ask, or we are not aware of all the implications to helping. Sometimes I struggle with how Christians can do this. Not saying all philanthropy is from entitlement, but I sometimes wonder if generosity is a way to balance our purchasing and gaining of wealth. Thank you for your blog. It was very thought provoking.

    • AGAIN! oooh, “help the other even if they didn’t ask.” How do you come up with this stuff? Your response stung because it’s true but now I’m wondering who am I “helping” and hurting? Things that make you go hmmm?

  8. mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:


    This was a riveting story. This post is brilliant. The lack of self-awareness, rush to judgement, and need to do it our way fuel consumerism. I appreciate how you tied the story to the reading. Powerful and thoughtful…thank you.

  9. mm Dinka Utomo says:

    Hi Todd!

    Thank you for your post!

    If I may comment, I would love to read your and Nancy’s story which is both interesting and funny and touching. I was amazed by how you related the story to our reading material.
    My response to your article, “Consumer culture brings an ever increasing self-deception. It blinds us to how we are actually hurting ourselves and others. Nancy put herself and her sister in danger.”
    When it comes to the desires behind consumer culture as Miller sees it, what do you think is dangerous about human desire and how to steer it down a safety path that does not cause harm?

Leave a Reply