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The New Public Square

I’ve been taking Gospel, Church and Culture this summer at Tyndale. Here are some excerpts from an interesting article I recently finished – The not-so-naked new public square by Rodney Clapp:

“Shopping malls have quite consciously been built and presented as public squares, commons, or downtowns. Mall architecture incorporates-albeit in an artificial, thermostatically regulated fashion-many of the fixtures of older downtown areas. Walkways are laid out in squares and rectangles, urging circuitous wandering. Fountains shoot. Trees and lesser greenery soften and enliven the scene. Benches invite rest, lingering, and the possibility of conversation. Amphitheaters await performances and audiences.

In addition, malls no longer simply sell products in myriad stores. They have expanded to include chapels, dentists, optometrists, medical clinics, counseling centers, ice rinks, miniature golf courses, food courts, childcare, banking services, postal services, and branch offices of local, state, and federal governments. Some (such as the famous Mall of America, which sports its own zip code) include full-scale amusement parks. Others (such as Canada’s West Edmonton Mall) contain zoos.

More deliberately, a Minnesota coalition of Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and others have established the Mall Area Religious Council to establish a “spiritual presence” at the Mall of America. According to its webpage, the Council plans to open The Meaning Store at the mall in 1997. “It will be a store where “meaning in life” is made available in a spiritual manner.” Patrons may use the store’s Reflection Center for meditation and worship, glean “reliable information about local and world religious traditions,” or shop for “books, music, [and] artifacts of world religions.”

For all the good intentions behind it, The Meaning Store crowns mall culture’s victory. It reduces Christianity, Judaism, and other faiths to name brands, objects of comparison shopping. They are simply differently packaged containers of “meaning in life,” now made available for today’s purchase and, should it be desired, tomorrow’s disposal.

So The Meaning Store is the perfect religious symbol of the trivialization of real choices in the new public square’s endless promotion of pseudo-choice. It is true that the malls, with their rows on rows of stores, apparently overflow with choice. But mall stores carry a small, least-common-denominator stock that can cater only to the taste of the masses-not to those who would genuinely be different in their clothing, jewelry, reading, or music listening. More significantly, mall culture inhibits community; it denies and destroys smaller ways of life, such as folk songs and art, or strains of apples and brews of beer peculiar to a region. As Wendell Berry puts it, mall culture will not allow us to conform to local ways and conditions, but forces on us “a rootless and placeless monoculture of commercial expectations and products.”

In like manner, The Meaning Store presumes faiths are, finally, not that different from one another. By confining Christianity (among others) to “meaning in life,” and commodifying it, the Store endorses an attitude of spiritual seeking as shopping and makes the “customer” sovereign. Seriously obscured, if not lost, is any sense that the seeker’s desires might be misguided and in need of conversion, a transformation wrought by a Sovereign other than the self. And so buried, too, is the glorious hope that the seeker might make the really important and significant choice, the choice to petition the God “whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20) and embark on an adventure bigger than any mortal individual’s meager dreams and puny plans.”

After typing all that I just found the full article here.

Goodness that article was longer than I thought. To spice things up, here’s a link to 10 free legal tracks to be downloaded from futureshop to the first 10,000 people who sign in June 12th.

Also if you’re interested in investing in some land on the moon

{ 1 comment… add one }

  • eBrian June 13, 2004, 7:36 am

    puretracks.com sells tracks in .wmv format. They are copyrighted and you cannot transfer them from computer to computer. Normally I wouldn’t have a problem with this, but I wanted to convert the file at least to mp3 so that I could play it on my mp3 player, but you can’t do that either.

    I got a song for free by eating a Big Mac, and the song is stuck at my work computer. What a rip-off.. at the expense of my health, too!

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