If you’re looking for a fascinating study on how consumerism, capitalism, and Madison avenue have contributed to the watering down of Christianity, you’ll have to get Following Christ in a Consumer Society by John Kavanaugh. I like the subtitle of the book: “The Spirituality of Cultural Resistance.” While I disagree with parts of his Catholic ecclesiology and anthropology, Kavanaugh has some powerful insights in this book that are certainly worth investigating. Here’s a helpful section I appreciated.
“It should not come as a surprise that a follower of Jesus might find himself or herself to be an outsider in a culture dominated by the commodity. It should be no shame to feel different, even to feel a bit disjointed and out-of-place, in a civilization that divinizes the thing [i.e. smartphones, money, bodies, TVs, etc.].”
“A Christian’s values, if they have not been fully acculturated, are bound to be different. If we do not feel different, even embarrassingly different, something is wrong. Madison Avenue-land, television, …radio, advertising, will trigger constant reminders of our almost displaced existence. We will feel like strangers. The facts that life is cheapened, that retaliation and competition are conceived as ultimates, that familial consent and commitment seem alien, that armament and defense are so universally accepted, that fidelity in marriage seems strange – are thus not so dumbfounding as they might first appear.”
“I have heard Christian couples ask quizzically if they were the ‘weird’ ones, so little does anything in this culture seem to agree with their deepest beliefs. They should not be distraught. They have merely come into contact with their faith as a lived, historical option. They have discovered that atheistic communism is not the greatest or only threat to their belief. It is lived atheism – whether capitalistic or communistic – which assaults their faith. And they have finally discovered the closeness of the danger – not in some different land, but in their own culture and its idolatrous belief system” (p. 128-9).
Following Christ in a Consumer Society is an outstanding book that I highly recommend. It is a great discussion of how people have been depersonalized and commodified. It wisely notes how consumerism and marketing ‘evangelize’ people and change they way they live and think. It talks about idols, sex, money, and violence. You’ve got to get this book if you want help navigating through the culture in which we live. Alternatively, you’ve got to get this book if you want to dig deeper in the “Christ and Culture” debate. Kavanaugh’s book will go well with other similar ones like Idols for Destruction, Habits of the High-Tech Heart, The Narcissism Epidemic, Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment, and Perfecting Ourselves to Death.