Wednesday, May 15, 2024

A culture of shoppers. . .

We are a culture of shoppers.  We are a people who love choice.  We assume that the exercise of choice in the culture of shopping that defines us is a matter of our wills.  The reality is that most of our shopping and most of our choices are not so much willed or even chosen after reflection but impulsive and made in the moment.  Even the drug makers have learned this and bypassed the physicians who prescribe and made their advertising pitch directly to the consumer.  Sitting in the restaurant we look around at what others are eating and often insist that we want what they are having.  Choice and decision are the marks that we use to define what it means to be free.  

Once the culture of shopping and choice gave birth to self-service supermarkets.  We graduated from the general store wherein the shopkeeper put together the box of our goods from the list we supplied to the Piggly Wiggly where we walked down the broad aisles and picked off the choices from the shelves.  Soon the catalog sources became the anchors in malls and then strip malls.  Even medicine has provided physicians (or PAs) on line to handle ordinary things and we shop for a diagnosis and treatment at our convenience -- visiting the doctors only when we must.  Then Covid hastened our move from in person choices and shopping in stores to online purchases or shoppers who packed our orders and put them in our SUVs.  But the principle remained the same.  Shopping is our culture and choice our God.

So it is no wonder that the same principles that govern our retail habits would eventually govern our religion habits.  Covid is not quite to blame but it surely hastened the pace of this evolution.  Turn it on and survey the providers and choose one.  If it turns out to be different from what you expected, there are always more choices.  Shopping is as much fun as the eventual option you settle upon.  The style is at least as important as the substance.  Religion becomes less a matter of belonging and participating than watching.  Community was not personal as much as it meant people watching the same thing on their own screens.

The difficulty we face today lies in religion which cannot be satisfied by screens, sacraments which cannot be bestowed digitally, and community which cannot be fulfilled by distance but a people who have decided that they will remain shoppers, wedded to choice, and the online platforms are their preferred media.  While this is true for those who claim to be Christian, it is also true of those who were once active Christians and those who never were.  Add to this the presumption on the part of these religious consumers that they know what Christianity is and they are not looking to have their minds changed.  It is a combination of what is the substance of the faith and how it is received that combine to confuse and confound those outside and inside the Church today. 

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