Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Idols of the Nations

Over the next few days, I am hoping to share some quotes from a book I recently read, Brand Jesus. The author, Tyler Wigg Stevenson, poses the frightening reality of consumerism in America, especially the effect this principality has had on the Church in America. Without doubt, Stevenson's work is one of the most challenging and piercing books I have ever read. Stevenson describes what it means for us to live in a consumeristic society:

"Consumer goods ceased to be simply the things that we bought to eat, to cover our bodies from the elements, to shelter us, and to move us from place to place. And, while such goods had always served to delineate classes of people, in these decades, their ubiquity led to their becoming the very building blocks of our self-understanding as human beings" pg. 15

"To live in a consumeristic world means that who we understand ourselves to be is deeply and significantly related to what we buy/consume. And this is true to a much greater extent than we'd like to imagine. In the act of consumption, we purchase our very sense of selves...And with the digital age, the ideal of self creation through consumption has gained a new potency, given that technologically enabled, digital forms of identity are the most complete 'selves' that we can gain through purchases, without having anything given to us." pg. 27

Stevenson goes on to identify the problem with looking for our sense of meaning and self understanding from a certain consumer lifestyle or branding:

"Like prayers offers to idols, we offer the resource of our devotion to the consumer selves that are utterly of our own making. These consumer lifestyles are the never-finished goals of our own quest for meaningfulness, order, and location in the world, but they lack any integral ability to grant us what we ask from them. That we ourselves believe the meaning we ascribe to them is not surprising." pg. 44

Stevenson's words echo Psalm 135:

"The idols of the nations are merely things of silver and gold, shaped by human hands. 
They have mouths but cannot speak, and eyes but cannot see. 
They have ears but cannot hear, and noses but cannot smell. 
And those who make idols are just like them, as are all who trust in them."
Psalm 135: 15-18

Simply put, idols, or as Stevenson puts it, "consumer goods", don't deliver. They never have. They never will. I think Stevenson has a point when he talks about the motivation behind our consumption. No matter how immaterialistic you believe yourself to be, we are all trying to "brand" ourselves in a sense. We all try to build an identity off of something. In our culture, it tends to be consumer goods that brand you as part of a particular group or status.

As I will post in the coming days, Stevenson contends that this consumerism has entered American Christianity in a rather detrimental way; not merely in a rising tendency for American Christian's to "church hop," but primarily in the way Christianity has been deduced to a brand identity or accessory that we add to our self created identity. More in the days to come. 

Tyler Wigg Stevenson, Brand Jesus: Christianity in a Consumerist Age, (Seabury Books, New York, 2007). 

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