Reverend Billy and The Church of Earthalujah (also referred to as The Church of Stop Shopping) is a performance-based anti-consumerism group in New York City. Led by the unordained preacher Billy Talen, the Church uses singing, dancing, and theatrical skits to make people think twice about America’s buying and selling culture. Convinced that our dependence on material possessions fosters destructive labor and environmental processes without granting us real happiness, Rev. Billy is trying to awaken us from our consumerist identities. He travels with a 50 person choir/band around the US and Europe preaching against “big-box” corporate stores, credit card companies and Wall Street’s abuses. He supports small, local economies, fair labor practices and environmental protection.
Rev. Billy believes that we can change our world as individuals by changing our consumption practices and living more responsibly. Focusing on personal interactions instead of financial ones, supporting local businesses that have smaller carbon footprints and feed income back into our communities, and exorcising our reliance on credit are all steps that Billy believes empower us and enhance our lives. Coming from an alternative theater background, Rev. Billy uses a “post-religious” televangelist style that reels us in, makes us listen, and even gives us a good laugh sometimes. He sports a blond pompadour (resemblant of Elvis & Billy Graham) and it’s hard not to like him (unless you’re a big bank, of course).
Rev. Billy’s “protest activism” attempts to remind us of the story behind the items we purchase and the corporate brainwashing that makes us equate our worth with our possessions. By discrediting the illusion that our identities are formed by our consumption choices and that we are separate from the sweatshops, forest destruction etc. that are part of the goods we see on shelves, Billy hopes that we can develop more unrestricted, beneficent individualities. His vision is that:
One day we can all live in richly varied and hilarious neighborhoods, with people who seem to have invented themselves, and so are endlessly fascinating, something beyond entertainment.
As long as we are part of a culture that is so focused on a prescribed material image, Billy believes we “[drown] in identical details”. In other words, the world loses its uniqueness and majesty when Walmarts, Starbucks and skinny jeans (or whatever is deemed acceptable fashion) appear on every corner.
It’s hard to understand Reverend Billy’s philosophy without actually seeing it- but luckily, he posts many videos of his theatrics on his website (you can watch the full-length movie “What Would Jesus Buy?” there too). What I appreciate most about Rev. Billy and the Church of Earthalujah is that I have never seen any type of activism quite like theirs that can ridicule you and your lifestyle while still making you chuckle and feel good. In them I see a real change in the world we live in and an encouragement to embrace eccentricity and I look forward to witnessing their antics in person.