Today we attended our church Advent Conspiracy class.   We had an interesting conversation, given that our Episcopalian reflections were linked to the liturgical calendar as opposed to a strict evangelical reading, from which the founders of the Advent Conspiracy arose. 

The Advent Conspiracy study guide stated, quite accurately, that “the fastest-growing religion in the world is not Islam or Christianity; the symbol of this rising faith is not the star and crescent or the cross, but a dollar sign.  This expanding belief system is radical consumerism…it demands complete devotion.”  To be sure, there is a new dominating religion on the rise, but is it merely consumerism?  Eugene McCarraher’s interview from The Other Journal states otherwise.  As he argues, “I think that Christians should stop yakking about consumerism.  Consumerism is not the problem—capitalism is. Consumerism is the work ethic of consumption, the transformation of leisure and pleasure into duties. Talking about consumerism is a way of not talking about capitalism, and I’ve come to think that that’s the reason why so many people, including Christians, whine about it so much.” 

It’s difficult to argue against McCarraher’s point.  Yet it’s even more difficult to get people to think this through.   I think this is a perfect moment of Zizekian ideology – we all know the statistics around how many business’ balance sheets depend on the Christmas sales cycle; we all know that seventy percent of our economy is built on consumerism and debt – yet we still talk about symptoms and not the underlying problem.  Perhaps such talk merely helps us to assuage our guilt and complacency, or perhaps it helps us to look away from the inexorable situation we’ve built for ourselves. 

Still, we have to begin somewhere.  And if it’s true that capitalism is a disciplinary power, then it’s to be expected that a countering disciplining power will take time.  Talk about consumerism might just be the first conversation of many before we reach capitalism. 

How then to do this?  In order to truly think and act as ‘conspirators,’ we might do better by paying more attention to time, or to what worshiping communities do with their understanding of time.  It was pointed out in the group that in order to offer a conspiracy, we have to think consumerism and Christmas as linked to other times throughout the year.  Is Christmas really separate from Easter or Ordinary time?  Does consumerism take a break from January to October?  Now of course this time of year we especially feel the need to consume and arguably buy more than other times of the year by comparison (and we know the number of business that rely on this time of year to stay afloat), yet the incentive for consumption extends further and further out from the 25th of Christmas (pre and post holiday sales). 

What if we offered was not merely an Advent Conspiracy (though this is the logical place to start), but a Liturgical Calendar Conspiracy?  For the reality is that we are indoctrinated into capitalist practices throughout the entire year.  To expect then that we can merely put on the brakes during our busy holiday season when consumerism/capitalism reaches its highest crescendo, all the while neglecting the rest of the year, is a sure-fire way to burn ourselves out.  If nothing else, it’s a sure-fire way to enter battle completely unprepared.