Shopping for God (35)

On a less fictional note, but still entertaining, I began James Twitchell’s Shopping for God: How Christianity Went from In Your Heart to In Your Face. The author discloses his religious beliefs to be apatheist (mostly skeptical, though not caring that strongly about it). And his analysis of American religion is almost entirely driven by a focus on marketing, which makes sense since he is a professor of  English and Advertising at the University of Florida. The book is just filled with little tidbits and bits of analysis which string together to say something, though I’m not entirely sure the book is an argument per se. Despite that, there are significant elements of truth and some painfully amusing bits of analysis (his discussion of church signs alone is fun).

One orienting quote (not sourced with certainty, though sometimes attributed to Richard Halverson) sets the stage: “In the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centered on the living Christ. The the church moved to Greece, where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome, where it became an institution. Next, it moved to Europe, where it became a culture. And, finally, it moved to America, where it became an enterprise.” It is as an enterprise, in need of marketing, customers and so on that Twitchell analyzes the church.

He argues that much (most? all?) of what have been identified as “awakenings” are really just innovative marketing schemes. Finney’s preaching, alter call, etc. are paradigmatic. People want to feel spiritual and increasingly “pastorpreneurs” have figured out how to deliver this to their customers without some of the traditional baggage. One final quote from the early chapters: “If you pay attention ot the surge of religiosity moving through American religious culture, you can see that it invariably spotlights the individual believer and delivers the goods lickety-split. No monastery time necessary. You don’t have to carry a cross.” I think this is pretty insightful.

Looking forward to having my thinking jogged along the way.

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