On Tuesday night while watching Veronica Mars, I saw a commercial for Mazda that had people looking in their rear-view mirrors and seeing an old fogey version of themselves. Their sedans made people believe these 30somethings were 70 and they must immediately buy a new car before something serious happened. On CarTalk, a 35-year-old woman asked for advice on hipster cars because she thought her current car was too old lady. I thought, these people are crazy or! Harvey Cox is right.
In the Atlantic Monthly, Harvey Cox published an article called “The Market as God”. He argues that there’s a new god in town. The Market. It didn’t kill God or fill up the hole left when He died rather we’ve converted whole-heartedly to a new religion and a new God.
I am persuaded that the Market has all the makings of a religion. It defines our value system, our mythologies, “what we believe is important in life, what we are striving for,what we believe is wrong with us and the society and what we are to do”. (Interview with Cox) It requires an abiding faith. When the stock market goes down, plummets even, we are told to wait and see, to be patient because at the end of the long-haul we will receive our rewards. We must trust that, despite financial pains and economic hardships, the Market knows best. The Market provokes evangelism and indeed it can only thrive if we take free democratic markets all over the world. We’re even willing to fight wars to get this Market truth out there. Economic Growth has become the way that we care for the poor, a mandate recognized in most religions, and the Market earnestly works to perpetuate this ideology. In fact, “any mention of the need to end [economic] growth elicits protests that doing so would condemn the poor to perpetual deprivation” (Korten 48).
The Market is omniscient–it knows us, what we need, how to get and what is best for us. It knows what it’s doing even when our human eyes see failure all around. It is omnipotent–with the power to make something from nothing through commodification, er, transubstantiation. Cox believes that soon the heavens will be for sale, since body parts, whole towns, children, adults, and sacred religious relics have already made the transition to being goods. And it is omnipresent which I think goes without saying.
Harvey Cox has admitted to being rather pessimistic in his article, and I completely agree. He is pessimistic. However I will say unflinchingly that “free markets” have become our diplomatic cure-all in international problem solving. We have come to believe that poor countries, and there are so many, must have a free market in order to survive, and if the introduced democracy doesn’t work it’s because they didn’t do it right (see most Southeast Asian economies). I also believe that on a national and local scale what we think is right and good for us is shaped more by market forces and advertising than by our religious traditions. That said, I believe in markets (I vote smaller scale) and I also believe our God hasn’t given up yet. Mark the prophets’ words.
There is nothing more brilliantly anti-Market than keeping the Sabbath day holy. It’s a commandment that takes everyone off the consumer grid for one day every single week. Since Hinckley has been the prophet he has said multiple times that too many people are shopping on Sundays. Stop it, he says. We need to have at least one day when we pay no tithes to the Market God.
Elder Holland (Oct 2005) recently said that Mormons should not get plastic surgery. I have a good friend who wants breast implants because she feels her body so inadequate in her marriage. Her husband also happens to have a severe porn addiction. Who taught her that was what she needed to do to secure her marriage? Who taught her that her body wasn’t good enough? Not our Beehive teacher. I don’t even think Yahweh of the OT, though unpredictable, would have taught his disciples that.
A few years back, Boyd Packer (yes! I am agreeing with him) spoke of his fears about spending among Mormons. He sees all around him people worshipping their houses and their cars, their toys and their clothes. He warned us, in the way only Boyd K. can, that we would be destroyed if we continued this love affair with consumption. He is convinced that the more we get the more we want and the more willing we are to compete with others.
We have also come to embrace the Market’s business tactics in character development. We believe in being highly effective people, habitually. We must be productive and efficient at church and in our spiritual development. It is the Market that teaches us to value product. There is no return in giving our time to the homeless, handicapped, to the sick and the dying. We’ll usually never change their lives, only ease a little loneliness. Christ said that in order to be a part of his body we must comfort those that stand in need of comfort and mourn with those that mourn. In Market terms, crying with people is not very productive. Unless they’ve got a heady investment portfolio.
The Market is the potent god of a heavily structured, faith-requiring religion, and it is currently our default. I believe that we must be very deliberate about our belief and practice of any faith if we determine not to be an acolyte of this god. I believe the prophets are trying to teach us this deliberateness.