Religion, Consumerism and Sustainability: Paradise Lost? (Consumption and Public Life)

A Golden Age for Dystopian Fiction
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Nothing else of woman is left. And a bulbous sagging gash sutured over and over where. Equal rights for women, emancipation, Reconstruction, civil rights: so many hopes, dashed; so many causes, lost. Pisan pictured a city of women; Lincoln believed in union; King had a dream. Yuknavitch and El Akkad and Winters unspool the reels of those dreams, and recut them as nightmares.

Most early-twentieth-century dystopian novels took the form of political parables, critiques of planned societies, from both the left and the right. After the war, after the death camps, after the bomb, dystopian fiction thrived, like a weed that favors shade. Much postwar pessimism had to do with the superficiality of mass culture in an age of affluence, and with the fear that the banality and conformity of consumer society had reduced people to robots. Cold War dystopianism came in as many flavors as soda pop or superheroes and in as many sizes as nuclear warheads. But, in a deeper sense, the mid-century overtaking of utopianism by dystopianism marked the rise of modern conservatism: a rejection of the idea of the liberal state.

It has sold more than eight million copies. The second half of the twentieth century, of course, also produced liberal-minded dystopias, chiefly concerned with issuing warnings about pollution and climate change, nuclear weapons and corporate monopolies, technological totalitarianism and the fragility of rights secured from the state.

There were, for instance, feminist dystopias. But rights-based dystopianism also led to the creation of a subgenre of dystopian fiction: bleak futures for bobby-soxers. Dystopianism turns out to have a natural affinity with American adolescence. And this, I think, is where the life of the genre got squeezed out, like a beetle burned up on an asphalt driveway by a boy wielding a magnifying glass on a sunny day. It sizzles, and then it smokes, and then it just lies there, dead as a bug.

Some of these books are pretty good. All of them are characterized by a withering contempt for adults and by an unshakable suspicion of authority. Lately, even dystopian fiction marketed to adults has an adolescent sensibility, pouty and hostile. His walkaways are trying to turn a dystopia into a utopia by writing better computer code than their enemies. Every dystopia is a history of the future. What are the consequences of a literature, even a pulp literature, of political desperation? The duel of dystopias is nothing so much as yet another place poisoned by polarized politics, a proxy war of imaginary worlds.

If we keep abusing nature, it is at our own peril. Ecosystems, Biomes, and Habitats , Franklin Institute, World Biomes , Blue Planet Biomes, Wikipedia -- Biomes , Global - List of Ecoregions , Wikipedia Commentary -- Biomes are very large ecosystems composed of aggregates of ecosystems. Therefore, they provide the same valuable benefits as listed at the end of section 4. Renewable and Nonrenewable Energy Sources.

We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect. Energy Charting Tool , BP, Although oil demand is expected to drop by 2. Hubbert, M. Commentary -- This is Hubbert's curve click for a larger image : "A bell-shaped oil production curve, as originally suggested by M. King Hubbert in Commentary -- It will be interesting to see the interplay between supply and demand of oil during the next two decades, and the production costs increase on the down side of the curve.

If any readers know about some other measure s , or want to propose an alternative measure, please contact the editor. Commentary -- The transition from nonrenewable to renewable and clean energy sources is not the complete solution to all impending global issues, but it is part of the solution. The following energy analysis widget is useful to retrieve plotted time patterns of energy production and consumption by country: Developed by Jon McLoone, June - Courtesy of WolframAlpha. Pollution, Climate Change, and Environmental Management.

Our ethical traditions know how to deal with suicide, homicide and even genocide, but these traditions collapse entirely when confronted with biocide, the killing of the life systems of the earth, and geocide, the devastation of the earth itself. Commentary -- If current trends persist, it will not be long before the most ubiquitous hazards to human health will be eating food , drinking water , and breathing air. Follow the money trail or lack thereof. The term "institutional quality" is tricky. The decisive factor is not the "poor quality" of government and other institutions in developing countries.

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Poverty breeds poverty, both quantitatively and qualitatively. The decisive factor is the accounting practice of treating environmental and social costs as "externalities" that need not be paid by multinational corporations and their customers. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.

Evaluation of transboundary pollution loads , Helsinski Commission, For the same reason stated at the end of the preceding section. Another case example is the Clean Development Mechanism , a Kyoto compromise that allows "industrialized countries with a greenhouse gas reduction commitment to invest in ventures that reduce emissions in developing countries as an alternative to more expensive emission reductions in their own countries.

Again, follow the money trail. With my hands I stretched out the heavens. All the stars are at my command.

