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Theological Notebook: The Commodifying of "Spirituality" in America: A New Low

Sigh. Average markup on price of bottled water = 1000%. Quality of bottled water ≤ tap water. Plastic waste created by bottled water = every single unit. Countries that wish they had the quality of our clean purified tap water = far too many. Someone's laughing all the way to the bank, and it ain't Jesus. Emily sent me this sad link, too. Honestly, after the idiocy of Madonna's "Kabbalah water," this was just a matter of time.... I suppose I should have thought of doing it myself, and paid for graduate school for me and my friends, but only if I would have tied it to a book and movie deal afterwards where I could rant to America about the scam I'd perpetrated upon them so as to justify it all by turning it into a moral lesson. Discussion Question: Would that absolve me of my guilt of doing it in the first place?

Bless This Bottled Water
Forget Evian or Vitaminwater. The latest beverage trend: 'Holy Water.'
By Lisa Miller
Updated: 1:24 PM ET Dec 8, 2007

You need only go back to the first chapter of Genesis to see how elemental water is to the observance of faith: "And the Spirit of God," the Bible says, "moved upon the face of the waters." In the Torah, water is used to ordain priests and to purify the sons of Aaron before they enter the temple. In the New Testament, John baptizes Jesus with water from the Jordan River. Observant Muslims wash hands and feet before they pray, orthodox Jewish women take ritual baths once a month—and every Christian denomination still uses water as part of its sacred rites. Mormons, when they take the weekly sacrament, drink water instead of wine.

So it's not surprising that a few savvy marketers would seize on this universal symbol of purity for financial gain. Inspired, perhaps, by vitamin and energy waters, a number of new companies have begun making more explicit claims: their water doesn't just promote good health, it actually makes you good. Holy Drinking Water, produced by a California-based company called Wayne Enterprises, is blessed in the warehouse by an Anglican or Roman Catholic priest (after a thorough background check). Like a crucifix or a rosary, a bottle of Holy Drinking Water is a daily reminder to be kind to others, says Brian Germann, Wayne's CEO. Another company makes Liquid OM, superpurified bottled water containing vibrations that promote a positive outlook. Invented by Kenny Mazursky, a sound therapist in Chicago, the water purportedly possesses an energy field that Mazursky makes by striking a giant gong and Tibetan bowls in its vicinity. He says the good energy can be felt not just after you drink the water but before, when you're holding the bottle.

The most recent entry in this niche is Spiritual Water. It's purified municipal water, sold with 10 different Christian labels. The Virgin Mary bottle, for example, has the Hail Mary prayer printed on the back in English and Spanish. Spiritual Water helps people to "stay focused, believe in yourself and believe in God," says Elicko Taieb, the Florida-based company's founder who was formerly in the pest-control business. All three companies give a portion of their profits to charity.

This small band of feel-good entrepreneurs may face objections from a surprising quarter. Some religious believers, also convinced of the elemental importance of water, are campaigning against its ubiquitous sale and packaging on the grounds that the practice is neither ethical nor good for the environment. "Water is life," says Sister Mary Zirbes, a nun in the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls, Minn. "It really should not be a commodity to be bought." The Franciscan Sisters, together with a community of Benedictine nuns nearby, have launched a letter-writing campaign against the largest producers of bottled water and they've designed coasters to encourage people to drink glasses, not bottles, of water from the tap. The Vineyard church in Boise, Idaho, sells slim reusable plastic bottles in its bookstore, and it has placed water stations throughout the church. "In a world where a billion people have no reliable source of drinking water, where 3,000 children die every day of waterborne diseases, let's be clear: bottled water is not a sin, but it sure is a choice," says Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals. "Spending $15 billion a year on bottled water is a testimony to our conspicuous consumption, our culture of indulgence." Taieb calmly refutes the implication that his Spiritual Water is bad for the planet. People put fewer of his bottles in the trash, he says, because they don't want to discard images of Jesus or Mary. Instead, they refill them with other beverages. Obviously, even do-gooders can disagree. Some believe that water is life, while others believe that water is their livelihood.

Tags: america, cultural, mysticism/spirituality, theological notebook

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