Shopping for Meaningful Lives: The Religious Motives of Consumerism. By Bruce P. Rittenhouse. Eugene, Ore.: Cascade Books, 2013. ISBN: 978-16203-2114-0. xii and 211 pages. Paper. $25.00.
Rittenhouse argues that consumerism is an existential meaning strategy, and therefore has been misunderstood by every major attempt to confront it. If the church is to counter consumerism, it must propose a Christian existential meaning strategy.
Rittenhouse identifies five types of theories about consumerism's cause: greed, status signaling, manipulation by advertising, "imaginative hedonism" (the consumer imagining what she could do with a commodity), and "parental concern" (competition over resources required to meet perceived needs of children). Rittenhouse evaluates these with empirical data, such as savings rates among U.S. adults, the reported happiness of U.S. Americans, and changes in employment status and income. Rittenhouse finds that the data do not justify any of the five types of theories, but they do support his theory of consumerism as existential life strategy.
Rittenhouse does not make enough of his most recent sources on existential meaning strategies. His chief theological source for existential theology is Paul Tillich, chiefly backed by Alfred Adler and Erich Fromm. The reader could easily...