Consumer or consumed?
Consuming Religion – Miller
“Parish glamorization is ecclesiastical pornography — taking photographs (skilfully airbrushed) or drawing pictures of congregations that are without spot or wrinkle, the shapes that a few parishes have for a few short years. These provocatively posed pictures are devoid of personal relationships. The pictures excite a lust for domination, for gratification, for uninvolved and impersonal spirituality.” – Eugene Peterson
I got into some trouble with someone in my church a few years back for linking the term “ecclesiastical pornography” with a certain type of Christian television.
This was not well received.
I am such a misunderstood pastor.
The point I was trying to make was along the lines of some of the ideas outlined in Consuming Religion:
- A depiction of spirituality that is disconnected from the reality and the challenges of genuine community lived out locally, in this place and at this time.
- The air-brushing of the Christian life in a way that is driven by marketing and advertising, promising high levels of fulfilment with low levels of commitment.
- The consumption of the Christian message in an abstract way. You don’t actually have to attend church and hang out with real troublesome people, you can just stay at home and watch it all on TV.
- The insistence on individual (“uninvolved and impersonal”) spirituality and satisfaction, distanced and disconnected from the institution and traditions and creeds and ritual of the church body.
- The commodification of belief, resulting in abstraction (abstract beliefs without concrete and specific disciplines and practices) and fragmentation.
The central point for me in Miller’s observations and my own considerations as a local pastor is the paucity of genuine companionship and community against the backdrop of consumerism and the commodification of Christianity.
In the age of Christian television, live-streamed church services, ubiquitous social media and two-faced book, we have a thousand friends, but very few people with whom we genuinely break bread – those whom we might call, in the true sense of the word, companions (com – panis – to share bread with).
Miller’s antidote to this involves naming the problem of commodification, developing negative rituals (such as abstinence and silence) and helping the laity understand and appreciate the living character of tradition.
We need the reality of spiritual practices and disciplines, embedded in genuine local community, rooted in spiritual tradition in order to counteract this individualised, consumerist religion of our day.
 Peterson, Eugene H. Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness. Grand Rapids Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994, 22