Clapp, Rodney. "Green Martyrdom and the Christian Engagement of Late Capitalism." Cultural Encounters - A Journal For The Theology Of Culture Volume 4 / Number 1 (2008): 7-20.
Finished Reading: 02.2009
Rodney Clapp asserts that consumerism is desire for desires sake, and we are addicted to centering too much of our life on obtaining our desires, which are unfulfillable. Consumer capitalism demands that we make consumption our way of life, our ritual, and our spiritual satisfaction. It pretends to be a comprehensive view of life, where there is nothing beyond obtaining and acquiring.
In America, every single day of the year is a consuming holiday, and the day after an actual holiday is the first day leading up to the next holiday. The day after Thanksgiving kicks off the Christmas shopping season with huge sales! (buy! buy! buy!) Later, when we have settled down to our normal lives after the holidays, Valentines Day populates the countenance of our storefronts, screaming red and flowers and candy! Valentines Day wouldn't be anything to speak of outside the consumerist structure which has been created to take advantage of, ironically, the ancient celebration of St. Valentine, a Christian who was killed and martyred for his faith oh so long ago. We have made consumerism important because we want it to be important, perhaps subliminally covering up what these ancient holidays were really about.
A martyr is someone who endures great suffering on behalf of a belief or principle. If only St. Valentine knew what we were suffering for him. There are no martyrs in consumer capitalism, just as surely as there is no crying in baseball. Baseball players are supposed to be tough as nails, and consumers are supposed to spend money on things they don't need. That's how it goes. Subsistence living is viewed as inferior to the vision of the good life depicted in all desire-based advertising, or as you might call it, "advertising." Theologian Kevin Vanhoozer asks, "Could it be that we do not understand martyrs in our postmodern era because we cannot fathom what it is to be convicted of and committed to the truth?" Too often truth is whatever sells. Does Jesus sell?
Consumerism has been incorporated into American Christianity, and Rodney Clapp argues that, "Christ is not a pleasant add-on or option to an unending array of consumerist products and experiences," as many have come to believe. Christ is often seen only as a way for me to get what I want.
Clapp suggests a society, specifically within the church, that purposefully moves away from consumerism, thinking on our consumption of the environment, our finances, and time. This is green martyrdom: to sacrifice our apparent entitlement to obtain, which we have been reaching for as much of as we can get our hands on, at whatever the costs. We first need to be able to understand martyrdom, which starts with thinking outside ourselves.
I know we used to have martyrs around because now we have a lot of holidays to forget them by. There used to be heroes, too. Now we have celebrities. Celebrities exist for our consumption. We don't want to be like them, the real them, we just crave their attention and their phat rims. Heroes are to be honored and revered for some great deed, but they are far above the common people and we don't really try to be like them, we just look up to them.
Conversely, martyrs are to be emulated, but not for something they have done or something they have, but because the life of a martyr points to something greater than themselves, unlike every other instance of fame, which points inwards at itself. The martyr lives outside himself, and Rodney Clapp makes five strong points to illustrate what a green martyr is, comparatively less committed to the cause as the red martyr who has died for his strongly held beliefs.
1. Green martyrdom means laying the bodies of ourselves and our own on the line for our way of life, rather than making others suffer for it. We should support local economies rather than fight consumptive, distant wars to support our "consumerist way of life," even at the cost of adjusting our standards of living and energy consumption.
2. Green martyrdom means working toward an economy that includes and does not exclude and separate or hide the poor from the rich. We should establish ties with the less economically well off, and integrate rather than get as far away from them as we can. The church needs to involve itself with churches that are less economically well off as well.
3. Green martyrdom means committing our whole selves, body and soul, to church, community, and place for the long haul. We are a society in transit, consuming and moving on. We should commit to a certain place to cultivate relationships and community rather than following consumptive rewards.
4. Green martyrdom means challenging idolatry and naming greed as an acute form of idolatry. We should have conversations about where to draw the line with our greed, which is a sin just as sexual sin is surely wrong.
5. Green martyrdom means admitting the reality of death and living as if we will one day die. We can't take it with us, so we shouldn't try to get more than we need before we die. We shouldn't live our lives for the ultimate end of averting our suffering, for that is futile.
A life lived in this manner doesn't necessarily point to God, as some people can find other reasons for their moral choices, but Christians should recognize that we cannot possibly turn fully towards the good God of the Bible unless we turn fully away from consuming ourselves.