Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Religious Consumer Attitude

I have been meaning to address some issues I raised in a post entitled Mature Gnosticism that pointed out some of the immature attitudes towards Gnosticism. Here is part one.

Probably what bugs me the most about the interactions that I have with people as a Gnostic Priest can be summed up as expressions of a consumer attitude towards religion. That somehow I am the producer and marketer of a product to which those who would come are merely passive consumers. And as consumers, they somehow feel that it should be exactly as they would want it to be (even if they don't know what that is), or they won't “buy it” even though it is free (for them). This will never be the ideal product they want to buy--even if you ignore the fact that Gnosticism doesn't work like that.

  • The forms that become very popular are only tangentialy Gnostic at best, and appeal to the prejudices of their "consumers." On a real spiritual path, prejudices are hindrances that need to be examined and most likely discarded.

  • Ego appeal and gratification are major components of products, along with fear of the consequences of not having it. In the Gnostic perspective the Ego is an echo of the Demiurge, it needs to be transformed by Gnosis, not butressed up in false grandiosity. Fear of not attaining liberation does not seem to be a large motivating factor in general, and if it were, our practices are beneficial not necessary.

  • The two identity apeals of products are: that they make one a part of a group, or that they set one apart from the group. Gnostics groups tend to be small. Even in large cities, they rarely get up to what a mainstream denomination would call a “small” congregation. (Of course, if everyone who left to be a part of a larger organization stayed...) The other issue, that of being set apart, is an expectation that puts the "consumer" in opposition to the group when they find that it isn't somehow an “un-group.”

  • The packaging of consumer products is designed to appeal to the consumer's expectations and assumptions while being eye-catching and standing out. Our “packaging” (liturgical style, style of vestments, etc.) brings the wrong sort of expectations and assumptions—that have to be gotten past to get to the experience where the Gnosis can be found.

In a future post I'll look at the alternative.


Jordan Stratford+ said...

Another excellent post: it is likewise difficult to communicate the real cost of the "product" we're "selling". It will likely cost you your sense of self, your old attachments, your white-light-fluffy-bunny sense of security...

It's HARD because it's simple; we live in a world that values complexity, and have acclimatized ourselves accordingly.

Look forward to the other installments, Troy+

sparkwidget said...

Troy, I really appreciated this. In light of the popular culture boom concerning all things Gnostic, this is really something we have to be careful about. It is almost tempting to try to "package" and "sell" Gnosis, for our own glory and the glory of our tradition. It seems to me, in the wake of Judas, people are looking to Gnosticism for what you describe, a confirmation of their own beliefs. For most people, their desired beliefs go as far as "I just want proof that the Church is wrong." As someone with a foot in both orthodoxy and heterodoxy, I can tell you that this attitude is harmful to both Gnosis and orthodoxy.

Beware the coming pop culture Gnostic crapfest in Da Vinci's wake. It will be obnoxious for a while, but perhaps some genuine Gnosis will grow out of it.