The Root of All

The other day I was in one of those stores where everything is sold really cheaply.  I figure it helps balance out all those times when I’ve been overcharged for things at other stores because I was pressed for time and needed something quickly.  In any case, these dollar store establishments have a constantly rotating stock, it seems (things move at a buck!), and so you might or might not find exactly what you’re looking for.  While just looking around, acquainting myself with the content, I came upon a shelf of Bibles.  God’s word for a dollar a pop.  This isn’t a place I’d normally come looking for books.  Then it occurred to me: many of those who shop in such stores are committed to a faith that keeps them in their economic bracket.

That suspicion was confirmed by other items at the store.  Many of them were Christian-themed.  This seemed like the opposite of the prosperity gospel.  People trying to scrape by, to shave enough off the budget to make it to another paycheck.  Many Americans live like this.  Many of them support Trump.  Selling the Bible to them cheaply definitely involves a mixed message.  There’s indeed a message, as I’ve learned in the publishing, in the way books are priced.  Getting a thousand-pager printed where the unit cost is below a dollar requires a massive print run.  Someone knows that Bibles sell.  You won’t find such cheap divine revelation at Barnes and Noble.  The same content, maybe, but not at the same price point.

The economics of cheap Bibles contains a message.  Those who can’t afford much can be guided toward spending some of it on the Good Book.  While just reading the Bible may indeed bring comfort to those who know where to look, as a whole this book requires major interpretative work.  As I’ve been indicating over the last several days, Holy Writ is not nearly as straightforward a reading experience as many suppose it to be.  Trying to figure out what Nehemiah’s differences with Sanballat the Horonite have to do with the rest of us isn’t an easy task.  To find out, if the internet doesn’t give us quite all the knowledge we want or need, can require some intensive study, up to and including seminary.  Even then you might not get it.  Studying the Bible requires further commitment than simply picking one up for a Washington might imply.  But then, it costs less than a lottery ticket.  And you can get it while saving money on other things you need.

Faith for Sale

Materialism can be defined in a number of different ways. One of the more common is that people desire material things. We want stuff. Now, we all need things to survive. My sympathies are always with the poor for whom each decision can be a potential tragedy. Spend too much on something and you may not have enough left to purchase something you need. As people, though, we all long for nice things. So it is that places like dollar stores exist. The dollar store is not the same as the “five and dimes” with which I grew up. The latter stocked things that were, in large measure, practical. Things you might need: pencils, string, soap. A dollar store, however, may lead you down a different path. A lot can be had for a dollar. Some of it may seem to promise more than it can deliver.

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My wife sent me a photo of a dollar store where the window was lined with what appears to be religious statuary. I’d be lying if I weren’t to admit that my first impulse was to go and purchase some cheap salvation. I’m sure the statues aren’t made of stone. I’m not even Catholic, so I’m not sure a one-dollar Mary would help with much of anything. Still, it is something to buy. Something material. Something that seems to make promises beyond itself. Here is the danger of the dollar store. It’s only a dollar!

Every now and again I play with this thought-experiment: if I knew that I would only survive one more year, what would I buy? Many things seem superfluous in the face of eternity. Would material comforts, or larks, do anything more than depreciate the little I would leave to others? That game tends to show materialism in a rather crass light. What do I really need to buy? We all have our weaknesses, for sure, but it can’t hurt once in a while to think that the material is just that: material. And we might have a very different set of values if we didn’t measure worth in terms of material gain. Faux-stone Mary would likely back me up on that.