30 Jan

The Market-Driven Marriage?

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 01/30/06

The May 2005 issue of Harper's featured a very disturbing feature about the Rev. Ted Haggard, or "Pastor Ted" as he is affectionately and informally named by his congregation. Haggard is the pastor of the 12,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs, and the current president of the National Association of Evangelicals. Among the disturbing features in the article was this observation by the author, Jeff Sharlet:

"One of Pastor Ted's favorite books is Thomas Friedman's The Lexus and the Olive Tree, which is now required reading for the hundreds of pastors under Ted's spiritual authority across the country. From Friedman, Pastor Ted says he learned that everything, including spirituality, can be understood as a commodity."

Well, yes, everything can be understood as a commodity. But far from being a convenient characteristic of modern life, this is a temptation of inadequate analogizing which should be resisted by everyone, and which the Church and its leaders should be warning against rather than glibly and carelessly promoting. If Uncle Screwtape were still advising his trainee in our market-driven society, I'm sure among advice he would give is "Get your patient to see everything in life as a commodity. This will give us a point of leverage by which to advance his sense of his own sovereignty ('the customer is always right,' after all) and his feeling that unfashionable ideas and commitments are disposable."

The devilish disorder promoted in our lives by the assumption that everything can be understood as a commodity is illustrated in a recent column in the San Francisco Chronicle, headlined "Marriage proposal: Why not privatize? Partnerships could be tailored to fit." The article, written by a lawyer named Colin P. A. Jones, argues at one point: "Exclusivity and the use of choice to define one's identity are at the core of modern consumer society. Extending this to marriage is only logical."

It shouldn't be that hard to see why the commodification of everything is a problem, not an opportunity. (One of our former guests, Vincent Miller, did a marvelous job spelling out many of these problems in his book Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture). But as in many instances, the pursuit of "cultural relevance" is radically different from the pursuit of cultural wisdom. [Posted January 2006, KAM]