It’s important to point out that, while I’m Jewish, I spent a large amount of my childhood in and out of churches. With that came a myriad of different types of churches, and consequently, a large number of different experiences. One trend, however, worried me growing up, and makes me feel even more disconcerted now as an adult: the commercialization of religion. Smaller churches didn’t seem to deal with this too much. I’m primarily discussing mega-churches and televangelists.
I visited a couple of different mega churches while living in Texas. While both were — as the name implies — massive, they differed in tone and substance. In one, the preacher spent inordinate amounts of time trying to push his book sales. Increasingly vivid and scripturally baseless, apocalyptic theories were used to boost attendance and fuel further books.
In the other, the entire service was staged like a production. The stage was used like a stage of any concert. Large displays served to shock the audience, as did visual displays of disregard for the religion itself, such as tossing bibles off tall ladders. The primary concern of the church was to perpetually boost numbers.
Then there were the televangelists whose churches I never set foot in, but rather, watched sermons of alongside documentaries about the movements they founded. At the point I began watching these documentaries, I admit I was purely watching as a source of research. Even more than in the churches I had visited as a child, these were more flooded with calls for donations from viewers. Books were advertised during commercial breaks. Guilt tripping was utilized as a method of obtaining money.
None of this is in any way to bash Christianity as a whole. Rather, I find it concerning how many religious organizations, which should serve as cultural hubs for community building and religious expression, become focused purely on commodifying the religious. God is commodified, and consumerism becomes the primary method of displaying one’s devotion. Realizing that the Simpsons episode “She of Little Faith,” in which their church becomes ran by business sponsorship, was so close to reality really made me uneasy. I’m not sure there’s really a solution which can be readily come by, but I hope that fewer churches, or religious organizations from any religion, continue to persist. If the point of a religious organization is to facilitate and strengthen the spirituality of its attendants, then the focus should be on the cost of the cross, not corporate costs.