Does a trip to the mall for a few hours of shopping have the same affect as a trip to church for a few hours on Sunday morning? Surely not, right? One is just a collection of stores conveniently arranged with a totally secular purpose of selling things. The other is a religious place, where you go to worship, and think about God.
Seek first the Kingdom of Heaven.
Now, does a trip to the mall shape our desires such that we are desire the Kingdom of Heaven? As you may have guessed from the title of this post… No. It doesn’t. The question becomes – What exactly does it do to our desires? How does it shape our hearts? What vision of the good life is contained in it? Well, Smith lays out four features of the liturgy of consumption:
- I’m broken, therefore I shop. The mall is full of images; happy people in cool clothes with cool stuff and lots of friends. Every time we see those images our brains think: “That’s not me.” Our lives never match the level of joy and fulfillment and success we see in these images. Since we don’t measure up to the ideals, we fell broken – like something is wrong. But alas! There is hope… just shop! Just buy the stuff the people in the pictures have and maybe you’ll feel better… and maybe not. These images play with our very real, and good, desires for friendship and joy and fulfillment in life but the way they offer for us to seek these desires actually works against us. Everyone knows that no amount of shopping actually fulfills our desires. While telling us that we’re broken, the mall plays off our shame and embarrassment and offers us a counterfeit remedy.
- I shop with others. Consumerism is usually linked with individualism, but shopping is usually a social event. However, it is social in a weird, destructive kind of way. Instead of building community, it fosters competition as it teaches us to objectify ourselves and others. When we’re at the mall, we can’t help but notice how other people look. We are constantly looking people over and comparing them with ourselves and with the ideals we see in all the images (see #1). Its all competition. It teaches us to value other people as objects rather than love them as humans.
- I shop (and shop and shop), therefore I am. At the mall, shopping equals redemption. First, it is considered almost like a kind of therapy – a “healing activity.” Going to the mall is like going to a sanctuary where we can get away from all the frustrations of life and “be surprised” by something we find (maybe its even on sale!?!). Second, it “fixes all our problems” by giving us all the things we need to look like the people in all the ads we see (again, see #1). But then we go home… and the feeling kind of fades. Our shopping thrill is fleeting, and then what? We go back for more. Shopping exalts the things it sells as our redemption, but then encourages us to throw that redemption away after a few weeks (or days) so we don’t fall behind on the fashions. It’s not that we just go to the mall once and buy some things that make us feel good; its that we then dispose of those things and go back for even more.
- Don’t ask, don’t tell. The mall has its secrets and there is one question it does not want us to ask: “Where does all this stuff come from?” It really, really doesn’t want us to know how all of it was produced and what it took to get that stuff to the mall. Otherwise, we might just figure out that the way of life the mall has convinced us to desire is completely unsustainable. Along with being unsustainable, it selfishly lives off the backs of the majority world. The “good life” envisioned at the mall is one that will literally destroy creation. It is not a life we could ever hope to share with the rest of the world because there would simply be no world left if we did.