Daniel Bell, in The Economy of Desire, is concerned with capitalism’s destructive effects, including its marketization and commodification of all of life. That is, capitalism fosters in us habits of mind, shaping our imaginations so that we envision all aspects of our lives as consumers.
This includes how we participate in Christian communities:
[T]he habits we learn as consumers in the market economy tend to carry over to other dimensions of life. Thus we are conditioned to approach religion as a commodity, as just another consumer good alongside toothpaste and vacation homes. Think, for instance, of the commonplace practice of “church shopping.” This is to say, capitalism encourages a shallow, decontextualized engagement with religious beliefs. Like the vast array of exotic cultural products from around the world that appear side by side on the shelves of the import franchise at the mall, in a consumer culture, believers tend to become free-floating cultural objects. These objects do not require anything of me; they entail no particular commitment or engagement. They do not bind me to any particular people or community. Rather, they function only to serve the end(s) or purpose(s) I choose, which, in the case of religious choices, might include shoring up my self-image as “spiritual,” or providing meaning amid the stresses of my middle-class life or the right values for my children, and so on. (Consider the popular standard for evaluating worship: “Does it meet my needs?”). Reduced to a religious commodity, Christian beliefs can be held in the midst of a political economy that runs counter to those beliefs without any tension at all (p. 21).
The commodification of the imagination happens to church leaders, too.
In several contexts I’ve heard pastors and ministry leaders speak of their churches in terms of “giving units.” Those in the pew aren’t people to whom I am intensely committed, humans with histories, hopes, fears, families, sorrows, and joys. They’re “giving units,” manipulable by market forces in service to the bottom line–the church budget.
It seems to me that there’s something seriously sinister at work when caretakers of souls look at the people entrusted to them by the Lord of the church and see them in market terms.