Has John Turner Been Left Behind?
Sometimes I worry that we're (as in the Turner family) being left behind. We have an old cell phone for emergency use, but we don't know where it is. We have an inherited television (not flat screen, certainly not plasma) without a functioning remote. We don't even have Cable TV (which saves me a lot of time by preventing me from watching meaningless sporting events). I've never text messaged or used an Ipod. We just bought a used baby crib.
I've decided that our outdated ways just might be both spiritually enlightened and reflective of a trend within modern American evangelicalism. Evangelicals, although this is not widely noted because of their support for pro-business Republicans, have frequently sounded alarms about rampant materialism in American society for decades. Billy Graham, in addition to denouncing fifth-columnists in Los Angeles, also warned his early audiences about the sin of materialism. Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ encouraged his followers to "wear the cloak of materialism loosely." However, such occasional rhetoric never seemed to resonate with their upwardly mobile followers.
Spiritual stands against materialism seem to be picking up steam in recent years, certainly on the evangelical Left. As Ronald Sider -- an expert at identifying moral scandals among evangelicals -- argues, "Materialism continues to be an incredible scandal." [By the way, John Stackhouse's response to Sider in Books & Culture is worth reading].
Today I read two reviews of an amusing new documentary, "What Would Jesus Buy?", powered by the activism of Reverend Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping. See a brief mention in the New York Times and a more insightful analysis by Frederica Mathewes-Greene. Alas, Mathewes-Greene reports, Reverend Billy apparently makes very few converts in his attempt to take $ out of Christma$. For further thoughts on money and spirituality, see a year-old discussion of the topic on Speaking of Faith. [Thanks to Paul, by the way, for mentioning the Reinhold Niebuhr episode].
As someone who takes pleasure in both giving and receiving at Christmas, I probably won't alter my spending habits very much. And if everyone else pared back too much, I'm sure our economy would collapse and our meager portfolio would become valueless.
Still, I'm curious whether others feel this strain of anti-materialism (if I'm properly labeling it) reflects a significant recent trend in American evangelicalism. Building up fewer treasures on earth seems to be a movement that evangelicals of many political stripes might embrace, as it isn't necessarily partisan or divisive.
Of course, after listening to Niebuhr's emphasis on false pride and humility, I have to admit that our Luddite habits reflect finances and frugality (even that last noun is a nicer way of saying cheapness!), rather than spiritual enlightenment.