Conscious Consumerism: Does it make a difference

It includes links to some very recent scientific reports and the latest news about "climategate. Cosmic-ray-driven electron-induced reactions of halogenated molecules adsorbed on ice surfaces: Implications for atmospheric ozone depletion , Qing-Bin Lu, Physics Review, 3 December A preliminary assessment of the Copenhagen Accord , Grist, 20 December Copenhagen: a look back at the most striking narratives , Grist, 22 December After Copenhagen: The agreement reached last week lends fresh urgency to challenges in science and communication , Nature, 24 December Copenhagen blame game is obstacle to climate deal , Grist, 29 December Where things stand on the Copenhagen Accord and international climate politics , Grist, 1 February Lemonick, Scientific American Magazine, October 25, Closing the Climategate , Nature, Volume , 18 November The following map is self-explanatory click for a larger image : Image created by Robert A.

Rohde, Global Warming Art. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win. Impacts of Climate Change , Climate Institute, Directory of Climate Resources , Climate Institute, Links to Educational Resources , Climate Institute, Directory of Energy Resources , Climate Institute, Directory of International Resources , Climate Institute, Effects of Pollution , NexPlan, But these Reference Scenario trends have profound implications for environmental protection, energy security and economic development.

The continuation of current trends would have dire consequences for climate change. They would also exacerbate ambient air quality concerns, thus causing serious public health and environmental effects, particularly in developing countries. No man may oblige the lands he owns or occupies or those that succeed him in that occupation to debts greater than those that may be paid during his own lifetime. Because if he could, the world would belong to the dead and not to the living.

Commentary -- "The outstanding scientific discovery of the twentieth century is not television, or radio, [or computers! Only those who know the most about it can appreciate how little we know about it. The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant: "What good is it? If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts?

To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering. Sustainable Urbanization , Cogeneration Technologies, Sustainable urbanization: Cities and their surrounding countryside , Cobb, Huaren, Agriculture and Rural Development , World Bank, Choose your energy sources , Paladin Studios, The Netherlands, From the press release: "The game starts with a small village and a bit of land to build on. There is a simple drag-and-drop interface, with which players can build structures and expand their city. They then need to balance People, Planet and Profit - all while supplying the growing city with sufficient electricity and minimizing fossil fuel use.

When done well, players can level up their city, providing them with more room to build and extra building options. Dylan Nagel, product manager for EnerCities: "Each decision influences the score: for example, if you build a nuclear plant, you minimize impact on your environment. The downside is that if you put it close to residential areas, your citizens will get unhappy. However, when a forest is positioned next to a residential area, your citizens will be happier and healthier. This leads to interesting dilemmas.

TRY IT! Principles for Sustainable Agriculture , Farming First, Countries join initiative to improve their prospects for agricultural development , ReliefWeb, Land Resources Management , World Bank, Weather based agricultural management , India Development Gateway, Commentary -- The ISO Standards Organization probably offers the most comprehensive set of best practices and quality standards.

The ISO standards are disciplined and auditable, but also allow time for corrective action when deviations are found. These standards are developed by committees of experts from around the world. The standards require registration and have "shalls" which are auditable once or twice a year. ISO also publishes guideline documents, i. The ISO standards and best practices pertaining to agriculture should be carefully considered by agricultural developers.

All the standards include training modules and human development practices for all members of the organization being certified. They prescribe nothing that should not be done for responsible corporate management. It is lamentable that so many corporations fail to pursue certification or even have they certificates revoked and prefer to cut corners in their desperate pursuit of cost minimization and profit maximization in the short-term.

Camelot is no longer to be found in the executive suites of multinationals; it has relocated to sub-Saharan Africa. Commentary -- Long food supply chains are expensive and generate pollution. Rural and urban development should be tightly coupled, so that cities can minimize the food they get from far away sources. Consumers who want to get "turrones" from Spain, "panetones" from Italy, and French wine should be willing to pay a fair "ecofood" tax.

The dollar bill is the best rationing card ever devised. In order to level the field, the poor and the elderly should get food stamps for a reasonable allowance of those items. Governments should practice restraint in food services at all levels. There is nothing wrong with serving modest quantities of simple food to visiting dignitaries. In fact, it would be good for their health. It is also estimated that 2. When the choice is between inadequate sanitation and dying of thirst, poor people who are Homo sapiens sapiens have the right priorities: drinking takes precedence over taking a bath.

