We want so badly to prosper (or at least have fun!) that we’ve turned wealth into a god and consumer capitalism into a religion. This is a religion complete with MTV and QVC as religious broadcasting, Oprah and Adam Smith as spiritual directors, malls as cathedrals, shopping as discipleship, commercial jingos as hymns and slogans as Scripture, amazon.com as online church, thrift stores as monasteries, bankruptcy as penance, amusement parks as shrines of holy pilgrimage, CEOs as apostles and bishops, celebrities and stars as saints, priests, and idols. “TV becomes an altar before which we don’t kneel but rather recline – entranced, enraptured, open-eyed and open-mouthed in speechless wonder, on pews called couches, eating our communion bread of potato chips and ice cream and sipping our holy wine or beer or Pepsi.” (Brian McLaren, Everything Must Change, 190).
Tom Beaudoin helps us understand how this system functions just like a religion (paraphrased at length from Everything Must Change 190-1):
1. It gives us identity, helping us find or create our true selves. I am the man who wears cologne X, drives car Y, and works out at gym Z. I am the woman who wears dress A, the teenager who listens to music B, or the kind of senior citizen who bonds dentures with product C. What we buy tells us who we are.
2. It welcomes us into a community of kindred shoppers who share our basic convictions – our faith in the power of a cosmetic to turn back the clock, or the power of an automobile to increase sex appeal or style points, or the power of an investment firm to stabilize our security.
3. It develops trust by making and keeping advertising promises. The anxiety of decision-making is reduced when we habitually purchase deodorant H, electric drill J, or computer K.
4. It offers experiences of ecstasy – when we step out of a plane on vacation, when we bite into a chocolate bar, when we sip a fine wine, when we click onto an XXX website.
5. It communicates transcendence through sacred symbols and images – the mystical Nike swoosh that makes us fly, the holy cardinal red of Coke (me!) that saves us through sugar, the iconic Target bullseye promising home decor heaven, or the angelic Golden Arches guiding us to bliss through beef and cheese.
6. It promises us conversion to a new life if we try their product and join the brand “family.” Once you go Mac, you never go back!
7. Ultimately, this religion promises rest for the restless heart, a rest that replaces Augustine’s Confessions with a 30-minute infomercial featuring full testimonials of satisfied (read: HAPPY) customers who truly seem to believe in the product, complete with dramatic before-and-after photos.
I am guilty!!! You?