Religion, materialism and global consumerist culture

Table of Content

I.                   Introduction

Materialism and religion are very important cultural institutions for the market to thrive. They are defining aspects of modern man’s life and lifestyle so much so that they are powerful forces that influence consumer behavior. Put together they can work for the propagation of global consumerist culture as they can speed up consumption and get the market forces going (Kuzma, Kuzma, & Kuzma, 2002). It is not strenuous to determine the direct relationship of materialism with the global consumption culture but it would be a seemingly arduous task at the onset to illustrate how religion has played a major role in the rise of materialism and consumerist culture. To push the point even further,  there are even theologian who assert that the new religion now is materialism such as was propounded be Lee Harvey Cox and further elaborated by other philosophers such as Nietzsche and Tillich to name a few (Kotler, 1969).

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This work will discuss the materialism and religion as a cultural phenomenon. Then it will discuss how these forces have triggered and promoted global consumption culture.

I.                   Body

Religion and the Market

There are three classic pillars in sociology that theorized on religion: Durkheim, Marx and Weber. In his Elementary Forms of Religious Life, Durkheim (trans. by Swain 1965: 42) defined religion as “a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things set apart and forbidden—beliefs and practices which unite into one single community called a Church, all those who adhere to them.” Durkheim propounded that religion provides an answer to all things that are left unanswered by science and logic but the form of the answer is presented in mythical and sacred form. Thus religious explanations give a blanket authority and have a tone of infallibility because the answer comes from God. One can now easily imagine how much people would buy in the market if religion tells it so. If one famous religious leader will tell all the followers to buy only a certain brand of soap, wear only a specific type of attire, eat only certain types of food, then certainly that would means something to the suppliers of that brand. Marx believed that Religion is the opium of the masses and does not allow for rationality and truth that the followers of a religion end up misguided. Marx never did suggest that religion should be prohibited but he wanted for people to be presented with the truth and have a choice in the matter (Christiano 2008: 126). Weber (1963: 166-170). When we say opium, it means that this is something that is addictive, that one gets hooked on into. If the force of religion is used in the market, then there would be a force acting like opium on the people so that they keep on buying certain products in the market because they are already hooked into it. On the other hand, Weber thinks that a certain religious approach can be credited for the development of modern capitalism. He calls this approach inner-worldly asceticism that is found in Protestantism where the believer works hard in the world for his or her salvation.

Going Deeper into the Relationship between global consumerism, religion, and materialism

Religion has been known to be quite a force in society. During the middle ages, the Catholic Church was made to be the state religion. Forte (2008: 179) discussed how the Catholic Church was a profit-oriented religion. The hierarchy of the church was then divided into the First Estate and Second Estate. The former is comprised of those who held positions of power in the church such (bishops, cardinals, pope) while the latter is composed of the aristocrats. The two were combined such that there is now a noticeable distinction between the group that leads the church and the common people. The church leaders were like businessmen who sold indulgencies and salvations to the common people who feared of ending in the purgatory.

Max Weber’s sociological classic “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism”

discusses in detail the whole process where Calvinist Ascetic Protestantism eventually helped in the rise of capitalism. In Protestantism’s assertion that salvation can be attained by grace alone in opposition to the already corrupted Catholic Church enriching herself with indulgences, John Calvin a major pillar of Protestantism propagated his theology of predestination. In a nutshell, this theology states that no matter if one does good or evil, it is only by God’s grace that he will be saved. Before one is born into this life, one is already predestined by God to go to heaven or to hell. John Calvin however says that there are signs that one is already saved. These are: one is blessed by God in his endeavors and a sure sign of this is being rich; one’s plans in life are implemented; and there is no bad luck or ill circumstances happening in one’s life. Thus for the protestant members, being rich is a sure sign that he is saved. Since no one wants to be an outcast in the church where he or she belongs, one strives to be rich to avoid hearing words from other church members that he or she is predestined to go to hell. This “holy striving” to be rich is coupled with ascetic values for simplicity, hard work, renunciation of the worldly things, which in social practice would tantamount to more savings, less expenses, more profits, and higher investments. With the capitalist system in place and the industrial revolution going on, protestant ethic paved the way for the rise of capitalism (Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, 2002). While is true that Martin Luther’s reaction and critique of the Catholic Church that “Salvation cannot be bought” through indulgences, the Calvinist doctrine of salvation was roughly translated as “Salvation means being rich”. This was the crucial link up between materialism and Protestantism.

The capitalist system has since developed and matured having its own independent dynamic

apart from the religious philosophies. However, there are critical points that must be raised where we can conclude that religion assisted in the development of the capitalist enterprise.

Another point that must be raised is that religion is superstructurally consistent with capitalism. The Greek Hellenistic and dualistic philosophies colonized the religious interpretation of the so-called Fathers of the Church such as Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas even including Saint Paul who is a biblical author. Highly influenced by Aristotle, they propagated a dualistic philosophy that translated in social praxis as the separation of the church and the state, the separation of the City of God from the City of Man, the great divide between the body and the spirit, heaven and earth, life on earth and life hereafter. Translated politically, economically, and socially, this led to the fact that religion acceded to have nothing to do with politics or economic affairs in this world (Hoffman, 2006, September 25). Thus religion did not only support the rise of consumerism, it also tacitly permitted the market and the state have its own way with the world for its concerns lay only with the spirit world and heaven (Cobb, 2001).  It goes without saying that even with the rise of neo liberalism and aggressive marketing policies and advertising promising more materialism and consumerism, religion still largely remains silent if not impotent. Church avowed neutrality and silence on these issues is actually not only tantamount to acquiescence but the assistance to actual promotion of materialist culture in the marketplace (Cobb, 2001).

