It’s all about the brand. The brands we wear…the brands we drive…the brands we drink. The list goes on and on. And in our consumer driven society, our marketing friends note that it is through the brands we associate ourselves with that we are known. Perhaps no brand in the world is as recognized as Coca-Cola. Wherever one travels, the brand’s distinctive logo transcends the culture, offering consumers the quality and reliability they have come to rely upon. Indeed, Coca-Cola has brandished itself in our minds as “the real thing.”
As a student of economics, I have often pondered the way in which brands sometimes separate us from one another. But while most of us can afford a Coke, a vast number of us cannot afford certain brands. Indeed, in the nineteenth century, an economist by the name of Thorstein Veblen took the study of brand consciousness to new heights. In his Theory of the Leisure Class, Veblen introduced the concept of Conspicuous Consumption and noted that there exist certain goods that actually defy the true and tested Law of Demand. In economic theory, the Law posits the existence of an inverse relationship between price and quantity demanded. That is, as price rises, quantity demanded will decrease. Given this, as the price of Coca-Cola rises, we will purchase fewer of them.
So what about this Conspicuous Consumption? Veblen theorizes that as the prices of certain goods increase, individuals will actually demand more of them. At higher and higher prices, people continue to say about these products- “bring them on.” And we ask ourselves, just what is it that they are calling down upon themselves? According to Veblen- Conspicuous Consumption. By purchasing more of a product at higher and higher prices, what is being purchased is not even the product (although they do make their way into the purchaser’s inventory). Rather, what is really being purchased is the status or prestige associated with owning it. Hence, in owning what most cannot, these conspicuous consumers proclaim, for all to see, their distinct social position. Fair enough, I suppose, if the material world is all one seeks.
But what about those who seek a higher identity? What about those who seek to nurture the brand given us on the day of our Baptism? The brand that incorporated us into the Body of Christ. The brand that calls us to love God and neighbor. The brand that inwardly directs us toward spiritual greatness.
Unlike the brands of the world, which seek to differentiate us from one another, Baptism is unique in that it is the brand that unites us to one another- as God’s children. Needless to say, given our culture, it sometimes seems that our baptismal identity is all too often not as visible as a Coca-Cola. Shouldn’t it be?