Consumerism as Folk Religion: Transcendence, Probation and Dissatisfaction with Capitalism

The full paper (conference text here) is now published in Studies in Christian Ethics (Vol.28, No.4, pp.447-60).

Here’s the conclusion (p.459f.):

Religious perspectives that place less emphasis on dogma and more on narratives and stories can find themselves in alliance with imaginative consumer citizens who (as evidenced by practice of Fairtrade, despite its flaws) have an intuitive understanding of the wrongs of inequality and a utopian skill of picturing alternative worlds—helped by the fact that capitalism inadvertently (as Debord states) even turns dissatisfaction itself into a commodity and that the imaginative hedonist turns ‘desiring itself into a pleasurable activity’, leading into a dominance of the very curiosity Augustine so vehemently rejected:

“When the senses demand pleasure, they look for objects of visual beauty, harmonious sounds, fragrant perfumes, and things that are pleasant to the taste or soft to the touch. But when their motive is curiosity, they may look for just the reverse of things, simply to put it to the proof, not for the sake of an unpleasant experience, but from a relish for investigation and discovery. What pleasure can there be in the sight of a mangled corpse, which can only horrify?”

One could reply that, at least, this curiosity means that the evil in the world does not go unnoticed and unchallenged—a humanitarian concern that is shared by religious and secular activists. A religious practice, however, that joins in with Augustine in his gratitude that God’s law ‘permits the free flow of curiosity to be stemmed by force’ and advocates the ‘bitter medicine’ ‘from the schoolmaster’s cane to the ordeals of martyrdom’ will find a formidable and tenacious adversary in the folk religion of consumerism. And so will any other pedagogy of canes and martyrs

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