Consuming God on Black Friday

Black Friday 2011

This year’s Black Friday push-back into Thanksgiving evening, 7:00 p.m. has caused a stir as many people feel that something is amiss. But exactly what is it that’s amiss?

I was listening to a talk radio show the other day, and they were interviewing people in a Mall asking them what they thought of the incremental encroachment of sales and store hours into the sacred space of Thanksgiving Day evening – a process they dubbed “Black Friday creep.” Many said they think it’s a shame that stores just won’t leave family time alone. Others offered a more pragmatic view and said that an earlier opening Thursday evening allows people to not feel they have to stay up late into the night to take advantage of sales. One Corporate rep from a store that will open early said “it gives consumers a choice they’ve never had before. It diversifies their options, which is what drives the market and keeps our economy healthy.”

The fact is, consumerism unrestrained by a “thick” ethical and theological worldview (like that articulated in Caritas in Veritate) spares nothing in its ravenous appetite for more, insidiously, relentlessly commodifying persons and placing the core values that undergird marriage, family, childhood, adulthood, sexuality, religion, leisure, or the meaning of the “feast” (e.g. the Sunday Sabbath, Thanksgiving or Mardi Gras) at the service of the market.

On that last point, Josef Pieper powerfully argues in his book Leisure: Basis of Culture that the authentic role of leisure and the feast is to guard those God-given foundations upon which all human dignity lies: truth, goodness and beauty. When the market does not serve, but overtakes these three “transcendentals,” truth becomes a market-driven statistic, goodness a market-driven appetite, and beauty a market-driven advertising ploy.

David, Take it Away

But let me not waste any more time here trying to say poorly what David Hart, yet again, says so incisively. This is taken from his latest book, which I am also wading through with great joy, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss.

Late modern society is principally concerned with purchasing things, in ever greater abundance and variety, and so has to strive to fabricate an even greater number of desires to gratify, and to abolish as many limits and prohibitions upon desire as it can. Such a society is already implicitly atheist and so must slowly but relentlessly apply itself to the dissolution of transcendent values. It cannot allow ultimate goods to distract us from proximate goods. Our sacred writ is advertising, our piety is shopping, our highest devotion is private choice. God and the soul too often hinder the purely acquisitive longings upon which the market depends, and confront us with values that stand in stark rivalry to the one truly substantial value at the center of our social universe: the price tag. So it really was only a matter of time before atheism slipped out of the enclosed gardens of academe and down from the vertiginous eyries of high cosmopolitan fashion and began expressing itself in crassly vulgar form…In a sense, the triviality of the movement is its chief virtue. It is a diverting alternative to thinking deeply. It is a narcotic. In our time, to strike a lapidary phrase, irreligion is the opiate of the bourgeoisie, the sigh of the oppressed ego, the heart of a world filled with tantalizing toys. (313-14)

8 comments on “Consuming God on Black Friday

  1. Striving for bigger, better, faster material things deprives individuals of their piece of mind

  2. Ona says:

    Thanks for the book reference. That looks interesting.

  3. Rosary Maker says:

    Imagine – if no one shopped on these days – didn’t even show up to the store – truly made it a holiday of family. This trend of opening early on Thanksgiving would stop very fast if the companies lost $$. All we have to do is refuse to participate. So simple, yet so true!

  4. Hi Tom,

    Your post on Black Friday has really stuck with me. Yesterday, as I was leafing through the Patagonia catalog, I ran across an article that really resonated with me. The author, Bob Massie, writes about what he refers to as the New Economy, an economy which values cooperation, sharing, and durability of goods. This, to me, is the antithesis of the Black Friday mentality which posits that a healthy economy is one where we are rushing out on a day of gratitude to go shopping. If you’re interested, you can read Massie’s piece here:

    With love,

    • Fabulous article, and absolutely undoubtedly what the vision of Jesus looks like in action. In fact, just the other day I heard a lecture on the compatibility of the work of Amartya Sen and Catholic social doctrine. Thanks, as ever, Tara!! With love in return, Tom

  5. […] is next week! and the day after (or the night of for some retailers) starts the biggest shopping boom of the year. Christmas is crazy busy with travel prep, food prep, […]

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