The Jesus of American Consumerism (or: The Commodified Jesus)

 Here’s a great piece from Stephen Nichols’ wonderful book, Jesus: Made in AmericaNichols asks the question: “What happens to Christ in this culture of consumerism?  This question becomes all the more urgent when the negative influence of the commercialization and marketing of Christ gets noticed by a watching and increasingly more cynical public.”

“Such marketing of Christianity hasn’t escaped the ever-sardonic, animated show The Simpsons.  In an episode entitled “She of Little Faith,” disaster has come to Springfield as a rocket, launched by Homer Simpson, crashes into the church.  Left without resources to repair the church, the congregation consents to allow Mr. Burns, looking rather devilish, to rebuild the church join the condition that it operates like a business.  The church will now be sponsored, like a NASCAR team, complete with banners and commercial announcements by the pastor during the sermons.  Pews are replaced with theater seats, and kiosks surround the interior of the church auditorium, along with concession stands and JumboTrons.”

“Amidst the gaping mouths and wide eyes, the sagacious character Lisa is dumbfounded.  She asks, ‘What are they doing to the church?” only to be met with the reply, “We’re re-branding it.  The old church was skewing pious.  We prefer a faith-based emporium with impulse-buy items.”  The new church is also re-branding Jesus.  Throughout the building , the sacred and the secular mix, as religious icons appear alongside corporate logos.  One such icon is a prominently placed statue of Jesus, complete with a lasso.  When Lisa skeptically asks about it, Homer replies that Jesus looks like a cowboy ‘because he’s all man.’  Disgusted, Lisa leaves the church, embracing Buddhism through the help of Richard Gere, playing a caricature of himself.  By the end of the episode she realizes that leaving Christianity means leaving Christmas, which means leaving presents.  The siren call lures her back.”

Here are Nichols’ conclusions.

“Escaping consumer culture indeed is tricky business.  Materialism, since the time the golden calf hopped out of the fire for the Israelites in the wilderness, seduces and draws us in.  The seduction becomes all the more entangling when these commodities and products, their makers tell us, aid in the task of evangelizing.  Why wouldn’t you buy the T-shirt, bumper sticker or wall plaque if, as an added bonus, someone might come to Christ because of your bold and unashamed witness?  In a culture with such pressures, commodifying Christ becomes all to easy.  Equally, such selling of Jesus becomes all too problematic, if not lethal, for the church and the gospel.  The truth is, to many in the watching world, consumer Christianity is sacrilegious, not to mention that it just plain looks silly, which is precisely the lesson taught in this parable of The Simpsons episode.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Here’s the book info: Stephen Nichols, Jesus: Made in America, pages 175-176.

shane lems