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The Supermarket Imitates the Church

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There exist striking resemblances between the supermarket and the church. Most obvious is in design: the aisle substitutes for the pew; the checkouts substitute for the altar. You might even be tempted to utter a supplication as your eyes survey the shopping receipt. But the similarities extend beyond design. Consider the parallels between piped music in supermarkets and hymnal music in religious buildings. Both are meant to calm, inform, and direct congregations towards giving – and in return you shall receive! Whether that be spiritual or nutritional is dependent on your particular 'brand' of faith.

Listen to the conversations of regular/returning customers: they are virtually confessional. No need for the booth of reconciliation when you can spill the beans at the express queue and be out the door before a single Hail Mary is communicated. The 'church-ale' or fund raiser has been replaced by the special offer and own-brand range. The parish church can now be re-imagined as a metro or express outlet. The 24-hour big-box store is the modern cathedral, offering cures and remedies for poor eyesight, headaches, and indigestion that no longer require absolute commitment to an unseen deity. You can even get your gnashers done all-pearly-like, while waiting for your other half to get the weekly shop in.

Of course, it's not just the supermarket that seeks to refashion and agglomerate the tenets of faith under one roof. As religion disintegrates, you need only look to the internet to see the dispersion and re-concentration of the congregation into specific online social communities. The church is well aware of this and makes incredible efforts to recapture the flock by adopting online strategies and business models. Similarly, it adopts supermarket strategies to rebuild and maintain attendance.

On the flip side, the supermarket recently tried its hand at old style religious 'exclusionism' by banning Daniel Jones, founder of the International Church of Jediism, from one of its stores. In what was clearly a case of following the 'rule' book too closely, he was ejected for his unacceptable apparel. A taste of things to come? Probably not (yet), but it does raise the issues of selective entry to these assemblies of exchange and supermarkets operating as enforcement agencies.

With supermarkets expanding into all areas of trade, will we soon see the supermarket police apprehending criminals outside of the sliding doors, beyond the car-park and alongside the conventional police force? Why stop there? They could deliver the post, run the railways, empty the sewers, manage our finances, loan out money, mortgage our homes, insure our homes, insure our cars, and provide us with phones, flights, city breaks and package holidays. They might even consider reading us our last rites, although terms and conditions would most certainly apply.

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About Paul Robinson

  • I’ve been waiting for this article since you tweeted about the checkout replacing the pew. Very well done.

  • Baronius

    Aisles, speakers, attention focused at one end…you could be talking about movie theaters, classrooms, sport arenas, or any number of other places. And none of this constitutes a refashioning of churches and/or shopping experiences. Any old temple or bazaar has lanes for people to walk and large acoustic demands. I don’t know where you’re going with this analogy, but it doesn’t seem awfully insightful.

  • Baronius,

    Yes, the analogy can be extended to incorporate any meeting place, irrespective of function, without invalidating the comparison I’ve made here. Personally, I think the similarities you list are the proof rather than the disproof that movie theatres, classrooms, sports arenas included, along with supermarkets, refashion and share the sacred experience that was once restricted to the church and the home. Whether consciously or unconsciously, modern supermarkets have drawn from what was the central focus of the majority of communities. Up until the 13th Century markets would be held in church graveyards, so there is a recognisable symbiosis that stretches back around 800 years. As you probably know, the church had and still does have great influence over trade, therefore it is not unfeasible to make comparisons between the two, even if those comparisons may seem subtle. Do you underestimate the power of supermarkets? Psychologically, large entities/corporations/religions seek to refashion the world based upon doctrine, policy or manifesto. I find it hard to ‘believe’ you do not detect their mutuality.

  • I think I saw brochures at Fred Meyers for Pet/Human/ Identity Insurance, cellular, etc… Love how you related the Church/ Store…. Not far from the truth… Both businesses need to make money to continue to feed the people… The only difference is one is honest about it…

  • Baronius

    “Personally, I think the similarities you list are the proof rather than the disproof that movie theatres, classrooms, sports arenas included, along with supermarkets, refashion and share the sacred experience that was once restricted to the church and the home.”

    There are a lot of things wrong with that statement. First of all, you have to define the word “sacred” so broadly that it includes most anything. Secondly, sports and theaters aren’t new, so you can’t claim that any of this represents a new trend, breaking the sacred out from its old restrictions. But most importantly, by saying that everything is like everything else, you fail to bring any significance to the store/church comparison.

  • Baronius,

    Nowhere in the article do I claim “any of this represents a new trend” but nor should the absence of such a statement free the church of its’ part to play in the comparison.

    For me, religion is one of many contexts that facilitates the primordial human experience. When religion, Abrahamic – Christian religion, can no longer satisfy or does not wholly satisfy this primordial experience, then we seek it out, the primordial human experience, in other spaces. I suggest one of these other spaces and contexts, amongst others, is the supermarket. Community, food gathering, exploration, interaction, knowledge-gathering are aspects of the experience that would have been mostly provided by the church and its’ sacred space. Christian faith comes from human experience: not the reverse, and human experience can therefore be translocated to a different space and not just for the sake of demonstrating that any A can be compared to any B. Because that human experience is transferred to another place it takes with it foundations imparted to/on/in Christian religion which may account for similarities between the supermarket and the church.

  • Baronius

    “refashion and share the sacred experience that was once restricted to…”

    That statement explicitly states that there is a change.

  • This does not invalidate the comparison.