Even now, there is a trend among companies into going “spirituality” kind of thing. More and more employers are encouraging their staff to go into zen, taichi, meditation, vegetarianism etc. Yet in the end, if we analyze it deeply, employers want this so they can increase the productivity of their employees and lessen complaints (Michael Budde).

Materialism in the Spread of Global Consumption Culture

If people are not materialistic, then there would be less demand for goods in the market, thus there would also be less production. Greater production means more profit and the economy will flourish. Thus for the market system to thrive, materialism in culture becomes a significant element.

The market exists only because commodities are sold. A healthy market means that more and more commodities are being sold. In other words, enterprises will go down if the goods they produced are not sold. Production is deeply connected to consumption. If we are able to produce on a grand scale, then we have to be able to consume on a grand scale. This is the critical link between the market, materialism and global consumption culture.

In order to spur consumption, a good marketing strategy is to use brand names. Brand names ensure not only the quality of the product but also its reputation in the market. Together with good quality, aggressive advertising needs to be used to imbue a certain brand with a cultural quality of beauty, durability, excellence, top of the line, and trendy (Joy, Troilo, & Deschenes, 2010).

In advertising, these brand names are marketed by popular icons that are worthy of the brand. For example, sportswear can be endorsed by famous athletes such as Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan advertising a certain type of shoes or Angelina Jolie endorsing a type of cosmetic. Thus the myth of a certain brand is created and people would be attracted to buying “only” this brand. If famous doctors would endorse a specific brand name in medicine, then this would be powerful advertising.  Brand names hinge on having an ideal personality or stereotype so that buyers who wanted to have the qualities of this stereotype would want to buy this product (Leon Schiffman, 1994). An illustration would be someone who wants to be a beautiful as Angelina Jolie would buy the perfume she uses.

The Role of Religion in the Spread of Global Consumption Culture

Since religion can command the people on the assumption that these commands are coming from God, then religious edicts and preferences on certain brands will have a very powerful effect on the sale and consumption of these brands (Cayla & Zwick, 1969). Thus lifestyles strictly following certain religious precepts would have a certain preference for brands that are acceptable to their religious beliefs. Thus religion significantly determines consumption choices. Studies show that there is a one to one correlation between religion and the consumption of a certain commodity linked to that religion (Robert E Wilkes, 1986). Moreover, people tend to buy from owners who are also members of their own church. People go to schools and hospitals and sports clubs especially if there is a religious reason attached to these (Miller, 2003). Religious edicts on lifestyle such as vegetarianism, not eating pork for Muslims, fasting and abstinence during specific religious holidays, and religious celebrations would certainly trigger certain patterns of consumption and market behavior.

 Religion creates its own market

Donations and religious tithes go high on religious holidays and festivities. The whole market actually thrives on religious holidays such as Christmas where malls go on a Christmas sale and there is a holiday “rush” to buy so many goods. Christmas songs are played in malls as early as November to spur buying gifts early. Gift packages and commodities are presented and packaged in religious themes such as Christmas gift items, valentine’s day gift items, Easter Sunday gift items among other things (Onward, Christian shoppers. , December 3, 2005). Thus the market becomes exceedingly alive with business having their own marketing campaigns during these seasons (Rehman, 2009).

II.                Conclusion

Religion and materialism are indeed very important factors in promoting global consumerist culture. We can no longer discount the significance of these factors in marketing. In order to sell something, then we must create the need for it in the market. This is where we can study how materialism and religion can create this need. In our advertising and packaging of commodities, it is important that we package them as suitable and not contrary to popular religious beliefs and notions. It is also important to engineer the materialist desire of people to buy these products.

Works Cited
Cayla, J., & Zwick, D. e. (1969). The Marketing Reformation Redux, in Inside Marketing: Cultures, Ideologies and Practices. Inside Marketing , 15.

Cobb, J. B. (2001). Consumerism, Economism and Christian Faith. Tacoma International Meeting of Buddhist/Christian Society.

Hoffman, C. (2006, September 25). Marketers quiet about their faith-based efforts. Journal of Marketing .

Joy, A., Troilo, G., & Deschenes, J. (2010). Rethinking the Relationship between Self and Other: Levinas and Narratives of Beautifying the Body. Journal of Consumer Culture .

Kotler, P. &. (1969). Broadening the concept of marketing. Journal of Marketing , 10-15.

Kuzma, A., Kuzma, A., & Kuzma, J. (2002). How Religion has Embraced Marketing and the Implications for Business. Journal of Management and Marketing Research, Volume 2 , 9.

Leon Schiffman, A. B. (1994). Consumer Behaviour. Prentice Hall.

Michael Budde, R. B. Christianity Incorporated. How Big Business is Buying the Church. 2002: Brazzos Press.

Miller, V. J. (2003). Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture, Continuum. Journal of Marketing Book Review , 4-10.

Onward, Christian shoppers. . (December 3, 2005). Economist .

Rehman, A.-u. (2009). The relationship between religiosity and new product adoption . Islamabad, Pakistan: Department of Management Sciences, International Islamic University.

Robert E Wilkes, J. B. (1986). On the meaning and Measurement of Religiosity in Consumer research . Journal of Academy of Marketing Science, Spring, Vol. , Spring, Vol.14, issue 1, p47.

Weber, M. (2002). The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. New York: Penguin Books.


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