For years, the developed nations were reluctant to invest in these projects due to "budgetary constraints. Interesting, isn't it? It seems that Abigail Adams was right: "We have too many high-sounding words, and too few actions that correspond with them. Current Outlook for the Planet and Human Civilization. Note: This section provides links to graphical or narrative snapshots on some critical issues of the "state of the world" as of February , and a brief compilation of the growing number of "state of the world" reports.

These annual reports are the flagship publications of many organizations engaged in sustainable development at the global level, and they are generally contain credible information and data in narrative, tabular, or graphical format. However, they never mention a factor that is of critical importance: the influence sometimes positive, sometimes negative of religious traditions and institutions. World Population , Wikipedia as of 8 January Current trend click on the chart to see a larger image : "World population from to based on UN projections red, orange, green and US Census Bureau historical estimates black.

The lack of education on responsible use of the gift of love and the gift of life is a much bigger problem. This bigger problem is further exacerbated by the growth in material consumption per capita and the culture of consumerism. The challenge is to foster cultural change pursuant to rejection of irresponsible sex and recognition that what really matters is to be more, not to have more.

The following is a decisive emerging trend in the secular sphere: "Women are unquestionably the largest new international player on the world stage today, and are shaping local, national, and global change in a variety of innovative ways. In recent years, most notably, women have been morphing from the passive beneficiaries of international development efforts to the powerful leaders that help bring about such change.

Some Christian churches remain attached to the patriarchal mentality: Prime Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori Primate, Episcopal Church Anglican Communion Religious patriarchy is an obstacle to integral human development. Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc. Reprinted with Permission Visit the Women Priests web site Commentary -- Phallocentric clericalism is an obstacle to sustainable development and, in particular, to integral human development.

It has nefarious effects in both men and women who are trying to overcome the phallic syndrome. Men need women to develop integrally, and women need men. Else, it is very hard for men to get in touch with the feminine in them anima and for women to get in touch with the masculine in them animus ; and this is crucial for healthy growth in the inner life. This in turn cannot but have a harmful effect on all dimensions of social life. Check out the case examples listed in section 2. This cannot possibly be God's will, since God wants only what is good for humanity.

And yet, for some reason, it is very hard for most religious patriarchs to recognize this and act accordingly. Let us pray for the churches that risk doing what is right even if this might induce internal turbulence. Some current numbers: 2. Commentary -- Some primitive cultures practiced human sacrifice, including the sacrifice of children. But taking good care of children is now a moral imperative for civilized humans. In Swahili, the word "tunza" means "to treat children with care or affection. There is a saying, "every time a baby is born is a confirmation that God still has confidence in humanity.

Islamic quotation: "Kill not your children for fear of want: We shall provide sustenance for them as well as for you. Verily the killing of them is a great sin" Qur'an UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child : "Children shall be protected from practices which may foster racial, religious, and any other form of discrimination. They shall be brought up in a spirit of understanding, tolerance, friendship among peoples, peace and universal good will, and in full consciousness that their energy and talents should be devoted to the service of humanity.

Definition: The biosphere is "the zone where life is found; the outer portion of the geosphere and the inner portion of the atmosphere. This extends from 3 m below the ground to some 30 m above it. The biosphere also comprises that region of waters, some m deep, where most marine and freshwater life is found.

If anyone can provide an evidence-based answer, please contact the editor. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. The following web sites provide all kinds of information and data for the entire world. Connection of Civilizations , World Connectors, Global Issues: social, political, economic and environmental issues that affect us all , Global Issues, Mitigation of consumption and pollution trends can buy time and should be encouraged but, in the long term, a substantial degree of adaptation will be required in terms of the interaction between humanity and the human habitat.

It is hard to imagine such adaptation coming to pass without prior adaptation in human relations. Nonviolence must prevail physically and psychologically between men and women; between races; between nations; between cultures; between religions. And yet, nonviolence is necessary but not sufficient. The mindset of consumerism and confrontation must give way to a new mindset of solidarity and sustainability. Note: There is a growing consensus that the transition from consumerism to sustainability will happen, but nobody really knows how it will come to pass.

A few courageous souls have attempted to build some kind of roadmap, or at least some guidelines to be considered. This section provides links to a few of those, but there may be others. If anyone can provide links to other transition guidance material, please contact the editor. See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. How are we to sustain hope in the face of collective or personal loss? And each of them reacted differently to the challenge.

Thomas, Lyn 1953-

A devout Christian, she turned to her faith for support, hoping Copyright material from www. Hours later, he was found still by the bedside, weeping inconsolably. The world after Darwin became a more secular place Berger ; Herberg Religious participation declined dramatically, particularly in the Western Europe; a decline which has continued to this day. Chaos had come again. Shaw , p. This is where the plot thickens. Who provides the meaning function when God departs or is excluded from the fray? Interestingly, sociologists and anthropologists of consumption have argued that it emerges Copyright material from www.

Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton showed how people use everyday objects to convey personal and collective meanings. Russell Belk and his colleagues revealed how material goods play a key role in processes of sacralisation and desacralisation. Colin Campbell b has articulated a view in which the continual ability to pursue identity through possessions allows us to address fundamental questions about who we are.

This paper explores the hypothesis that consumer society serves as a kind of secular theodicy. It is primarily a conceptual paper, drawing on a wide range of literature from the social sciences and from religious studies to explore functional similarities between religion and consumerism. We have also drawn on a number of qualitative empirical studies to support and illustrate our argument, including two in which the authors have been directly involved, looking at religious and consumer attitudes and behaviours. Given the decline in established religion in the West, this theodicial role must be played in consumer society in some other way.

Our suggestion is that the function is implicit in consumerism itself in some quite precise ways. In particular we argue that six key elements in theodicy can be found in some form within the dynamics and organisation of consumerism itself. Though interesting in itself, of course, our main aim here is not simple historical exegesis.

Rather, we want to explore the implications of this state of affairs for the goal of achieving more sustainable consumption patterns. Specifically, we Copyright material from www. This socially-constructed framework can be thought of as the set of assumptions, understandings, rules, maxims, norms, taboos and rituals which together bring order and meaning to human lives.

It also provides a framework for moral governance moral meaning. Finally, by offering a transcendent reality, it allows us to confront the question of our own mortality and the loss of those we love emotional meaning. Central to the task of world maintenance is the question of theodicy. In theological terms, theodicy was for a long time — in fact until about the time of Darwin — associated quite precisely with the need to reconcile belief in an omnipotent and benevolent God with the existence of evil and suffering in the world Astley et al. But theodicy is also an important concept in the sociology of religion and can be framed in non-theological terms.

These threats arise in particular as a result of suffering, loss and our own mortality. Put differently, theodicy attempts to cope with the discrepancy between our ideals and visions and the reality of the world with which we are daily confronted. Faced with persistent injustice, the prosperity of ill-doers, the persecution of the righteous, how should we seek to live?

The iron cage of consumerism

As an instructor of world religion, a concern for the natural world and our environment is embraced by all religious faiths. No one, no scientists, of course; can explain how the relationship between the strong nuclear force and electromagnetism is such a precise number that is; only with this exact number allowing life in this universe. I've looked to Seventh Day Adventist on this issue who for over years, have used the Bible to establish man's care for the environment as "stewardship" and social relationship with God's creations--without political rhetoric! Though I was raised to be, I am not a religious man. I'm thrilled to see this movement of environmental responsibility among Christians taking place.

What kind of morality are we to live by? Confronted with our own Copyright material from www. In the final section, we offer some tentative suggestions as to how this might be achieved. How are we to protect the authority of compassion and the promise of love? Where, in short, are we to find meaning in our lives? To be effective in its role of legitimation or sense-making, a theodicy must possess certain key characteristics. Traditionally, it has included such topics as resurrection from the dead, judgment, heaven and hell McGrath There are clear links between these different functions, and they work together as a means of legitimating anomic phenomena and defending the sacred world order.

Together they have to demonstrate that the sacred order does not discriminate arbitrarily between different individuals and offers rewards and punishments in terms which are consistent with the set of moral, cognitive and emotional meanings established by the nomos justice. This compensatory mechanism is challenged by two specific conditions in the real world.

The first of these is the persistence — and sometimes even the flourishing — of wrongdoers. Nonetheless it can, with some effort, be legitimated within broadly secular moral codes and practices. A more intractable challenge is presented by the sometimes arbitrary incursions of suffering and loss with which we are always confronted either individually or collectively at some point in our lives. A credible theodicy must therefore offer plausible compensatory functions in the face of bereavement and suffering — consolation.

It must also provide us with a working defence against the pervasive ontological Copyright material from www. Some of the compensatory mechanisms established through theodicy may operate within the constraints of this world. But the challenge of providing an entirely secular compensatory mechanism is immense, particularly in the face of personal and collective loss. Most theodicies therefore draw in part on compensatory mechanisms which operate in some other transcendental realm, perhaps at some future point in time eschatology. The importance of the functions of transcendence and eschatology to theodicy is quite precisely to establish and maintain the authenticity of this other compensatory realm.

