Tuesday, 14 September 2010

The Alter of Consumerism

“the faithful have been flocking to the altar of consumerism”

Ponder on that for a while, I certainly have since I saw it this morning in a news article about the papal visit to Britain.

The article concerns the amount of memorabilia surrounding the pageantry of the Pope’s first visit to the UK, among other things it mentions a ‘pocket Popemobile’ and a ‘Benedictaphone’ to record the Pontiffs’ words. Whilst it is easy to laugh at such thinks and wonder who on earth would buy them, perhaps we should instead think about the seriousness of the issue?

Obviously there are people out there buying these things because they’ve been indorsed by the church, believing that in some way they will be a better Christian for it. The people of the flock worshiping on the alter of consumerism. It’s not really any different from the old practice of the rich being able to pay (the money supposedly going to charity) an indulgence for their sins to be forgiven. Before we puff our self up, thinking that ‘I’d never do anything like that’ maybe we should remove the plank from our own eye?

Who among us has brought a WWJD band? Or an expensive cross to hang round our neck, a hoddie with some slogan only a Christian would understand or even a pretty bible? Is this any different? It is more subtly and it is ingrained in western culture but it is no less consumerism. I have fallen here in the past, because it was the ‘in thing’ I brought a WWJD band and proceeded to show it off (subtlety of course) to all my Christian friends, it was something that at that time made me feel more Christian. Think on it.

I shall finish this post, as I started, with a quote from the same article. Goddard’s response here illustrates just how subtle consumerism can be, after all it looks like the church is endorsing it.

“But if simony is the sin of trafficking sacred things, isn't buying religious memorabilia wicked shopping?
Probably not, says Goddard. After all, some of the items are sanctioned by the church.”


  1. To what extent would you advocate the dismantling of industries that make products with a Christian basis? Or are you just advocating discretion, and considering what you truly do and don't need?

    As someone aiming to write from a Christian perspective, I would not want some kind of cult following (which was what I thought was so horrible about LaHaye and Jenkins and the Left Behind garbage, as well as certain other examples I could cite), but I would want to hope that there'd be a buyer out there.

  2. I think I'd argue that some products should not be sold. Some of the tat I've seen has no real reason to be, save to make the sellers lots of money. For instance, I'm sure you can buy pencils which have a cross on them: What would be the point of owning such an item? Would it not be reminiscent of the Pharisees praying on the street corner, the only purpose it could serve (save writing which a normal pencil would do just as well) would be to proclaim ‘I’m holier than thou’.

    However for certain items we need to be more discerning, for instance if we see someone with a pocket Bible and someone else with a huge Bible complete with concordances then our human nature will assume that the person whose Bible has the concordance is wiser. Some people will by a ‘big’ Bible with these thoughts in mind and never read or use the concordance. Does that mean that we should stop selling Bibles with concordances? By no means. We must just be careful that when we buy a Bible we do it entirely with the intention of dwelling deeper in God’s word.

    The issue of buying books is similar: Am I buying this book to learn from and grow in my Christian faith or because I know the name on the cover? Will it just sit on the bookshelf unread for people to appreciate or would you be willing to pass it on after reading?

    What do you think? Would be interesting to hear an authors perspective, someone who is essentially selling a Christian product.

  3. It is a tough one. Looking at our attitude to spending, I would agree that buying things for buying's sake is not a healthy thing and that there is too much of it about (not my strong point, I’ll admit!). We are given many gifts by God (money being one of the) which we are advised to use wisely. (Matthew 25:14-30). There are reasons that people might like to purchase "Religious memorabillia" I think, but like everything we need to be wise in what we buy, and we need to keep our motives in check.

    People keep things to remind them of God and what He means to them. Waring a cross or WWJD bangle for eg can be seen like this. I ware my cross all the time, as it reminds me of the comitment I've made to God, and what he's done for me (I do need constant reminding!). I keep pens in my handbag to lend / give to people when they need them. such things can be used in the field of witness I think. Perhaps a parent may choose to fill their child's pencil case with reminders of the God they love rather than things with the playboy logo on them (for example, admitedly a more extreeme one!).

