G.K. Chesterton once remarked in several passages some idea to the effect that when a man will no longer believe in God, it is not so much that be believes nothing, rather, it is more the case that he will believe in anything. As was so often the case, Chesterton’s words were not only descriptive, but prophetic, for a modern world that proclaims the death of God has not replaced its belief in God with belief in nothing, but belief in all sorts of things. Man today has not rejected religion, but has simply chosen new religions, among them: Materialism, Secularism, Individualism, Liberalism, worship of celebrity, and Stuffism. They have their own rituals, own houses of worship, own set of beliefs, high priests, and high holy days. On the day after Thanksgiving, falls the holiest day of the Stuffist calendar, Black Friday.
In his important, if challenging book, The Unintended Reformation, Professor Brad Gregory of the University of Notre Dame has remarked on the increasing secularization of Western Society that had been an unintended consequence of the Protestant Reformation. As a result of hyper-pluralism--a proliferation of religious (and non-religious) beliefs-- society has reached the point where it can no longer agree on anything. Like Chesterton’s unbeliever who would believe, not in nothing, but in anything, a society that can longer organize itself around shared religious beliefs must organize around something. That something, is Stuffism.
Society today may be able to agree on little, but most people can agree that they want stuff and they want alot of it. Gregory calls this the religion of Stuffism. Its followers are as devoted as followers any religion have been. Its main doctrines involve the pursuit of material goods as the highest principle of life; meaning in life is comes from pursuit and attainment of new stuff. Man’s appetite for the infinite (for what save the infinite could satisfy man’s endless longing), once met by an infinite God, is now to be met by an infinite amount and quality of stuff. Man must own the newest I-pad, Tablet, car, or fad. Salvation comes not from a personal relationship with God, but from having the latest and best stuff.
Stuffism has its own houses of worship, more ornate and decorated than any Church. A popular and rather shallow attack on Christianity has sometimes dwelt on its ornate Churches while many starve—as if the poor do not need beauty as well as food! Stuffist houses of worship, though, are more ornate than nearly any Church. The young and old gather devotedly at Macy’s, Abercrombie and Fitch, the Mall. Cardinal Dolan once observed sadly that when he saw young people lined up at a house of worship on Sunday morning, they were lined up, not outside a Church, but outside an Abercrombie and Fitch store.
Stuffism has its own rituals, sacraments, and holy days. Its Confirmation/Bar Mitzvah/coming of age ritual is receiving one’s first credit card when one becomes a fully initiated Stuffist. Its rituals include waiting in line to purchase the newest I-pad. The Holiest day of the Stuffist calendar falls on Black Friday. Early Black Friday morning, devout Stuffists gather outside their houses of worship for the newest deals, intent on acquiring the newest stuff at the best price (the better to get even more stuff). They can even worship from the comfort of their houses thanks to the ease of online purchasing.
Such is the religion of Stuffism in brief. There is, though, something unsatisfying about the Stuffist creed, the idea that man’s greatest purpose lies in gaining more stuff, that this can be the organizing principle of society, and that enough stuff might satisfy the human heart, for it never does. Those who follow the Stuffist religion most devoutly are the least satisfied. They must always have the newest thing and more stuff and so can never be more than briefly satisfied by what they have. The Stuffist creed leaves one wanting where it most claims to satisfy, a poor religion for the human heart.