It seems that, without our consent, we have been undergoing a transformation from the inside out. Over decades of time, our consumer culture has changed the way we think, feel and behave. At least, this is what Vincent Miller proposes in Consuming Religion. In this book, Miller begins by explaining, “This is not a book about religion against consumer culture; it is a book about the fate of religion in consumer culture.”[i] Admittedly, his words caused me to consider things I haven’t given much thought to. I like the way one review summarized Miller: “It’s a book that might explain why, at Easter time, we more easily ‘crave’ Cadbury chocolates than ‘crave,’ well, the passion of the Christ”[ii] I found this to be painfully insightful.
“When consumption becomes the dominant cultural practice, belief is systematically misdirected from traditional religious practices into consumption…Traditional practices of self-transformation are subordinated to consumer choice.”[iii]
This conversation regarding commodification in religion places me in a tension. On one hand, I am sickened to see the work of believers, who have acted out of a genuine sense of divine calling, be used as general marketing tools to promote the agendas of the many (Miller refers to Mother Theresa t-shirts). However, isn’t it possible that good can come from the message, no matter the vehicle? Could the exposure to the message not lead to practice, or is it doomed to be monetized and then forgotten?
I appreciate the fact that Miller does not leave us in despair with fear of the hopeless demise of Christianity. He invites us to first, name commodification as the problem it clearly is. After this, he challenges the church to increase awareness about consumerism and the human plight it causes. He invites us to draw stronger connections between our doctrine and symbols to give meaning to our faith.[iv] Essentially, he invites us to practice behaviors that are counter-cultural.
Fortunately, I am reminded that there is an answer to the “inside out consumer transformation” Miller talks about. Paul discusses in Romans 12:
“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life – and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.”[v]
I am grateful to Miller for pointing out the potential dangers for the Christian faith. I look forward to reading insights from my cohort-mates as I raise my own level of awareness on this subject. However, I do not despair. Culture is not the greatest source of formation. God has promised to renew us from the inside out.
[i] Vincent Miller, Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture (New York: Bloomsbury, 2003). 1
[ii] David Taylor, “Review of Vincent Miller’s *Consuming Religion*,” Review of Vincent Miller’s *Consuming Religion*, n.d., accessed February 21, 2019, http://artspastor.blogspot.com/2010/03/review-of-vincent-millers-consuming.html.
[iii] Miller, Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture. 225
[v] Romans 12:1-2, The Message