    At the same time I know that you can get to a point where you just have a load of clutter that’s never used, and that does no one any good. As discussed, these items may become a stumbling block to people, and if this is the case stay clear of them. I suppose another issue would be if its better not to sell them at all if they are likely to create a stumbling block for people? Perhaps this is a good way to look at it: If you want it to glorify yourself then it’s not needed. If you feel it helps you (or others) in your journey with God, perhaps there is an argument for this… or perhaps God wishes us to invest our money in other things. Just a thought.

    Sorry, I didn’t mean this to be so long! As for the responsibilities and motivations of the people selling us stuff, perhaps that can be saved for another comment. It is a tough call when the money is going to the Church / an organisation you support (eg with the products sold for the Pope’s visit). To what extent would you disagree with the Church/ christian organisations buying/ selling anything to raise funds/ create interest?

  4. ps: hope the above doesn't come across as being "I’m holier than thou". not intended to be... Would be the first to admit that I'm really not!

  5. I do agree with you that things are not as black and white as I portrayed, I focused on extremes to try and make my point. I just want to make clear that I don’t have a problem with people wearing a WWJD band or a cross, they can both be items to help us proclaim what we believe in, but they can also simply be a fashion statement. For instance this cross costs £2300. Would it not be better to spend £10 on a cheap cross and give the rest to the poor (I’d like to acknowledge that I’m writing this as a hypocrite)? I can’t really see the point of such an item, surely it’s more likely to proclaim ‘I’m rich’ rather than ‘I’m a Christian’.

    To react to the point about the money going to charity: The cost for a Christian organisation (who don’t specialise in it) making something to sell will be more than the product would cost elsewhere. So if you need the product, buy it elsewhere and give the difference in cost to the Church and they’d get more money. If it’s something that you don’t need, then just give the entire cost to the Church. That way people won’t see the object and know that you’ve given money. The giving will have been done in secret and no-one will be able to cast aspersions on your motivation.

    I know that this is easy to say but hard to do, and I don’t really know if, given human nature, it would work, but it does (at least to me) make logical sense. Finally, I’d just like to add that it’s fairly likely that those selling these ‘Christian’ products are not themselves Christians, in these cases I really can’t see any justification for buying them at all.

    It would be good to hear your response to this, especially in regards to non-Christians selling Christian paraphernalia.

  6. Of course, we do have to consider where the low cost might--in some cases--come from: is it efficiency or exploitation? Research behooves us.

    Physical objects, books, and songs can remind us of our relationship with God; we should never abuse them or go overboard, but we do by nature respond to such reminders. To me it's in the reason we buy or create something: are we doing it because we feel the need to follow a trend, or because we genuinely seek to remind ourselves of what it means to be Christians?

    I agree there's a lot of junk out there. That said, I think a lot has to do with the motivations of those who create a thing and those who are the consumers.

    While I have yet to see my first professional submission in print, when it comes to why I write with Christian themes, it isn't to become a bestseller. It's because I felt moved to share a message--no more, no less. Like I said, I don't have any desire to become some sort of public figure, but I do think that when a Christian artist puts something out there, it is and should be about that message. The person should be credited and compensated fairly, but minimized in terms of notoriety. That's just my take.

  7. I don’t disagree at all: Art of all kinds is about sharing a message, Christian art should not be for profit, but the creator still needs to eat.

    I would however make a distinction between art (in all its forms, including books) which seeks to convey a message, and purely physical objects: Things to which the Christian element has just been adorned, simply to sell the object to a different audience.

    I think this is an important distinction, but as ever I speak in black and white and the line dividing these different categories is gray.

  8. Profit is what it takes to eat, though, if you intend to make a living off of your art. Unless you think no Christian artist should be a full-time artist?

    But personally, I have a much bigger problem with notoriety than profit. Profit can be a just reward for exceptional performance, and if used wisely, can do tremendous good. Hoarded for the sake of money, that's not good at all. But I do not begrudge people money just because they have money. It's all in how they use it.

    Notoriety, though--doing it for show--that's what I think can become very dangerous unless the artist is extremely humble and knows how to deflect attention away from themselves, since the risk is that people will see the artist and not God. (Obviously the hardest area to do this would be music, since people have to see you in concert. But I still think the effort should be made.)