The Dangers of the One-Stop Shopping Mentality

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It's no secret: Americans like convenience. They tend to love anything that will allow them to "kill two birds with one stone" and to "get more for their money." As a result, any number of things have come about—particularly over the last century—which allow Americans (and, increasingly, people in industrialized countries worldwide) to get "more" for "less," and to do "more" while actually doing "less." This type of phenomenon spans the range from bundling one's car and homeowner's insurance into one, to shopping at megastores that sell food, clothing, housewares, pharmaceuticals, entertainment and electronics all under one roof (that often has a McDonald's and/or a Starbuck's as well). Rather than visiting a number of independent local stores that deal with various food products and other desirables (or, as is the reality more often these days, smaller specialized stores that are still national or international chains, often located in malls), it is just easier to go to the megastore and get everything.

I've used this metaphor before in history of religions classes that I've taught to describe the change from polytheism to exclusive monotheism that occurred in Europe and the Mediterranean in late antiquity. The plentitude of local deities and land spirits, and more international mystery cults and divine devotions, eventually could not compete with the increasing political pressure and benefits granted to a particular exclusively monotheistic religion. Further, that monotheistic religion even started to "sell" some of the same "products" under their own label. The cults of particular deities like Anubis, Isis, Bríg and Lug became St. Christopher, the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Brigid and St. Molacca, amongst various other such phenomena. Syncretism and practice of multiple traditions on the part of individuals was deemed a sin, whereas "Christianization" or the institutional re-use of sacred sites was perfectly acceptable when the "religious megastore" did it.

One could use this metaphor somewhat literally to make the very-valid case that modern Pagans and polytheists should probably not support such megastores for a variety of reasons, including that they don't favor the rights of workers and they tend to dominate local economies and destroy smaller businesses. Those points are true and accurate, and I think rather obvious. However, I think the utility of this metaphor extends to something that occurs an awful lot in the spiritual lives of some people today, and to which Pagans and polytheists can often be prone in ways that are far less obvious.

The mentality of "one-stop shopping" is a pervasive cultural meme to which Americans in particular are so prone that it infuses almost all things in our life with its apparent validity.

Ideally, every religious viewpoint or spiritual practice is an all-encompassing worldview, which touches all aspects of one's life and has a potential influence in all areas of our existence. This has always been the case with religions, and yet in the post-Constitutional United States of America, we are all used to there being a "wall of separation" between church and state, and certain rights due to every person under the First Amendment. I think this is a good and praiseworthy thing, and should in no way be abridged or reduced for all people in the U.S. Yet, when we go to the polls, we do not suddenly give up our spiritual identities, and our politicians likewise do not cease to be religious practitioners of whatever stripe they happen to be. The difficulty comes when they legislate their own personal moralities into binding requirements for all people living under their jurisdictions, particularly on matters in which religions and denominations are not in broad agreement. Every religion could probably agree that criminal charges of some sort against murderers and rapists are a good thing and should be in place; gay marriage, however, is another matter altogether, as is multiple-marriage.

It may very well be a spiritual imperative for some of us, therefore, to do things like campaign for equal rights in terms of marriage accessibility, or for economic reform, or for environmental concerns, or to participate in anti-war demonstrations, and any number of other such causes. The ethics implied by our own religious worldviews might make it a necessity for us to speak up on such matters out of a sense of justice and recognition of the inherent worth in such causes and their results for human society as well as the environment. All of this, I would affirm, is excellent and worthwhile, and should be a priority for us whenever it is possible to do so.