A NERVE got hit metaphorically speaking as I was reading a book about creeds like the Caesarean creed, and the Jerusalem creed which influenced the Nicene creed.
I felt the nerve tingle because I had just been reading the psychologist Erich Fromm about the marketing creed of western society.
The marketing society’s creed says all that is good exists outside of one’s self, and one’s self is defined by what we possess, not by who we are. It is only when people believe this creed and live it out by becoming ‘homo consumens’, a total consumer, that the marketing society can continue to survive. Everything then becomes narcissistic, and so the #narcissist’s creed is born.
In much of the Western church we have become consumers of worship, rather than people consumed by worship, even though we hide that unpalatable truth behind biblical sounding words.
I am always fascinated by stories of fragments of ancient documents that are found. Some years ago in the Egyptian desert a fragment of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed was found, and some scholars believe it may have been used as a sort of ecclesiastical charm bracelet.
In our consumer world God has become a sort of ecclesiastical charm bracelet, who will give us health, wealth, prosperity, and ensure that nothing bad will happen to us, who are of course, ultimately good people.
I wondered if maybe in a thousand years time fragments of the new creed of the church would be found, buried beneath the remains of a shopping mall cathedral, perhaps to be called, the Blue Water fragment of the Niceme creed.
I call it the NiceMe creed because it sounds almost authentic. Also it summarizes the main tenets of Niceme Christianity. I am ‘nice me’ not sinful me. God exists to be ‘nice to me.’ God being nice to me involves me never suffering or having pain, having the right house, car, clothes, children etc. God is nice to me by allowing me to take and not to give, and to walk away from relationships and churches if they fail to meet my total consumer demands. This is the creed of the narcissist.
As this creed is implicit and ought to be recorded for prosperity, I took the liberty of beginning to write it down. The Niceme creed:
I believe in One God, the Father of niceMe, who has made heaven and earth for niceMe, and all things visible and invisible for niceMe. I believe in one servant Jesus Christ, begotten of the Father, before all worlds to serve niceMe in the marketing world.God for niceMe, light for niceMe, very God of very God for niceMe, beholden to niceMe. Who for niceMe and my happiness came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man solely to meet all my niceMe needs and wants. He was crucified also for niceMe under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried that niceMe might never suffer pain; and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father, that I might be transformed into homo consumens. And he shall come again, with glory, to judge those who haven’t met my wants and needs, so that my niceMe kingdom might have no end.
This is just a fragment and it may be that there may be other versions of it in each of the great consumer centres of this marketing world that need to be made explicit.
Of course, this creed is something that the marketing society does not want made explicit. And it may be that copies of it will be seized and burnt, and that it becomes an offence to publicize the Niceme creed.
I understand that in the early church during times of persecution the Scripture would be seized and burnt, and that ministers who surrendered the Bible to the authorities were stripped of the right to be ministers by the church.
I hope the same spirit of resistance can be found somewhere in the church!
Erich Fromm wrote about this in 1955, and his words are prophetic and should have sparked a reformation of the church to avoid becoming homo consumens within church culture.
I wonder if we went even further back to the early Church fathers and their reflections on Scripture which took creedal form, we might be able to see the Niceme creed more clearly as it works its influence in our worship services and ‘just the minimum requirement’ and ‘just looking the part’ discipleship.
If Fromm’s analysis is correct, which I believe it is, then the big danger for pastors as Eugene Petersen puts it, is that ministers become shopkeepers.
As the only safe way to transform the church is to begin by transforming me, I am going to look and see if over the last 15 years I have been more a shopkeeper promoting the Niceme creed, or somone who by attentively reading the Nicene creed becomes someone for others not someone for me. And maybe Someone else will get the followers if we follow the right creed.
WE ARE killing our children softly with the song of consumerism. It’s a deadly lullaby that stops us seeing the world dying around us. It weaves a shroud around us that wraps us up in a closed system of thinking. This virus that some name affluenza is more contagious than swine flu. But how does it spread?
We need to begin by washing our hands after every advert. Big business uses the applied research of consumer psychology to manipulate powerful and nonconscious psychological processes in us so that we will buy their particular products but also adopt a consumer lifestyle.
Studies show that much of consumer behaviour is automatic and unexamined. This leaves us open to being controlled, and advertising and marketing strategies try to strengthen that automatic thinking because it leads to over-consumption. It is critical and observant thinking about our patterns of consuming that breaks the unthinking patterns of over-consumption. It is here that mindfulness can have an ethical component.
As we vegetate in front of the TV information is processed on autopilot, mindlessly. Advertisers know this and seek to exploit it. It is clear that big business has been very good at reshaping us into over-consumers.
Advertising is adept at creating this closed system of thought whereby the consumer believes shopping is the only answer to his deep desire for fulfilment. Sadly many spiritual answers are also now packaged as consumer products.
One of the main ways advertisers form our preferences is through the use of exposure. I exaggerate but if you take a popular programme like The X Factor it feels like there is now 30 seconds of singing followed by 15 minutes of adverts.
The other key technique is conditioning. In conditioning the product, which might mean nothing to us, is paired with something that we do desire and the advertisers hope that we make an association between the two stimuli. For example there was an advert which appeared before the 9 p.m. watershed which had a partially naked woman advertising a product for bleeding gums. A classic piece of crude conditioning.
Consumerism is a cruel master. Beneath the promise of well-being in each advert and marketing campaign is the whisper of fear that slides through our letterboxes, creeps into our homes and heads, hearts and beds. Without this you will be nobody. Without this no one will like you.
It is for no small reason that Jesus tells us we cannot serve two masters.
The effect on our children is as bad as anything imagined by Philip Pullman in his Dark Materials trilogy, where childrens’ souls are cut away. What can we do about it?
It is important as parents to watch the TV programmes our children watch. We can teach our children to turn the sound down when adverts come on, or we can sit with them and help them deconstruct the adverts.
It is possible to retrain our minds, for example people are much more aware of ethical issues to shopping, whether it is fair trade or child labour.
As Christians Jesus tells us we can either be cross-bearers or consumers but not both. The cross is many things, but as Martin Luther said, Crux probat omnia – everything is put to the test of the cross. Only by putting our consumer patterns to the test of the cross can we break the habit within us of mindless and automatic consumption. In the same way the cross helps us develop the habit of sacrificial and generous giving and a simpler lifestyle.
It is through the cross that we reach the crown of fulfilment and life in all its fullness. Unless we address this deep desire for fulfilment and the real reasons for inner emptiness the quick fix offered by the world of advertising will continue to allure us.
As usual we often have the answer but are not aware of it. Research also shows that a sense of connectedness and belonging to a community gives a us a sense of fulfilment thereby breaking the consumer mentality that grips us.
As Paul says the hour has come for us to wake up from our slumber (Romans 13:11). If our average tithe as Christians measures our wakefulness, we are only 2 ½ % awake to God, and 97 ½ % consumers. Be aware of affluenza. Protect yourself. Protect others.