Our paper is largely conceptual, but in support of our analysis we offer some qualitative evidence from religious discussion groups carried out in a recent study in the South-East of England Pepper , Pepper et al. Traffic terrible, and my husband is not going to go this Sunday to church, or my eldest daughter baptise my grandchildren, and that makes me very, very sad, very unhappy. And on the motorway near Winchester, going past and these grey skies, a horrible time, raining. The curious other-worldly quality of the light on the cross conveys elements of transcendence; and the symbolism of the cross as a metaphor for the redemption and future salvation of ordinary sinners also evokes a kind of eschatology.

Given the declining role of established religion in Europe and the anthropological evidence on the importance of religion and theodicy in world maintenance, it is an obvious question to ask: how does Copyright material from www. How does it defend itself against anomie? What structures and devices allow it to establish cognitive, moral and emotional meaning in the world? And how are these meanings legitimated in the face of suffering and loss? Up to this point, we have not explicitly defined what we mean by consumerism. At any rate, the thrust of our argument is to suggest that modern society has internalised a number of specific functions of world maintenance within its own consumerist dynamics.

Since this is true of most forms of social organisation, it would not be altogether surprising if this were the case for the consumer society as well. Nonetheless, it is useful to be able to identify if and how this internalisation of world maintenance is taking place, and in particular if and how theodicy-like functions are internalised into the dynamics and organisation of consumerism itself. Theodicial functions of consumerism At first sight, the idea that material commodities play any part in the establishment of the socially-constructed nomos is an odd one.

From a functional perspective, one thinks of material goods mainly as fulfilling certain essential physical or physiological tasks in the world. Psychological and social tasks are more obviously construed in terms of less material constructs: thoughts, conversations, norms, institutions perhaps. The clue to the puzzle lies in our tendency to imbue material things with social and psychological meanings. A wealth of evidence from consumer research Belk ; Dichter , social psychology Dittmar , sociology Baudrillard ; Bauman and anthropology Barthes ; McCracken ; Sahlins now supports this point.

And the insight is devastating. Consumer goods provide a symbolic language Douglas and Isherwood in which we communicate continually with each other, not just about raw stuff, but about what really matters to us: family, friendship, sense of belonging, community, identity, social status, meaning and purpose in life. It means money for our cities and our country, it means tax for the government. My stuffed bunny reminds me of wildlife, all the rabbits and dogs and cats.

The symbolic role of material commodities has been identified, by anthropologists, in every single society for which records exist. And this conversation hangs in turn on the language of material goods. Material goods, in other words, are deeply implicated in the task of world construction and maintenance, in a social, as much as in a physical sense Figure 1.

The question remains: how does the consumer society address the critical question of theodicy? In particular, can we find evidence of the key functions identified in religious theodicies? In fact we find quite clear evidence from a variety of places where consumerism appears to appropriate attribute to consumer goods theodicy-like functions of justice, reward, ontological security, transcendence, and consolation for loss. Objections to, for example, congestion charging and increased fuel taxes centre on the regressive impacts of rising prices.

In the UK Sustainable Consumption Roundtable deliberative forum, some participants thought that future generations would resent the lack of availability of cheap short-haul flights available to current generations, turning intergenerational equity discourses about climate change on their head.

There is also evidence that consumerism offers people reward on the basis of favourable judgements about their character and qualities. A meritocratic society heralds high consumption lifestyles and celebrity status as the pinnacle of social achievement. And the discourse around consumption as a reward for good behaviour is also evident in ethnographic studies, as the following quote illustrates Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton : Copyright material from www. I wonder if others say things. It shows you make so much more money. It represents my right to own something associated with successful people.

One such process concerns the role of scientific and technological development, which schools us to look first to natural as opposed to supernatural causal explanations for events. When problems such as illness strike, we go to science to understand the cause. Thus, our rising material standard of living, both in terms of our reduced vulnerability to some of the threats to health and wellbeing experienced in earlier societies, as well as our changed understandings of how these threats occur, have displaced reliance on and appeal to a transcendent power for our physical security.

There is a belief among religious people that material wealth may substitute for religion, and that it may also affect religious practice in insidious ways Pepper et al. The role of self-identity and self-esteem is well-supported in the evidence base of the sociology of consumption Bauman ; Campbell b, Giddens For example, acts of consumption and material objects assist people to cope with major life transitions such as divorce and moving into a nursing home Belk et al.

