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Shopping for Meaningful Lives: The Religious Motives of Consumerism.

Shopping for Meaningful Lives: The Religious Motives of Consumerism. By Bruce P. Rittenhouse. Eugene, Ore.: Cascade Books, 2013. ISBN: 978-16203-2114-0. xii and 211 pages. Paper. $25.00.

Rittenhouse argues that consumerism is an existential meaning strategy, and therefore has been misunderstood by every major attempt to confront it. If the church is to counter consumerism, it must propose a Christian existential meaning strategy.

Rittenhouse identifies five types of theories about consumerism's cause: greed, status signaling, manipulation by advertising, "imaginative hedonism" (the consumer imagining what she could do with a commodity), and "parental concern" (competition over resources required to meet perceived needs of children). Rittenhouse evaluates these with empirical data, such as savings rates among U.S. adults, the reported happiness of U.S. Americans, and changes in employment status and income. Rittenhouse finds that the data do not justify any of the five types of theories, but they do support his theory of consumerism as existential life strategy.

Rittenhouse does not make enough of his most recent sources on existential meaning strategies. His chief theological source for existential theology is Paul Tillich, chiefly backed by Alfred Adler and Erich Fromm. The reader could easily think that Rittenhouse is repristinating the theology of the 1950s. However, the hinge of Rittenhouse's argument occurs in Chapter 5, where he cites Tim Kasser's work in psychology (from 2004), which demonstrates that people "primed with thoughts of death, guilt, or meaninglessness are more likely to display consumeristic values and desires" (147).

The question of existence did not die with Paul Tillich. Rittenhouse sees Tillich's theology as a starting point for theological attempts to counter consumerism with Christianity. Within the confines of the argument Rittenhouse is spot on, although for the sake of his argument he can narrow definitions, sometimes to absurdity. For example, he rejects postmodern opposition to consumerism because his definition of "postmodern" is "consumerist." Therefore any postmodern opposition is logically incoherent. Nonetheless Rittenhouse does make a powerful case for an existential Christian opposition to consumerism.

Timothy Andrew Leitzke

Tree of Life Lutheran Church, Odessa, Delaware

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Author:Leitzke, Timothy Andrew
Publication:Currents in Theology and Mission
Article Type:Book review
Date:Feb 1, 2015
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