Black Friday: Religious Consumption
The first nationally celebrated day of Thanksgiving was November 26, 1789 after President George Washington issued the following proclamation:
“Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor – and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me ‘to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.’ Now I do therefore recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of the great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be...”
Sadly, less than two centuries later, Thanksgiving would be nearly forgotten, except for the fact that its passing indicates the official kick-off of the holiday shopping season. The day after Thanksgiving--Black Friday--is the busiest (and most dangerous) shopping day of the year when retailers venture out of the red into the black, becoming profitable.
If that weren’t enough (or for those who aren’t brave enough to participate in the American version of the running of the bulls) we’ve christened a new national shopping day--Cyber Monday--the Monday following Black Friday. On this day, we retreat to the world wide web sanctuary and use our faster internet connection from work to surf the sea of sales and to make even more purchases.
What’s more, Easter, Independence Day, Memorial Day, President’s Day, and Labor Day have also been turned into festivals of consumption. On Easter we spend more time looking for the right outfit then we do sitting in the pew. We shell out more money for bunnies, eggs and chocolate than we give in the offering plate.
But the Holy Grail is Christmas.
The celebration of God’s greatest gift to us, the redemptive birth of His Son, is exploited by marketers to create a grand festival of consumption. They displaced the holiday’s true and lasting message of peace, happiness and tranquility beneath the tree in the form of objects promising the same. Our nation is pierced with grief and pressured to consume, and it is heightened during our most blessed time of the year—because of consumerism, materialism and our eagerness for money.
“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith, and pierced themselves with many griefs.” ~1 Timothy 6:10
Joel Waldfogel, a Yale economist, estimates that up to one third of the gifts given during Christmas are of little use to the recipient. It’s a system of trade that would be considered very inefficient were it not for the benefits it yields for corporations. Some may rationalize the craze of holiday spending by saying they are giving, but Christmas giving, as represented in America, is not even close to the biblical message of God’s gift. The worship is not of God but of mammon.
Religion has historically been in competition with consumption; hence the need for ancient sumptuary laws— laws used to define and regulate appropriate consumption. As a matter of fact, the Bible’s Author devoted twice as many verses to money than to faith and prayer combined. And Jesus spoke more about money than about both heaven and hell.
Like most competitors, religion and consumption share very similar characteristics. They both make the redemptive promise to deliver peace, happiness and tranquility. They both provide an organized system of meaning that comes from the top down (from God to man and from producer to consumer). They both let us know where we are and what to do about it through the use of parables and stories. The difference is most religions believe that we achieve peace, happiness and tranquility through hard work, sacrifice and a personal relationship with God. Whereas the world would lead us to believe we achieve those things instantaneously through the consumption of goods and services.
We are not being transformed by the renewing of our minds; we are being transformed by the renewing of our stuff.
The worlds emphasis on instant salvation is parodied in an ad from Adbusters for an imaginary product called Mammon. A man says, “I need a belief system that serves my needs right away.” The caption reads: “Dean Sachs has a mortgage, a family and an extremely demanding job. What he doesn’t need is a religion that complicates his life with unreasonable ethical demands.” The ad ends with the words, “Mammon: Because you deserve to enjoy life—guilt free.”
Filed under: Culture & Religion