Being consumed is a book written for a western audience and he allows me to peer into the lives and thinking patterns of citizens who have operate in capitalism systems and are driven by consumerism. The realities of the west are minimal in my context. We have very few shopping malls that are visited by the few middle class and upper class families. Many people especially the young who come from families that cannot afford shopping at the mall visit the malls and take trips to the malls the way people go to the zoo. They go to see the affluence of the rich and the things they do. They may save to buy ice cream at the mall which costs a lot more than the one sold by the ice cream vendor at the corner shop at their home. They may visit the mall to go ‘bowling’. This is the reality of the majority of the youth in the city. As they see the wealth displayed at the malls, they desire to achieve such status but very few will be able to cross over to the world of unlimited desires and wants and the economic power to satisfy them.
William T. Cavanaugh writes that “The ownership of property is not about power, and the wide distribution of property is not about a greater equilibrium of power. Rather, property has an end, which is to serve the common good. The universal destination of all material goods is in God”. (p. 29) Kindle Edition. Yet I wonder if this is true. Some of the poorest economies of the world rank the highest in the corruption index of the world. Few powerful individuals amass public wealth and build homes that are only found in the west. They stash huge amounts of money in foreign accounts. The richest family in Kenya is the family of the first president of Kenya, the Kenyatta family. They are said to own land cumulatively to the size of a province is Kenya, Kenya has eight provinces. They own the largest dairy factory, own banks, hotels, real estate, international schools and their wealth is distributed in every facet of the economy. When asked to donate or sell land to poor squatter families, the matriarch of the family refused to discuss her wealth. The son of the founding father, Uhuru Kenyatta has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity due to his participation in the 2008 post-election violence. Even so, he is a leading contender for the presidency during the March 4, 2013 general election. Wealth of the country is divided among a few families who run the stock exchange and occupy political offices in the country.
One of the profound statements that I found in William T. Cavanaugh reflections was that, “God rewards those who help the poor; what is truly radical is that Jesus identifies himself with the poor. The pain of the hungry person is the pain of Christ, and it is thus also the pain of anyone who is a member of the body of Christ. If we are identified with Christ, who identifies himself with the suffering of all, then what is called for is more than just charity. The very distinction between what is mine and what is yours breaks down in the body of Christ. We are not to consider ourselves as absolute owners of our stuff, who then occasionally graciously bestow charity on the less fortunate”, (p. 56) Kindle Edition. I live in a city where half the population lives on less than a dollar a day. The need for a Christian to identify and help the poor is not a request but a requirement. God owns everything and when I give to the poor, I am identifying with Christ. I am working in a neighborhood that has many slums and a church where almost 30% of the church members are unemployed or underemployed. They reality of the need in this neighborhood is real. Cavanaugh reminds us that God require us not to be just charitable, but to identify with the poor. I found this idea the central theme of his writing. In a world that is being consumed by things and the need to acquire more, to own more, to satisfy unlimited desires, a Christian must rise against this tide. My responsibility is to look for ways to remember to live in communion with all people by looking for ways to bridge the gap of poverty.
Cavanaugh suggests many ways in which a Christian can act and one of the most profound was his suggestions that “Beginning in 1991, Focolare began sponsoring ordinary, for-profit businesses that divide their profits in three equal parts: a third for direct aid to the poor, a third for educational projects that further a culture of communion, and a third for the development of the business. Today more than 700 businesses worldwide follow this model – and thrive.” (pp. 98-99). Kindle Edition. If all the businesses can adopt this model, we would see a decrease in poverty. If businesses began to consider the wage that they pay their workers and ensure that it can meet the basic needs of a family rather than increasing the profit margin as high as it can be, there can be a great effect in the distribution of wealth of a people.
Though he fails to point out the role of good governance, and inter-relation between democracy and capitalism, the book helps me understand the effects of consumerism on an individual. The question in my mind even as I came to the end of the book was, ‘can I withstand the pressure of consumerism? Can I overcome the need to pursue wealth to satisfy my own desires which seems to ne unlimited in limited resources?