For the last few years I’ve been refining my response to the “Five Great Motivators” used by advertisers to get people to buy items that they don’t really need. Here’s what Herschell Gordon Lewis, author of The Art of Writing Copy, has to say about them: “Anyone who might be moved by food, clothing and shelter is not worth your promotional dollars. Gourmet food? Yes. Designer clothing? Yes. Status-laden shelter? Yes. But it’s the qualifier words that give us the motivators, not the bald requirements of life.” It seems to me that religion, spirituality, and faith are, indeed, about the bald requirements of life, such as the need for belonging and attachment with others or the need to feel at home in the universe. So how do we respond to the “Five Great Motivators” advertisers use to make us feel so insecure that we’ll never be satisfied and always want more?

I believe that Robert Wuthnow’s notion of “practice-oriented spirituality” may be helpful for those who are interested in living a truly fulfilling life (be they people of faith or people who prefer to think of themselves as “spiritual, but not religious”). Wuthnow suggests that this kind of spirituality “emphasiz[es] the need to reflect and to deliberate on the ultimate sources of one’s moral commitments,” which is the exact opposite of what Madison Avenue wants us to believe we need. So in response to the “Five Great Motivators” of Fear, Exclusivity, Guilt, Greed, and Ego Gratification, I suggest we develop some practices that help us reflect and deliberate on what really matters most in life.

As I said earlier, I’ve been refining these responses for a few years now, and I think I’ve come up with what I would call the Five Essential Practices for Spiritual Progressives, practices that help us resist the shrill and unceasing clamor of the market-driven media while putting us in touch with “the ultimate sources of [our] moral commitments.” And thanks to Fredric and Mary Ann Brussat of, we can find ways to start putting these practices into, er, practice right away. They are:

Wuthnow believes that “practice-oriented spirituality can best be nurtured by practice- oriented religious organizations—that is, by churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and other places of worship that define their primary mission as one of strengthening the spiritual discipline of their members.” But “they must also be performed individually if they are to be personally meaningful and enriching.” I believe that our congregations need to be actively promoting practices like these to help individuals and families face the ubiquitous presence of advertising in their daily lives. Unfortunately, not every congregation has as its mission “strengthening the spiritual discipline of their members.” The good news is even if your community of faith isn’t promoting these practices, or if you’re not part of a community of faith, you can still develop these practices on your own.

Note: I may be losing the archives of the original incarnation of Phil’s Little Blog on the Prairie soon, so I’m going back and rescuing some of my favorite posts and reposting them here. This post was first publish on Friday, June 2, 2006 under the title “Five Essential Practices for Spiritual Progressives.”