To Buy or Not to Buy

A GenX Spiritual Guru Looks at the Meaning of Integrating Who We Are With What We Buy.

In “Consuming Faith: Integrating Who We Are With
What We Buy,” Tom Beaudoin focuses on what he calls “economic spirituality.”

Branding ourselves
Beaudoin, who explored “the irreverent spiritual quest of Generation X” in his previous book, “Virtual Faith,” put off his doctoral dissertation in theology to embark on a self-reflective study of a “branding” economy. He wanted to examine how the goods we purchase have a personality all their own that we buy into.

He noticed that both men and women were attracted to certain brands, or perhaps more importantly the brand’s persona. Some wear baggy jeans associated with a tough streetwise persona. Others wear the sneakers associated with a certain pop or sports star, identifying themselves with that person’s image or values. Beaudoin even owns up to having a certain pair of sandals that he associates with being “earthy” or “progressive.”

The result of Beaudoin’s analysis is a new perspective on a “consuming faith”—one that “integrates who we are with what we buy.”

Truth and consequences
Beaudoin says that we all make choices about the things we purchase—the sneakers we wear, the cars we drive. He asks: What do those choices reveal about us? What consequences do those choices have on others?

For example, Beaudoin began his research by asking the producers of the goods he buys to tell him about how those goods are produced. He later writes, “I know that the materials that enable my comfort were forged under the fluorescent lights in a large room of young women half a world away. … I must open myself to seeing my goods as part of ‘one body,’ and looking through my goods to their human producers.”

The suprisingly small world
Beaudoin surprises us with how human beings around the world are (often tragically) interconnected through the daily transactions of consuming in a global capitalist economy. It is through a greater awareness of this connectedness to others that those of us who are Christians we build up the body of Christ.

While calling people to greater sensitivity and a deeper and more revealing examination of conscience, Beaudoin asks a new and fundamental Catholic question: “What is it about us that cannot be bought, branded, traded away, drugged up or dieted off?” As usual, Beaudoin has captured the experience of younger people particularly well. He brilliantly calls us to see, as St. Ignatius would say, “God in all things,” even in a trip to the mall.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Catholic News Service, and it is recreated here with permission.