It is also possible that consumers perceive these possessions as tangible carriers of their memory beyond their death, thus ensuring their spiritual immortality, particularly in the hearts and minds of close others Hirschman and LaBarbera , p. A particularly telling contribution to the evidence for the ontological security function of consumerism comes from terror management theory Arndt et al. Spending an eternity in heaven is intangible and uncertain. Indeed, a range of experimental studies show that increasing mortality salience increases materialistic tendencies Solomon et al.

Transcendence and consolation Transcendence also runs like a current through consumer theory. According to Grant McCracken, in order to afford immunity to our ideals from the withering light of everyday reality, we displace them to another plane of existence. However, some form of limited access is still required to ensure that these ideals remain potent.

A product, symbolising a longed-for situation, condition or lifestyle, may be possessed, but it can never actually become the ideal itself, thus opening the way for transferring ideals to ever more consumer objects, and thus, to ever Copyright material from www. My parents promised to buy me one for my graduation. All my friends had cars. I thought I had to have one too. Upon graduation, instead of a second-hand car, they surprised me with a brand-new one; a good model, fast Now that I have it, it is no longer the most important thing in life for me.

Maybe I got used to it. Now there is another fire awakening in me. I want a faster, better car.

September 16, 2006

If I have that, I might then want a plane. However, this idea of transcendence cannot entirely be construed in hedonistic or desire-like ways. A key component in the sacralisation of consumer goods is the role that this facilitates in terms of consolation. Sacred goods remind us of those we love, of dreams we hold, of our hopes for the future.

For example, in this excerpt, a woman explains the significance of her most important possessions Hirschman and LaBarbera , pp. At a more mundane level the seemingly endless availability consoles us for the temporary nature of our lives, for our disappointments and failures. It assures us that society holds out the promise of better lives for us and for our descendants in the future.

Many of these functions are interlinked. Interestingly, Freud believed that ontological security is in any case a response developed initially through anxiety Copyright material from www. This is illustrated by a young Turkish female respondent, cited in Belk et al. Likewise, the idea that there might be some kind of transcendent reality is clearly a useful one in dealing with the shocks and losses inflicted by the present reality. When it comes to eschatology, the situation is much less clear. There are clearly eschatological dimensions to modern consumer society. Not the least of these is that notions of secular progress are themselves bound up with the idea of continual consumption growth Jackson , But this notion of how things turn out in the end has the strange characteristic that there is no end.

On the contrary, the underlying assumption of the prevailing consumer paradigm is of a world in which things just go on getting better in material terms. The endgame played out by consumerism is, at one level, one in which the ability to go on consuming for generation after generation is the ultimate goal. A kind of heaven on earth, if not for us, then for our descendants. No longer are, for example, justice and peace the aim of desire. Instead, it is desire itself that has become the object of human striving.

In an earlier paper , Jackson explored this point in more detail. The consumerist eschatology stands in such strong contrast to this rational world view that at first sight it seems unfathomable. But Campbell , b has argued that the roots of consumerism lie in a romantic tradition that attempts to deny rationalism. Becker makes an even stronger case that humans essentially try as hard as they can to block out the deafening silence of eternity and deny mortality.

But there is also something of a puzzle here, raised in particular by the example of religion in the United States. The US inherited a strong puritanical discourse that has criticised consumerism Bocock , p. It has also, in recent decades, witnessed a powerful religious revival. Yet it is, almost avowedly, the most consumerist nation on earth. If the theodicial functions of consumerism are in some sense a replacement for those of religion, then why do these two things coexist so strongly in North America? Why has the religious revival and the historical puritanism not moderated the forces of consumerism?

In addressing this puzzle, we would stress that our exploration of theodicy in this chapter is as much about the intersections between more conventional religious expression and consumerism as it is about consumerism simply displacing religion. The religion of the neoconservatives is an extensively commoditised, profoundly individualistic religion which largely supports underlying secular world views — or at the very least is deeply entwined with those views. Furthermore, it is telling that an American sociology of religion uses consumerist metaphors to explain religious vitality in that country and the lack of it in many parts of Europe.

This suggests that the ideology of consumerism has colonised religion. The rational choice theory of religion for example Innacone , Stark and Bainbridge , Young posits that the high levels of individual religiosity that occur in the USA are due to a deregulated, competitive and pluralistic religious market, responsive to the demand of religious consumers seeking to satisfy their theodicial needs or desires. The use of consumerist metaphors in the study of religion is not only an American phenomenon Martikainen , Scotland Vincent Miller argues that consumer culture, wherever it occurs, schools the faithful to relate to their religions as consumers, that is, to treat the values, beliefs, symbols, narratives and practices that constitute religious traditions as commodities no longer embedded in their tradition.

