The Commoditization of the Faithful

Conflict can lead to fewer butts in the pews and less income for the Church. This can lead to pastors being unwilling to teach challenging things for fear of driving away wealthy donors.

What is a good way to begin destroying the Church? It takes little imagination to see that there is quite a mess in the Church today, with attacks on the faithful from all sides. One could probably spend the rest of this article simply listing them. In looking at them and considering their sources, many times the conversation goes simply to disproving the false theses being put forward to defend them.

This, however, can miss an important point that one needs to consider in order to end the attacks one is defending against at a particular time. This is the question of if there are broad societal trends and mindsets that need to be dealt with first. In a previous article, I wrote about one of these that at times gets overlooked: the concept of the commoditization of man.

This mindset has grown and morphed over the centuries. But it has accelerated greatly with our modern surge in technology, especially with the growth of the internet and social media. These have brought with them the power to commoditize people far more easily than had ever previously been imagined. It’s easy to think that if things like the internet or corporate media are a problem for you, simply shutting them off and not paying attention to them is enough to solve any problems with them. 

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Although this can help solve some problems—like gambling addiction, or porn addiction, or anger issues related to bad opinions based on blatantly false information—it does not solve all of the issues that arise from these things. This is because we are social creatures; and being social creatures, if these things are devastating society as a whole—unless one is a hermit, separated entirely from society—one will inevitably have to face the effect of these things, and others like them, head on. Such is the case with the Church.

Aside from the personal call to draw ever closer to God in our own lives each and every day, the greatest call to the Church is the call to go out into the world, making disciples of all the nations through Baptism (Matthew 28:19). That is why we call it the great commission. 

Notice how money is not at all mentioned in this. While love of money is the root of all evil, money, in the concrete way the world works, is a necessity. While one may be able to go out into the world with no money or supplies and simply be supplied by God for the mission God gave us in the great commission, helping the poor and doing other necessary works of the Church generally requires money. The great churches of the world, built in order to direct one’s mind and heart to God, to teach some basics of the Faith through their art, and in order to have a special place in which the mysteries of God could be celebrated, cost money.  

This can lead to a sad reality in the Church. While we speak highly of the saints, especially those who threw off wealth and power in order to follow the Lord in the way He asked them to, with the occasional saint becoming a parish pastor, bishop, or pope, the reality is that those most likely to be in such leadership positions are those who are strong administrators. This doesn’t mean that they are necessarily unfaithful, but it means that the main reason they reach their position isn’t necessarily their strong faith. 

One only needs to look at some of the bad bishops and popes of history to see how this is the case. One who is a good evangelist is one who is willing to say the hard things that might result in disagreements, fights, and at times much more severe reprisals—such as exile and death—for the good of the souls that might be brought to Christ as a result of what they had to say. While a holy administrator sees that his purpose is to bring souls to Christ regardless of the cost, the unholy administrator sees the threat to the bottom line. He sees the difficulty of upkeeping the material edifices of the Church as more important than speaking the hard truths he is called to speak.

The percent of unfaithful administrators vs. faithful administrators, though, can be shown to increase as the society begins to see interaction with others in a more transactional way rather than in a loving and faithful way. Just remember, the most unfaithful administrator that the Church has ever had was Judas, the treasurer whose love for money outgrew his love of Christ, leading him to literally trade the life of Christ for money. 

Once again, this isn’t to say that money itself leads one to damnation, but loving it more than God can; thus, Jesus mentions the extreme difficulty of the rich getting into the Kingdom of God (Matthew 19:24). This urge to move unfaithful administrators up the leadership ladder in the Church—both due to their financial prowess and their tendency to be yes-men seeking higher office on Earth more than a place in Heaven—becomes greater when we start to add modern technology to the mix.

Before electricity, one could have tracked the flow of money through their parish, including the increase or decrease of it, and also listened to how many people complained about a priest’s sermons being too concentrated on sin. Modern technology, however, allows the commoditized mindset to grow in a far greater way than ever before. Add this to another issue that crops up from time to time in the Church, transactional Christianity, and we see a deadly combination arise. 

For those unaccustomed to this term, transactional Christianity is the idea that because I did or didn’t do something for God, God now owes me something. Perhaps I gave a needed donation that made my financial life difficult, or I chose to avoid taking part in some favorite sin because I wanted something else more from God (and on and on); but because of whatever I did, God now owes me something. Let me make clear, God can never owe us anything. If He says He will do something for us, He will make it happen not because He owes it to us in order to keep His word, but because He said He would. Knowing all and being Truth itself, if it is truly God speaking when He says He will do something, then whatever it is will come to pass eventually.  

What happens though when you have an administrator who is more worried about money than the faith of his people? Simple logic shows that the more people one has in their congregation, especially if they are wealthy, the more money that one will have in all. While transactional Christianity is deadly enough for the faith, especially if your shepherd falls into preaching the prosperity Gospel instead of the Gospel of Jesus (i.e., preaching transactional Christianity as being true), it can have far graver effects, those being doctrinal. 

Conflict can lead to fewer butts in the pews and less income for the Church. This can lead to pastors being unwilling to teach challenging things for fear of driving away wealthy donors. At best, this can lead to leaving out important passages or subjects that might lead to conflict. At worst, one can end up with a shepherd who is nothing more than a religiously-themed motivational speaker (i.e., what Joel Osteen is for the Protestants). In this case, he feeds the section of the flock that seeks validation instead of truth. This can lead to a whole host of things contrary to the Faith being preached from the pulpit and published in the books these people write, and so forth.  

This also leads to fertile ground for the seeds of gnostic thought to begin to be planted. Gnostic thought, simply stated, is the idea that the material world was made evil and the spiritual world is good. Our bodies are merely shells in which our spirits are trapped unless freed through reaching gnosis via special knowledge only granted to a few (extreme clericalism of the unbelieving shepherd anyone?). 

While much more could be said of Gnosticism, the fertile ground for this heresy is laid when the faithful begin to see a separation between their shepherds and the Faith. The most direct modern way to say this is, “Why should I believe something about the Faith that even my priest/bishop doesn’t believe? I must just be more enlightened in the way things are than he and the Church have been in the past, and it’s my job to show them that.” In the end, priests and bishops seeing their people merely as numbers (as the world sees them) and not as people (as God sees them) leads to spiritual devastation. As we live amid the results of this devastation, the first step to recovering from it is recognizing it.

[Image Credit: Shutterstock]


  • Christopher Lippold

    Christopher Lippold is a lifelong Catholic with a Masters Degree in Dogmatic Theology from Holy Apostles in Cromwell, CT. He also holds a Bachelor’s degree in Meteorology and a minor in Philosophy from Northern Illinois University.

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