Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Consumer Confidence --Matt 6: 24

"No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon [money]."(Matt 6: 24)

I once read a Hugh Nibley essay that warned, among other things, against seeing rebellious youth as more sinful than the socially-respectable men in suits working hard for "power and gain." In other words: we ought to be more alarmed by the yuppie than by the hippie, even more concerned about greed than about lust.

When I read the essay, I felt strongly that Brother Nibley was onto something: the Book of Mormon warns again and again against pride, especially pride based in material wealth. If it's really written for "our day," as we're so fond of saying, then economic sin is the kind we need to most carefully guard against.

I've been thinking about that article again since I ran across this image on the new media news-site Mashable (unlike many images I'm concerned about, I actually feel comfortable posting this one on my blog):

The image is actually quite clever: it takes a recently-minted Facebook icon which is spreading across the web and recontextualizes it in a way that is unexpected and humorous (and by extension, memorable). It's great new media design.

I think it's also fairly troubling.

This isn't the first ad or promotional image I've seen that tries to draw attention to a woman's breasts and doesn't even show her face. It's certainly not the first image that takes sexual attraction out of a normal life context, or that treats it, effectively, as a commodity--an entertainment experience, as it were, for a consumer base.

Thinking about pictures like this one, I'm more and more convinced that divisions between greed and lust are evaporating in our society. The decontextualization and commodification of sexuality in our contemporary, image-driven consumer culture are serious causes for alarm because they show the extent to which Mammon is infiltrating every aspect of life. It was bad enough when lust was a deadly sin. Now it's also a product, and part of a product-mentality that is bad, bad, bad (at least according to Jesus) for our souls.

I'm also more and more convinced that I've been wrong, over the years, to think of corporate execs with fancy cars and McMansions as being unique symbols of the worship of Mammon. The average American consumer, I think, is capable of an amazing amount of Mammon worship without ever noticing that something is wrong. We are all poster children for the money cult. We're all sell-outs to a system that isn't getting any less wrong.

We've got to find a way to live less as consumers and more as brothers and sisters if we're going to keep calling ourselves religious. That's no easy task, though, in a world that sees itself in products and has gotten very, very good at hiding the true costs.


  1. I am obviously a woman. I found the t-shirt message a little bemusing--perhaps a comment on being positive about, well, everything. A t-shirt seems so modest compared to most things that I was quite surprised by your conclusion (tho' I'm sure you're right). -Mama Caucajewmexdian

  2. Yeah...the T-shirt itself is pretty tame, which is why I can post it in my blog. Other examples I'd be less comfortable sharing. What I think is there even in this T-shirt is the commodity aspect. So it's a possible starting point for a larger conversation.

  3. The Institute director at my undergrad uni had to explain to a group of students that the law of consecration was not capitalistic. I thought that was an obvious point, but apparently it was news to a lot of the students.

    The most insidious aspect of capitalism is how it makes it's practitioners unable to even consider any other way to live. Capitalism offers every choice imaginable except the one most important, whether or not to consume.

  4. I'd argue that the Law of Consecration is actually closer to capitalism than socialism. Socialism is forcefully administered from the top, down, whereas capitalism isn't even really a system but simply the natural consequence of freedom, allowing people to volitionally live altrusitically, or, all too commonly, materialistically. But the agency to choose is key. I really appreciate this article, as I believe we far too commonly accuse the corporate fat cats of pride, sin and corruption, when the same sins are absolutely rampant in the middle and lower classes. A move toward Zion will certainly not be accomplished through any political paradigm shift as much as a spiritual. Our quest is to live the Law of Consecration, in thought and deed, without being compelled to do so.

  5. The Law of Consecration is -ism less.

    It's not captitalist because it explicitly rejects the notion of private property, because it depends on working in order to produce good, not in order to gain wealth. It's not about capital. But neither is it really about society, or even about community. The law of consecration is divided from socialism not only by the lack of legal enforcement, but also because socialism is ideologically focused on placing collective over individual, and consecration is not.

    The Law of Consecration benefits the whole, but its aim is not to benefit the whole, but to aid the one. It does not place individual over collective, or collective over individual. Rather, it refuses to create such a dichotomy.

    The Law of Consecration is neither individual or communal, it is relational. It is about love for God and love from God, love for people and from people-- and not love for an abstracted idea of people as a whole, of humanity, but direct relational bonds of love between people.

    Our political words and theories are old bottles which cannot hold the fullness of the Lord's love for his children.

  6. Or, I should add, his children's potential to love each other.

  7. I definitely agree that the spiritual shift is significant and most immediate.

    To actually achieve any kind of utopia--Zion or otherwise--it is going to be necessary to reorganize society, though. It's very difficult to be American, for example, and simply choose to use one's fair and equal share of oil: few houses are close enough to both jobs and stores to go without oil-based modes of transportation. And even if I could find such a place, our current system is such that I'll probably still use more fuel just visiting relatives (a righteous thing to do, right?) than average people once used in their entire lives. The social system sort of sets a reasonable frame for my choices: there are some things that are basically impossible to do based on individual agency alone.

    I can't make a Zion on my own, no matter how much I were to choose it. No one can. Zion is and will need to be a matter of collective action as well as individual action. And collective action which reshapes society is "political" whether or not it ever impacts a vote.

    So, while personal reform comes first, I don't believe it's the only obligation to the world that we have.

  8. OK; that last comment was for Stephen Gashler.

    For lionofzion: I like the old bottles analogy.

    I don't know if the "new bottles" are something we just wait for, something we actively seek out, or what.

    If nothing else, though, let's talk about some of the problems with the old bottles.

  9. Considering that not only do T-shirts use sex to sell, but that movies and television and books and video games, etc. do as well, you can make a pretty strong argument that the "cause" of rampant immorality in our entertainment is the desire for money.



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