As a pastor in New York City, I've found myself challenged to think more deeply about “stuff." I've come to believe that the truth about what we too casually name “materialism” is not so simple. It ought to be clear, after all, that God doesn’t hate stuff. Witness the creation story. God invents stuff. At the end of each of six days, God engages in self-congratulation, pronouncing serial evening benedictions on the stuff created that day: “Good!”
Reverend Billy, otherwise known as Bill Talen, sports poorly dyed blond hair blown and sprayed back in a mighty bowl. In his cheap white suit and a clergy collar, he invites consumers to a booth where they can “confess your shopping sins” and be absolved. He is the pastor of the Church of Stop Shopping, and his Shopocalypse tour has been captured on film in What Would Jesus Buy? directed by Rob VanAlkemade and produced by Morgan Spurlock (creator of Super Size Me).
For a while it was expensive watches that most tempted the very rich. More recently it’s been handbags for women, which are intended to be iconic advertisements for designers and to flaunt the wealth of the owners. These are presumably people who survived the dot-com crash and the subprime crisis and have the trophies to prove it.
We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us,” Winston Churchill said to Parliament in 1943 after Nazi bombs destroyed the House of Commons. Churchill’s intuition was that the physical places we construct and inhabit shape the nature of our discourse.
Paco Underhill, a marketing enhancer, and Michael Dawson, a critic of the capitalistic marketing system, are working to achieve opposite goals, yet their books supplement each other in unexpected ways.
Two books exploring the dynamics of consumerism in the context of Christian faith are enlivening the marketplace of ideas. In an accessible style sure to have wide appeal, Tom Beaudoin argues for an economic spirituality. Vincent J.