Shorn of its depth of interconnections, religion may thus impact Copyright material from www. This throws into question the ability of conventional religion, at least in many of its forms, to resist the onslaught of consumerism or to offer an alternative to it. Another disturbing possibility, however, is that the seductive power of the consumerist theodicy is now so great that we have developed a kind of theodicial hunger — a greed for meaning that can no longer be satisfied by conventional religious theodicy.

Theodicy beyond consumerism In summary, this chapter has martialled arguments to the effect that consumerism has appropriated at least some of the functions of theodicy through the role of consumer commodities in our lives. Whether this justifies us in saying that consumerism has a fully fledged theodicy in the sociological sense is less clear.

A credible theodicy has to provide a coherent framework for legitimating anomic phenomena — making sense of the world in the face of arbitrary incursions of suffering and loss. In this task, the individual functions of justice, reward, consolation, transcendence, ontological security and eschatology are not simply isolated features of the framework.

In consumerism, this sacred order is perhaps most readily conceived as a world of hedonic dreams Campbell facilitated by consumer goods. The legitimation of this vision proceeds through the promise that increasing material wealth is the means to achieve the good life — not only for us, but also for our children. Social progress is synonymous with expanding access to this material cornucopia. But this sacred order is still too easily compromised by internal and external shocks: inequality, social recession, economic instability, unemployment, violence, warfare, natural disaster, suffering and loss.

These features of the social world persist — in spite of all our material wealth — and, if consumerism is to survive, it must have some answer to them. The theodicial functions outlined in this chapter help structure this legitimation. But if consumerism is a theodicy, in this sense, it is clearly a flawed one. Its conceptualisation of justice is tenuous, its framing and disbursement of rewards is iniquitous, it is deeply but perhaps perversely seductive in offering a rather fleeting kind of ontological security, one that needs continually to be reinforced by engaging in yet more consumption.

It does provide for a form of transcendence; but the degree to which this facilitates any real hope or consolation for our losses is Copyright material from www. Far from creating a credible eschatology, consumerism appears to be a continuous exercise in denial of our own mortality and of the widespread suffering in the world. Indeed, if consumption plays such a vital role in the construction and maintenance of the social world, then asking people to give up material commodities is tantamount to asking them to risk a kind of social suicide.

People will resist threats to identity. They will resist threats to meaning. They will ask quite legitimate questions of the motives of the moral persuaders. And ultimately, such attempts to change consumerism will fail. At the same time, this understanding opens out clear possibilities for change. In particular, it suggests that countering consumerism must proceed in part through building credible alternative meaning structures that lie outside the realm of the market.

This task demands the provision of capabilities for people to participate in society, maintain their identity, understand their place in the cosmos, and make sense of the social world — without recourse to materialism. The death of our loved ones, our own mortality, arbitrary catastrophes, human injustice: all of these things inhabit the boundaries of our lives, and at some point or other invade them. The contemplation of suffering is profoundly distasteful to modern sensitivities.

It reminds us constantly of the limitations of consumerism. Of the emptiness of consumerist lives. The consumerist theodicy has no genuine answers to these concerns. It is deaf and blind to the sufferings of others or the fate of the natural world. And as Kenneth Surin , p. That the consumer theodicy is deeply flawed in both ecological and social terms does not for a moment detract from its power as a strategy for the pursuit of meaning.

Religion, Consumerism and Sustainability : Paradise Lost?

But its evident flaws are an urgent call to devise or recover some other, less damaging, more sustainable alternative. Chapman and Cleveland T. The men, most of whom had never so much as set foot in a monastery before, were required to participate fully in the life of the community, almost as if they were novices. As well as attending all the religious services in the Abbey church, eating silent meals in the refectory and working in the garden, they had bible classes and received instruction in basic Christian and monastic principles: principles, we are meant to infer, somewhat at odds with contemporary societal norms.

The answer on offer turns out to be that freedom and happiness are not to be equated with the consumerist goal of being able to have and to do whatever one wants. Furthermore, this obedience is ultimately to be Copyright material from www. Fry , RB 5. Perhaps most perversely of all, where we might normally be accustomed to perceiving a connection between love and sexual intimacy, for the monk the opposite is the case: true love is predicated on celibacy.

And yet, surprisingly, it would appear that in the consumer society even monasticism can be given a media makeover. In spite of what might have seemed an unlikely subject for a reality TV show, The Monastery bore witness to the fact that monastic spirituality can be commodified and sold after all — and very successfully too. In doing so, I am not suggesting that this was intentional, rather that it was an inevitable consequence of the way in which the nature and content of all discourse is conditioned by the mode and medium of its communication — in this case, television: a medium primarily used for entertainment.

