Celestial Lands The Religious Crossroads of Politics, Power, and Theology

The Commoditization of Religion

The recent media attention that Fox News personality Brit Hume drew for himself by suggesting that Tiger Woods find his way out of his current marital and image problems by converting from Buddhism to Christianity, because Christianity offers a “better” (perhaps easier) form of forgiveness, has gotten me thinking about salvation and atonement. Particularly, it has begun me thinking about how many religious traditions try to “advertise” their faiths as offering some kind of practical benefits… and even, as in this case, suggesting that one can “trade up” to a religion that better suits your needs.

In other words, it is the promotion of these religious traditions as commodities.

It is not surprising that this is a factor in how we relate to religion in our current American culture. We are so formed by capitalism that there are few parts of our lives that escape from its ideology. We see this trend of “Join our religion for what it can do for you” not just in the kind of Evangelical Christianity that Hume is professing, but also in schools of Yoga that focus on how that faith practice will give you “six-pack abs”, or schools of Buddhism that offer to help solve emotional and psychological problems. We see it in Christian churches of the prosperity gospel, which tout that belief will lead to worldly gains. We see it in schools of Islam that offer fantastic rewards in the afterlife for sacrifice in this life. We even see it in Unitarian Universalism, when we put together ad campaigns detailing the wonderful benefits of liberal religious community, rather than the commitment to giving a gift to the world by leading a prophetic life.

I know that in our society we have created a meme where the only form of promotion we understand is of the “What will you do for me” variety, but I believe that this form of thinking has serious effects on religious traditions that form their identity in full or in part from this kind of self-promotion. What religious tradition each of us is called to should be a matter of deep conviction, of values, and of practices that feed our souls and call us to a deeper relationship with ultimacy. When we seek to expand the call to our tradition among others, it should be for the same reasons. The primary question our religious traditions should ask of us is what we have to give, not what we want or even what we need.

I believe it is a cheapening of the message of Jesus of Nazareth when you portray the reasons why someone should become a Christian as what benefits they might reap from such a profession of faith. The Jesus I know would ask his followers what their faith called them to give, not what it calls them to take.

For it is in what we give, to others and of ourselves, that we find atonement and salvation.

Yours in Faith,


5 Thoughts on “The Commoditization of Religion

  1. Hi! First time commenter here! 🙂

    I’m reading a book that talks about how we humans have, by and large, focused on love (consciously or unconsciously) as a transactional arrangement.

    We often, even when we think we are doing something altruistically or unconditionally, still hope that it will get us something in return, even if that something is love.

    I find myself wondering if transactional love is not only human nature, but that it might be, in a way, sin (hamartia) – our greatest weakness and fatal flaw.

    And I find myself thinking that agape love – divine love – as portrayed by Christ is the solution.

    It is sad that Brit Hume seems to think that God’s love is of the transactional variety, rather than seeing that it is actually just the opposite.

    Thanks for making me think. I might make this comment its own blog post over at my place. 🙂

  2. “and even, as in this case, suggesting that one can “trade up” to a religion that better suits your needs. . . In other words, it is the promotion of these religious traditions as commodities.”

    You mean like The Religion For Our TIME™* David?

    Sorry for pulling a Drennan on you, but at least I framed it as a Big Fat Unitarian Question rather than arrogantly saying –

    “You mean (fill in the blank).”

    I seem to recall that UUA President Rev. Peter Morales suggested that people could pretty much “trade up” to The Tiny Declining Fringe Religion™ by “putting down” pretty much ALL of the other “old religions” as “obsolete religions, created for an*other* time. . .” in order that his “We *can* be the religion for our time” campaign slogan didn’t come off as *completely* U*Unrealistic.

    I believe it is a cheapening of the message of Unitarian*Universalism when you portray the reasons why someone should become a Unitarian as not only what benefits they might reap from The U*U Movement™ but demonize and marginalize many if not most other world religions in your marketing spiel. . . Of course its *also* a cheapening of Unitarian*Universalism to refer to it as The U*U Movement™ if U*Us will forgive *that* cheap shot. 😉

    UUA President Peter Morales could do worse than seek some atonement, if not salvation. . . for/from his “less than kind” and “less than necessary” demonizing and marginalizing half truths about all those old “obsolete religions” like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (to say nothing of Hinduism and Buddhism. . .) that only “lead to tribalism, violence, suspicion, hatred, and oppression” and “contribute to the darkness” of “hatred, injustice, prejudice, ignorance”

    * The ™ refers to President Peter Morales’ complete “We *Can* Be The Religion For Our Time” “marketing slogan” for what he himself freely and (ir)responsibly acknowledges would currently be more truthfully and accurately described as (if not marketed as. . .) The Tiny Declining Fringe Religion™, not just TIME™ magazine in which the UUA chose the dU*Ubious fate of affirming and promoting aka marketing Unitarian*Universalism as a commodity for people who are “uncomfortable with the idea of God — or at least someone else’s idea of God.”

  3. For once, David, we agree wholeheartedly (gives me rather a warm, fuzzy feeling ;). It is not about what we get, but what we give.

    To help others is to ultimately give help to God – an act of worship. As Jesus said in Matthew 25:40, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

    Your old pal,

  4. That’s an interesting point of view. At on UU church I attended we talked about Religous Consumerism in terms of how those in their 20’s-30’s may view the church.

    I wonder if our becoming a service economy might have some impact on what you are analyzing.

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