The Fragmentation and Commodification of Religions: A Mind Bubble

The Fragmentation and Commodification of Religions: A Mind Bubble December 9, 2022




Many of my friends look askance at how the Buddhist practice of mindfulness is being packaged and sold as a nostrum for much of what ills. Others are deeply concerned how Hinduism’s yoga through a fascinating history of mutual appropriation and adaptation has finally been taken over by gyms. There are too many examples of how the word Zen is coopted to sell products to list. Let’s just say from deodorant to booze, it is long…

Bewailing all this is fine. I totally enjoy a little savoring of righteous indignation. But seeing what is going on as clearly as possible is critical. And something is going on. And in my view not all of it a problem. Although it is all complicated.

Some observe this is a sad consequence of living in a Capitalist society. I think to some degree this is true. Market driven economies are the air we breathe and the water we drink. And in a world where we are either consumers or products, or both in some combination, finding facets of religion becoming product or service is just going to be a fact on the ground.  I believe a serious caution might be found in how the stock market, arguably the grand symbol of Capitalism has been described as being driven by greed and fear, which happen to be two of the three demons in the Buddhist model of human psychology.

Me, I’m not quite as anxious as some of my friends who fly flags offering various alternatives, most of which I notice find few saluting. While I think there are ways to, if you’ll pardon the image, shift the bottom line from dollars or yen or pounds or yuan to human good is more than worthy. And truth be told capitalism is not the worst organizing principle humans have come up with.

All part of the ground on which we stand.

This fragmentation and with it commodification of religion has a history. Many of the roles that religions have played in human lives have been peeling off from religions over the ages. Medicine was perhaps the first. And honestly, I find that all for the best. Psychology is a most dramatic example in the last hundred or so years.

As far as the cure of souls goes, the shift to psychology has often been good. If not with shadows. There are more contending theories than one would think likely in a discipline that aspires to be a science. I suspect this might offer up more cautions about us as human beings, and our sense of who we are, and how accurate those perceptions might be. Between what we can see of a creature that emerges in East Africa some hundreds of thousands years ago as small bands smart apes with opposable thumbs, marked by a proclivity to violence moderated by our ability to sacrifice on behalf of others, is something of a veiled mystery. Fascinating. Beautiful. And dangerous. Beyond that. Well…

One thing I have learned over the years is to be a little humble about what I think I know.

One example I find really interesting of the fragmenting of a traditional religious task is chaplaincy.  Today chaplaincy is an interesting example where secular needs arising in an increasingly secular culture is creating a kind of ministry answerable to a non-sectarian purpose.

Clinical Pastoral education is a radically non-directive approach to visiting people in crisis situations. They don’t threaten hells, they don’t offer heavens; instead they offer presence. One could argue presence in all sorts of ways. Is that religious? Is it spiritual? What we do know is that despite branding, if you will, despite sectarian association, Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist, etc., etc., if one is a fully accredited chaplain, one has an overlay of training that is rooted in this non-directive art of presence.

And the way these practitioners of this art are employed is as market driven as any other job. Fragmentation and commodification. In greater and lesser degrees…

No conclusions here. Just an observation. Or a cluster of observations.

And with that a wondering…


"I was always taught (since 1970) that in China, anyway, the five classic poses for ..."

A Note on the Use of ..."
"A wonderful piece, James. I was recently sitting a week long thing, and two days ..."

A Note on the Use of ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

Close Ad