Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Christmas in the Light of Theocapitalism

I read, therefore I am.

Well, not quite. But one of my great loves is reading. I read when I drive. I even underline what I read when I drive. I like reading multiples books at once. None of this makes me any better than you. My reading habits disallow me from understanding some basic car and home repair things that would, over time, save me a lot of money.

I'm still reading Brian McLaren's Everything Must Change. I've underlined and noted for myself a lot of things in his book. I think it is a very good book. I think it is a must-read for any ivory-tower theologian who spends their time wondering if people like McLaren are heretics because they have a postmodern epistemology.

The truth is, McLaren is very, very biblical. More biblical to me than a lot of evangelicals I read. He doesn't always get it right, but who does?

On pp. 190 ff. McLaren uses Tom Beaudoin's analysis of what he calls "theocapitalism." Theocapitalism is "godlike consumer media capitalism." Theocapitalism functions like a religion; indeed, it is a very real and very strong religious kind of thing. Here's why (and I quote directly from pp. 190-191).

1. It gives us identity, helping us find or create our true selves - as the kind of man who wears cologne X, or the kind of woman who wears dress Y, or the kind of teenager who buys music Z, or the kind of senior citizen who bonds her dentures and heals her hemorrhoids with Product Q or Product H.

2. It helps us belong to a community of kindred spirits who share our faith - whether that faith is in the power of a cosmetic to produce youth, or the power of a car to produce sex appeal, or the power of an investment firm to give us security.

3. It develops trust by making and keeping advertising promises, and thus reduces the anxiety of making choices, so when we purchase deodorant A, electric drill B, or computer C, we can do so with joy and anticipation.

4. It helps us experience ecstasy - when we step out of a plane on vacation, when we bite a chocolate bar, when we sip a fine wine, when we click into an XXX website.

5. It communicates transcendence through sacred images and symbols - the mystical Nike swoosh that directs us toward transcendence through footwear, the holy cardinal red of a coke sign that saves us through sugar, the iconic Target bulls-eye that draws our concentration to the Center of All Things in the housewares aisle, or the heavenly Golden Arches that guide us to bliss through beef and cheese.

6. It promises us conversion to a new life if we try their product and jouin their brand "family."

7. Ultimately, theocapitalism promises rest for the restless heart - a rest that replaces Augustine's Confessions with a thirty-minute infomercial featuring the testimonials of satisfied customers and believers in the product, complete with dramatic before-and-after photographs.

Theocapitalism, through marketing and advertising and brainwashed word-of-mouthing, creates, ex nihilo, powerful wants and desires for things and products and experiences one does not actually need. And off we go a-shopping again. "Christmas" becomes the "holiday season" of the Chia Pet, for me the ever-resurrected symbol of the god of theocapitalism.
I now have news for you: you do not have to bow before this God. There is another world out there, another kingdom, and it is light and truth and love and it will only cost you your life. It will set you free. It will turn "Black Friday" into "Good Friday." The result will be that theocapitalist things will grow strangely dim, credit card indebtedness will decrease, and you'll have more free time.