Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Readings at the Intersection of Culture and Faith: Consumerism and Christian Community

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Readings at the Intersection of Culture and Faith: Consumerism and Christian Community

Article excerpt

Books Discussed

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. By Robert B. Cialdini. Revised Edition. New York: Morrow/HarperCollins, 1993. xvi + 320 pp. $15.00 (paper).

Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic. By John De Graaf, David Wann, and Thomas H. Naylor. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2001. xvi + 268 pp. $24.95 (cloth); $16.95 (paper). Also available as a one-hour PBS videotape from public libraries or from (1-800-543-FROG), which offers steep discounts to "grass roots organizations."

Consuming Desires: Consumption, Culture, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Roger Rosenblatt, ed. Washington, D.C.: Island Press/Shearwater, 1999. vii + 230 pp. $24.95 (cloth).

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. By Barbara Ehrenreich. New York: Henry Holt, 2001. 221 pp. $23.00 (cloth); $13.00 (paper).

Luxury Fever: Money and Happiness in an Era of Excess. By Robert H. Frank. New York: Simon & Schuster/Free Press, 1999 (cloth); Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999 (paper). 326 pp. $25.00 (cloth); $21.95 (paper); $14.99 (e-book).

Dematerializing: Taming the Power of Possessions. By Jane Hammerslough. Cambridge, Mass.: Perseus Publishing, 2001. x + 278 pp. $25.00 (cloth); $16.00 (paper).

The Loss of Happiness in Market Democracies. By Robert E. Lane. The Yale Institute for Social and Policy Studies Series. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000. x + 465 pp. $37.00 (cloth); $19.00 (paper).

"Where your treasure is, there your heart is also," Jesus cautioned. But what about the grief of those who have lost their jobs? What about those for whom decades of retirement savings or college savings have disappeared in the market downturn? In our consumerist culture, these people are doubly bereft: lost income, yes; but worse yet may be the symbolic loss in a culture where the bottom line is the top priority and what we own is the measure of who we are. Who are we if we are broke? The abundance of God makes no sense at all in a market economy where, by definition, only what is scarce has value. And yet the abundance of God is a belief that both consoles our fears and deconstructs the illusions that hold us captive. Although we live in a society of unparalleled prosperity, for instance, we also face a culture of unparalleled consumerism in which more is never enough. As a result, even the prosperous feel needy. Even the successful are driven to work inhuman hours. "Stuff and Salvation" might be a fall adult education program that can meet some of the deepest, most dangerous spiritual needs of our time by laying bare the forces driving our consumerism. The segue to Advent will be effortless.

No doubt the easiest way into these issues is an engaging PBS show-also available as a book-titled Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic. As the title suggests, we face epidemic levels of earning-and-spending: "a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulted from the dogged pursuit of more" (p. 2). We accumulate stuff we don't need; we neglect the things that matter most. The solution they propose is voluntary simplicity, but en route to that proposal the authors provide an accurate and thoughtful account of our culture, including a quick but reliable survey of American cultural history.

In a breezy, accessible manner, Affluenza delineates the scope and the significance of the problems we face. The issue is not pure-and-simple individual greed. The problem is a rootless society structurally dependent in a variety of ways upon ever-escalating levels of material acquisition at the expense of human happiness, community, and moral significance. The authors adeptly and repeatedly acknowledge that various religious traditions warn against what has become the American way of life. This recognition lends a depth to their accounts and generates a variety of picking-up places for parish discussion.

My local public library has two copies of the videotape; if yours doesn't, it can be purchased at a very steep discount from the production company, Bullfrog Films. …

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