What is the opposite of a guilty pleasure? I feel as though I should admire the Advent Conspiracy, but my appreciation is highly qualified. If you haven’t heard of the Advent Conspiracy, it is an extremely well-intentioned, not to mention net savvy attempt to get Christians to: worship fully, give more, spend less and love all. Seems as though it should be right up a lefty Christian’s alley, no?
Yet, much as I laud some of their efforts, I can’t help feeling that the folks behind the conspiracy have very little appreciation for what Christmas means in working class and poor homes in this country. While it is true that Christmas is heavily commercialized—and that Neiman Marcus seems to go out of its way each year to prove that 21st century America is capable of decadence that would make Caligula blush—many of the folks who are waiting at the doors of the local Target at 4 am on Black Friday, or roaming the outlet malls looking for bargains do so because it is the best way they know to give their families a decent Christmas without busting their budget. I doubt that I grew up in the only home in the United States in which Christmas and birthdays were the occasions on which you received most of the clothes you’d wear that year. Or in which Christmas was one of the few occasions on which an extravagance was permissible. Or in which giving gifts to loved ones was understood as a way of participating in Christ’s Mass, not a means of sabotaging it.
The Advent Conspiracy’s promotional materials remind me of those Acura commercials in which pretentious guys defend the expensive status items they have purchased. (“They say it produces frequencies only dogs can hear.”) The joke is on them of course, because they could have spent less money for something useful—like an Acura. The commercial makes me chuckle, but its primary audience can afford to have it both ways: they get to feel morally superior to the collectors of limited edition fountain pens and fussy wristwatches and still buy a $50,000 car.
So, by all means, if you are considering mindless participation in a financially ruinous, spiritually bankrupt commercial bacchanalia this holiday season—or if you and your family belong to that class of people who really don’t want for material goods--consider the corrective offered by the Advent Conspiracy. But if you are doing your best to squeeze the preparations necessary to create a holy and festive season for the people you love into an already hectic and economically restricted life—and if you sometimes feel harried as you do so—steer clear of moralizing killjoys who think that their way of praising the God who sent his Son into the world is demonstrably superior to yours.