mission shaped church
generations. So religion is less likely to be a matter of culture and more
one of choice.
Consumerism will also affect the ways in which people evaluate truth
claims. The way people think about shopping also becomes the way people
think about `truth'.
When many voices can be heard, who can say that one should be
heeded more than another? . . . When the only criteria left for choosing
between them are learned in the marketplace, then truth appears as
a commodity. We hear the people `buy into' a belief or, rather than
rejecting a dogma as false, they say they `cannot buy' this or that
It is important to distinguish between `consumer society' (a term that
describes the current shape of Western capitalist societies) and the
ideology of `consumerism' (which can be seen as the dominant idolatry of
those societies). In one sense there is no alternative to a consumer society.
That is what we are, that is where we are and that is where we must be
church and embody the gospel. To fulfil our Lord's prayer for the Church
(John 17.15 18) we are called to be church `in' consumer society, but we
dare not let ourselves be `of' consumerism.
At its worst, consumerism creates a self indulgent society.
Pleasure lies at the heart of consumerism. It finds in consumerism a
unique champion who promises to liberate it both from its bondage
to sin, duty and morality as well as its ties to faith, spirituality and
redemption. Consumerism proclaims pleasure not merely as the right
of every individual but also as every individual's obligation to him or
her self. . . . The pursuit of pleasure, untarnished by guilt or shame,
becomes the new image of the good life.
In this, the poor are those who cannot buy things. A consumer society
excludes the poor.
Postmodern society produces its members first and foremost as
consumers and the poor are singularly unfit for that role. For the first
time in history the poor are un functional and useless, and as such
they are, for all practical intents and purposes, `outside society'.
A network and consumer society presents a particular challenge to Christian
mission in general, and to questions of the missionary shape of the Church
in particular. A network society can both connect and fragment. It can
include and exclude at local, national and global levels. Mobility can