A recent article in The New York Times reported the opening of the first Indian megatemple (the Hindu equivalent of the American megachurch). The enormous building is designed to attract and entertain the un-templed with a large-format movie screen, an indoor boat ride, and even a hall of animatronic characters. The temple's public relation's director proudly admits, "There is no doubt about it—we have taken the concept from Disneyland."
Similarly, Times writer Laurie Goodstein has reported on the struggle of American Muslim clerics to protect their faith from the influence of materialism and consumerism. Indications are that over time American Hindu and Muslim leaders will follow Christians in succumbing to the siren song of consumerism.
Christian critiques of consumerism usually focus on the dangers of idolatry—the temptation to make material goods the center of life rather than God. This, however, misses the real threat consumerism poses. My concern is not materialism, strictly speaking, or even the consumption of goods—as contingent beings, we must consume resources to survive. The problem is not consuming to live, but rather living to consume.
We find ourselves in a culture that defines our relationships and actions primarily through a matrix of consumption. As the philosopher Baudrillard explains, "Consumption is a system of meaning." We assign value to ourselves and others based on the goods we purchase. One's identity is now constructed by the clothes you wear, the vehicle you drive, and the music on your iPod.
In short, you are what you consume.
This explains why shopping is the number one leisure activity of Americans. It occupies a role in society that once belonged only to religion—the power ...