Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture Hardcover – Oct 1 2003
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"There is no dearth of jeremiads against the negative consequences of that most durable (because most protean) of modernity's accomplishments: the consumer society. Few of them, however, are tenacious and nuanced enough to grasp what is at stake for a Christian faith and theology that would live faithfully and creatively in such a society. Consuming Religion is, ranging surely and discerningly over the variegated landscape of modern and postmodern critical theory. Its publication signals the addition of a welcome and important voice to a new generation of theologians who are continuing to press the agenda of political and liberation theology in the new millennium."
About the Author
Vincent J. Miller is Gudorf Chair in Catholic Theology and Culture at the University of Dayton, USA. His work has appeared in Horizons, U.S. Catholic Historian, and Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium. In 1996 he received the Outstanding Graduate Student Essay Award of the College Theology Society. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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His main thesis is that the general consumer culture impacts Christian beliefs, narratives, symbols and practices, and that this can be negative, but also that it holds some potential for an authentic representation and communication of Christ. The issue that concerns Miller most is that contemporary spiritual seekers no longer come prepared when they begin building their spiritual values and beliefs. They do not start out with a context of Christendom (pre-established resources, models and traditions connected with past Christian movements), but rather begin to assemble their beliefs and practices with what is on-hand in the cultural marketplace.
Some of this is healthy and positive for the church. Christendom, as it was initiated by Constantine, has certainly been responsible for some reprehensible garbage that people (and the church) have confused with Christ himself over the years. But that's a somewhat different issue. For Miller, he recommends not that Christians necessarily seek to destroy misuse of Christian traditions, symbols and practices (good luck if that's what you're after), but rather that the church needs to teach, model and support the proper use and significance of these entities. In terms of friends outside the church, shallow use of Christian commodities (such as a crucifix around Madonna's neck because "naked men are sexy") are points of contact that provide Christians with the opportunity to engage them in sincere and redemptive conversations.
Additionally, Miller recognizes that Christians who are unaware of consumerism's impact on their own beliefs prefer to think that it cannot influence them in the first place. He wants to raise readers' awareness of the issue and the potential it holds (both good and bad). His bottom line is that Christians need to move beyond mere recognition of the problem, and this book offers a step in that direction. In the meantime, it is up to each of us (as individuals and the church as a whole), to act as responsible and educated agents for the traditions we hold so dear. Most importantly, we must do so IN LOVE. Don't forget that nobody cares what we think until they know that we really care.
Consuming Religion makes a strong case, but Miller struggles to make succinct points and forces readers to wade through gallons of spilled ink to find the pearls.
This book is worth the effort.