Cavanaugh’s book, Being Consumed, explains to the reader some of the problems of Consumerism, while offering Christians informed, alternative ways of living. Miller’s book, Consuming Religion, on the other hand, focuses on what excessive consumerism has done to the practices of religion. That is, how the dynamics of consumerism have been brought into the playing fields of religion. Religion is no longer about “living for Christ” as the apostle Paul once wrote (Philippians 1), or loving one’s neighbour as Jesus taught, but about self-gratification as the marketing giants instil.
Hunger drives our search for satisfaction, whether that’s material or spiritual, and advertising points us to where such fulfilment can be gained. However, God communicates a different message. As Cavanaugh writes, “The Eucharist tells another story about hunger and consumption. It does not begin with scarcity, but with the one who came that we might have life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10). ‘Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.’ (John 6:35)” [i]
Only God can satisfy, whether we are rich or poor, as the world defines it. Whether we live in the East or West, geography poses no threat to the influence of affluence upon the Christian faith. Wherever we live, market consumerism directly affects the pursuit of God in a nation. Of course, this is nothing new. The improved ability to satisfy our everyday, human needs, through ordinary means has in essence, lessened our dependency on God to do the same. In other words, our credit cards and bank balances have become our ‘providers.’ They have taken the place of God. What that means for our faith experience is that, because we no longer need to rely on God to do something for us, we rob God of the opportunity to move in power, which, in turn, results in an anaemic faith experience. We don’t take seriously the promise that God is actually able to do provide for us in places the credit card cannot reach.
There have been numerous times when God provided for me financially when I was broke. When I was a single, full-time student in my 20s. I was travelling each day about 55 miles by car to and from my University, plus working two or three night shifts each weekend just to make ends meet. It was tight and quite exhausting, but manageable.
One Friday morning, my employer called me up and informed me that they had made a mistake with my salary. It turned out that they had been over-charging me on tax for that previous year. They owed me £300 and were going to refund it into my bank account that very morning. Moments after putting the phone down, I realised, “God is providing this money for a reason” and it didn’t take long to find out.
Later that same day, my car engine suddenly started making a very loud noise. Thankfully, I managed to get it to my local car mechanic who was situated just down the road. He looked the car over and informed me that the car needed some major work and that it was not going to be cheap. Can you guess how much it cost? That’s right, £300. It’s a small testimony I know, but it’s incidences like these that really bolster our faith and dependence on God, and I’m sure we all have such stories.
While I wholeheartedly agree with Cavanaugh that we have a Christian duty to understand better the ethics behind the machinery of consumerism and live more responsibly, we also need to understand what consumerism has done to our faith. Life is not meant to be padded from the sufferings and trials of life that occasionally come our way. We are not called to live in luxury and plenty without sharing what God has entrusted to us. Yes, Jesus is the Bread of Life that satisfies those heart desires that Cavanaugh talks about. But God also promises to provide for us what we need to survive in this life. He desires that learn to rely on Him in the midst of our needs, which enable us to better know Him and His power, a lesson that even Paul and his companions even learned (2 Corinthians 1).
The fact is we only pursue God and His love and power to the degree that we feel our need for Him. Here in the UK, many live as if God no longer does the miraculous. Where does our faith really lie? In the power of the wallet, or the power of God? Let us not fall into the danger that Miller warns us of: “…religious belief is always in danger of being reduced to a decorative veneer of meaning over the vacuousness of everyday life in advanced capitalist societies.” [ii] Yes, let’s encourage one another to live more responsibly and ethically wise. Yes, let’s create communities where we share our resources with each other and help the materially poor. But let us also acknowledge our own spiritual poverty and encourage one another to depend on God and trust in Him as He invites us to. God is looking for relationship with us, not mere purchasers. If God can rain manna from heaven, and water from rocks, let us place a little more confidence in Him.