Having said that, however, and in spite of its ostensible subject being thus undermined, the programme did still manage to communicate something that was considered by many viewers to be of profound significance. After all, in Copyright material from www. Instead, they created an original, intelligent and sensitive documentary series, which became a surprise hit and was widely credited with setting a new benchmark in reality TV programming.

So much so, in fact, that some people within the television industry have sought to make a distinction between relatively serious output, like The Monastery, and the rash of programmes based on the increasingly ubiquitous game-show model. For this reason The Monastery was unanimously perceived by both the media and the viewing public as reality TV, albeit of a higher calibre. Simon Brooke even decided to Copyright material from www. Hardened cynics and atheists have been blubbing over the show. It is a good indication of how interesting religion is to many people.

Thus, there were the comments people made concerning the ostensible subject matter of the programme; that is, the monastic life itself. One of the most frequently made observations of this kind was that the monks were so patient, balanced, and normal — especially when compared with their visitors.

For example, Angela Wintle, writing in the Brighton Evening Argus, notes that: At first, what strikes you is the fact that, in many ways, they are just like us — not detached or out of touch at all. But you are quickly struck by their differences too. These monks are quite different from the general ilk — men of wisdom, integrity, compassion and humour. They also showed remarkable poise in front of the cameras and possessed a knowledge and understanding which the laymen quite palpably lacked.

Likewise, in the London Evening Standard , A. Wilson wrote: The interesting feature of these comments is that a number of reviewers seemed initially to have felt that the basic premise did not sound at all promising, and were confidently expecting to dismiss the programme as just another gimmicky reality show. As it turned out, however, they were forced to revise their prior expectations. But what actually made it so successful? As one of the five participants, and a scholar of religion, I am uniquely placed to examine these questions from a variety of different points of view.

Ironically, however, The Monastery was itself a manifestation of spiritual commodification. The series was succeeded a year later by another, this time about nuns. The Convent, Copyright material from www. Admittedly, these plans were shelved once the falsity of this notion became apparent, though not before making a third series, broadcast in and called The Retreat, which focussed on an Islamic centre in Spain.

Meanwhile, the franchise was exported to the United States, where it was remade by an American channel and called The Abbey. Here, the emphasis on lifecoaching was made even more explicit, as were the dramatic tensions between participants, not to mention the incongruity of broadcasting a documentary that explicitly promoted itself as anti-materialistic on a commercial channel with advertisement breaks every twelve minutes.

Evidence of commodification can also be discerned in the original series, much of which dwells voyeuristically on the working out of various personal emotional issues, thus conforming to what Anita Biressi and Heather Nunn have identified as the therapeutic function of contemporary reality programming, particularly as exemplified in popular confessional talk-shows like Oprah. In The Monastery, three of the five participants contribute to or participate in personal conflicts with one another. Indeed, conflict provides the central narrative that drives the whole series.

Arguments between participants, though they certainly occurred, nevertheless occupy a grossly disproportionate percentage of the three hours of the series relative to the six weeks spent at Worth Abbey. This meaning will, moreover, be determined by the narrator, whether consciously or unconsciously. Thus my account of an everyday life event — such as meeting a friend for coffee — will not simply consist of an exhaustive catalogue of each and every minute detail and movement, but rather a selection of key moments or themes that hold a particular significance relative to the event and persons in question.

And of course it is also the case that different records of the same events can be variously constructed from different perspectives and with widely different interpretations. The effect of this is to blur the distinction between fact and fiction: taken to its logical conclusion, it leads to what Jean Baudrillard presciently described as the substitution of reality by simulacra.

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In The Consumer Society, first published in , Baudrillard describes how the media reduces the reality it purports to represent to a series of interchangeable images, which then constitute a self-referential system of signs that forms a closed hermeneutic circle. This is to say that in the fully developed consumer society, we consume not the ostensible object itself, nor even its functionality, but rather what it signifies. Hence, when buying a pair of training shoes, for example, one is not buying a useful pair of shoes, so much as a brand image, affirmed by advertising and correlated with a projected set of lifestyle values.

What to make of our new literature of radical pessimism.

To varying degrees, classic religions are associated with critique of materialistic values. Onto this opposition of the market and the temple other binaries have. Editorial Reviews. About the Author. CLIVE BARNETT is Reader in Human Geography at the (Consumption and Public Life) - Kindle edition by L. Thomas.

This leads Copyright material from www.