Spirit and stuff: How to relate the two is the age-old religious question.

Separate them absolutely, and you get spirituality so heavenly minded it’s no earthly good or materialism so dense there’s no room for soul.

Put the two in a mixer, and you get a smoothie religion where God is so blended into everything that you can’t taste the divine for all the syrup.

Consumerism is the biggest challenge to the life of spirit today.

I own a 1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo. Like it a lot. My wife likes it so much, she ditched her minivan for it. Pushed me out the passenger’s door.

The Chrysler people sent me a videotape the other day about the all new and improved 1999 version. The Most Capable Sport’s Utility Vehicle Ever! Rated best performance and safest in some test I’m sure the results of which were better suited to publicize than other independent tests.

So I watched the video – my second mistake (after opening the package). And when I was done, I felt like a bad man.

How could I allow my wife and children to drive round in such an unsafe and uncool vehicle as our ’97, when for a mere $300 more per month, they could be in the finest SUV on the road (until next year’s model)?

Advertising promises contentment by prodding discontentment. Marketers know we will pay only so much for stuff, but if they can convince us of the spirit in the stuff, we will pay and pay and pay.

Dr. Marten’s shoes cost twice what look-alike Sketchers do. An Abercrombie T-shirt costs $10 more than one at the Gap. Our kids want us to pay the premium, not because one is better made or more durable but because one has more soul power than the other.

The value is tied to its ability to improve your image and make you feel good about yourself.

Judaism, Christianity and Islam all claim that God is Spirit and made stuff. All agree all the stuff God made is good and not to be disdained. Christianity even goes so far to say that God goes so far to bless creation by entering into it in human form.

But all equally warn about the perils of worshiping idols.

When you ask creation to do for you what only the Creator can, that idolatry will drain your spirit instead of fill it.

Deriving personal value from God allows you to judge the lesser value of things. It frees you from consumer compulsion, because you already have as a gift from God that others can’t give or sell but want you to pay for anyway.

You can’t put a price sticker on the soul.