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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Egads! Shop now and (be) save(d)!

I think I have a book to write about this, but I have something else to write just now, so I'll just supply the link and a little more:

Naomi Schafer Riley reviews briefly and well the book "Shopping for God" by James B. Twitchell in the Wall Street Journal. Twitchell claims, without evident irony, that "Choosing a religion, he argues, is much like choosing any other product - from breakfast food to beer"* It sounds shocking but not surprising - turn the word 'pastorpreneurs' over in your head a bit - and if Twitchell is serious in what he says, this seems a wakeup call for the church in America (not the West as a whole). It poses the serious question of how to imagine our faith and the church in a way which is not wholly compromised by marketing, consumption, and economic metaphors.

It is worth noting, though, that it is not the opposite of such things, and there is a hallowed (?)tradition of combining consumption with Christian faith - purchase of mementos from pilgrimage sites being an early and obvious example. In some ways (not totally) the entire travel and souvenir industries stem from this practice of pilgrimage. This is only one example of a number that could be given. It might be worth looking closely at the practice of consumption - perhaps from a phenomonological perspective - to see, anthropologically and sociologically speaking, what human need is met, and how that might relate to religious faith.

But that aside, it does seem - and here I'm trying to be discerning and make a judgement, an activity which always implies that it could be otherwise** - that this might be one of the major tasks of the church in America (in particular***) in the early twenty first century: how do we imagine Christian faith as something other than business or personal preference? And how, through that, can we imagine genuine human life as something broader and richer than economics and consumption, both of which properly serve human life as a part of it, rather than becoming dominant modes of discourse and imagination?

I think I ought to read Twitchell's book - although I don't know when I possibly can - but I expect it will make me sick to my stomache. (Maybe Christmastide would be good.)


*This is Riley's summary of Twitchell's thesis; I am at the mercy of her summation skills!

**As opposed to, say, an arithmetic equation or logical syllogism, which require no judgement, discernment, or argumentation per se.

*** My experience of the church in England is quite different than this; there is generally a rather different sort of imagination here about such things which is not as easily reduced to these (economic) kinds of metaphors.

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