This blog post is being driven from reading William T. Cavanaugh’s Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire and Vincent J. Miller’s Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture.
However, I have recently written another blog post on a related reading dealing with economics, socio-political interaction and faith. I engaged Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism in that post. Weber’s text written over 100 years ago (1904/1905; translated into English, 1930) remarkably shines through in both of the texts that I am focusing on now.
Both of these texts do an excellent job showcasing the powerful need for positive alternatives being offered to the 24/7/365 inundation so many of us are experiencing of negative economic orientations. As well, both texts, offer some helpful guidance in this area of positive alternatives.
I like how Cavanaugh discusses not simply eschew the idea of “free market” just because it has not met expectations. Instead, Cavanaugh queries what it would take to make a market truly free? I further appreciate that he doesn’t settle for an answer of negative freedom; for example, just being content with a lack of state intervention. Rather, Cavanaugh encourages exploration into what would be a robust sense of freedom, a flourishing, life-giving sense of exchange. He encourages us to search the Scriptures for these examples and then courageously begin to live into them. He notes that this will not be primarily a top-down approach – though there is a place for this – but instead, we need to begin enacting the principles we see the Scriptures calling us to in the here-and-now where we currently reside.
This enacting of principles in the here-and-now sounds loudly in Cavanaugh’s discussion of Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s notion of the “universal Body of Christ” overcomes the superficiality of the “universal gaze.” We are able to healthily appropriate the universal in the Body of the Christ in each of our particular/local interactions. However, our focus on global identity (on globality), often turns our “universal gaze” into – in my term – a “universal glaze.” This isn’t always the case. There are ways around this glazing to become more rooted at the same time as broadening one’s horizons, but it is a strong tendency and negative examples abound.
Miller’s text sits well in conversation with Cavanaugh’s. Miller is concerned with the idea of commodification throughout the text and how this leads us to unconscious acceptance — through habitual acts – of what amounts to essentially contextless material to us. We know little to nothing often about where it came from, what it’s really made of, the process whereby it was produced, the person or persons involved in the process, various entities to which our monies are going to in relation to our buying the product, etc.
It is safe to say in the eyes of these authors that we are first and foremost not consumers. For that matter, we are first and foremost not even producers. First and foremost we are simply human. We are image bearers of the identity of God that have worth above-and-beyond any particularities of action in which we engage. This isn’t meant to lessen responsibility and consequences for actions, it is instead meant to allow for the free-choosing of better actions due to not feeling inordinately driven by unhealthy existential pressures.
I highly recommend these texts as materials to assist in the grappling of living well on the face of this wonderful planet that we are meant to care for as a creation of the God we serve. We haven’t always done so well at caring for the Earth all around us, but I’d like to think that the more that we stop focusing on what we don’t have and more on the amazingness of who we already are and the miracle of our Being the more likely we’ll be freeing ourselves up to live well for God, for ourselves, for others and for the sake of the earth all around us.
What would it really mean for us to believe that God will supply all of our needs, that God really does care for us like the sparrow and the grass of the fields, etc.? How might that kind of trust transform our lives and the lives around us for the better?
 William T. Cavanaugh, Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire (Grand Prapids, MI: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), x.