Buddhist-Christian Studies 20 (2000) 233-235
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News and Views
The 1999 Meeting of the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies
Edward L. Shirley
St. Edward's University
The annual meeting of the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies met in Boston on Friday and Saturday, November 19 and 20, 1999. This year's papers addressed the problems of consumerism from Buddhist and Christian perspectives.
In the first session, Stephanie Kaza presented a paper in which she analyzed consumerism in light of Buddhist teachings. In her introduction, she offered a brief analysis of consumerist patterns in the first, third, and "fifth" worlds, paying special attention to the ecological impacts of consumerism, the formation of an ideology of consumerism, and the various players in the globalization of consumerism.
In the second part of her paper, Stephanie offered an analysis of American "mall mentality" in light of the twelve links of codependent origination found in Buddhist teachings. One can enter the wheel at any point, and malls, advertising, and the entirety of consumeristic culture are designed to stimulate the birth of each of these links: malls are designed to engender craving, clinging, ignorance, and so forth. Because each link in the chain leads to the next, there ensues a "vicious cycle" from which it is difficult to escape. As one can enter the cycle at any point, however, the chain can be broken at any point as well. It was at this point that Stephanie offered a framework for liberation, noting that in Buddhism there are spiritual practices which are designed to help break the cycle at any link, and thus lead to liberation.
As there was no Christian respondent, the session went immediately to group discussion, where the worldwide proliferation of "mall mentality" was explored, with the observation that malls in Asian countries are often indistinguishable from those in the United States, even housing identical stores. A sense of helplessness and frustration was expressed by many, but it was noted that each Tradition has a set of tools and resources for dealing with both the frustration as well as the disease, including teachings regarding moderation, simplicity, and restraint.
In the second session, Jay McDaniel addressed consumerism from a Christian perspective. Noting that we sometimes speak of dual practice as Buddhists and Christians, he spoke of the "dual practice" of being both a consumer and a Christian. Thus, he noted, he was speaking about consumerism from the inside. Sharing a parable of an old woman and a grasshopper, Jay spoke of various dimensions of [End Page 233] Christian life, such as seeing the Divine in others, hearing and discerning an inner voice, themes of death and Resurrection, and approaching God, not as an object, but as "open space."
Jay then spoke of the "Bad News" of consumeristic society, which has produced an over-consuming and "consuming" lifestyle and values to support that lifestyle. It has become, Jay argued, an unofficial religion in which economic growth has become God, and whose priests are economists, politicians and CEOs. Evangelistic advertisers draw us into the church, that is, the mall, and offer us the salvation of appearance, affluence, and marketable achievement. Creation is a collection of commodities and humans are skin-encapsulated egos.
Jay then spoke of the need for Christians to respond on three levels: intellectual reflection, practical action, and spiritual discipline. For the first level, Jay emphasized a twofold approach: there is a need for historical and policy analysis as well as an explicit presentation of Christian alternative worldviews to the predominant consumerist myth. For the second level, Jay emphasized the need for social engagement to address the structural factors of consumerism. For the third level, he emphasized the need to develop a quality of heart that expresses itself in the intellectual and action arenas, particularly through a revitalization of the Christian contemplative tradition. Through daily practice of sacramental awareness (the presence of the Divine here and now), discernment, trust, and open space, through a daily practice of letting go and living the Paschal Mystery, Jay said Christians can begin to counter the lure...