Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

We are all really responsible for all

Written by: on February 15, 2018

“Furthermore, Paul says, the members of the body who seem weakest are the most indispensable.  The poor and the needy are not just objects for individual charity; rather, they are indispensable because they are part of our very body.  If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.”  1 Corinthians, 22-26

Is it coincidence that Cavanaugh published his book in 2008, the cusp of the economic collapse in America and the world?  I think not.  William Cavanaugh writes a compelling argument which turns my consumer paradigm upside down.  Cavanaugh references the work of Vincent Miller’s Consuming Religion to reinforce his hypothesis.  It’s intriguing that both Miller and Cavanaugh are affiliated with Catholicism and reference Catholic doctrine throughout their writing.

One of the most impactful statements in Cavanaugh’s Chapter 3 “Detachment and Attachment” speaks to the consumerism paradigm shift – in that we are not actually attached to things, we are detached – “Most people are not overly attached to things, and most are not obsessed with hoarding riches.  Indeed, the United States has one of the lowest savings rates of any wealthy country, and we are the most indebted society in history.  What really characterizes consumer culture is not the attachment to things but detachment.  People do not hoard money; they spend it.  People do not cling to things; they discard them and buy other things…”[1]  Not only can detachment be applied to consumerism, it can also be viewed from a contemporary social theory lens.  Meriam Webster defines detachment as “a lack of interest in worldly concerns; freedom from the influence of emotions.”  Just yesterday, a 19 year old gunman entered a public school campus in Florida and fatally shot 17 peers, faculty and staff and critically injuring 12-14 others.  The ability to unleash this massacre on so many is extreme detachment.  Detachment comes in many forms – detached from emotion, detached from trauma, detached from responsibility, detached from people, and detached from things.

According to Cavanaugh “Consumerism supports an essentially individualistic view of the human person, in which each consumer is a sovereign chooser.  In the Christian tradition, the use of material things is meant to be a common use, for the sake of a larger body of people.”[2]   An article titled No Catholic should follow Ayn Rand on www.guardian.com (and endorsed by 157 American Catholic intellectuals including Vincent Miller) the Catholic view of the human person is social not individual. Congressman Paul Ryan has stated that he learned from Ayn Rand to view all policy questions as a “fight of individualism versus collectivism”.[3] “The Catholic Church does not espouse “individualism” but rather sees it as an error as destructive as collectivism.” Blessed John Paul II described “individualism” as a dimension of the “culture of death” arising from an “eclipse of the sense of God”. The human person is “by its innermost nature, a social being”. We are radically dependent upon and responsible for one another. Again, in the words of John Paul II: “We are all really responsible for all.” This truth of the human person is tied to the central doctrines of the church. It reflects the very “intimate life of God, one God in three persons”.[4]  After studying Cavanaugh and Miller’s writings and further researching the Catholic doctrine espousing “We are all really responsible for all” I was immediately compelled to connect the refugee crisis to the concept of detachment.  Detachment from emotion, detachment from responsibility, detachment from biblical principles.  Our American government and American citizens are promoting detachment from our biblical command to recognize “the members of the body who seem weakest are the most indispensable” out of fear, capitalism, and consumerism. Are you aware that Catholic Relief Services (CRS) assists over 100 million people around the world?[5]  According to www.usacatholic.org “We need to be true to the values of the church in reaching out to the most vulnerable, and the refugees are the most vulnerable.”  New president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services Sean Callahan states “refugees need our assistance, not our fear.”

“When we see the situations that these people have come from, when we hear the stories of violence perpetrated against them and the exploitation, any American would feel that they needed to speak out about these issues. Catholic Relief Services has the benefit of working with refugees on the ground. And, more and more, we want to share these people’s experiences with our fellow Americans. I know if people heard what happened to these children, if they heard how this woman was forced to migrate when she was pregnant and had to walk for two months to escape from a dire situation, they would know that she needs our assistance. She doesn’t need our fear.[6]

According to one informed reviewer, “Cavanaugh finds his answer in all the wrong places. His references are nearly always to “church tradition”, “papal teaching”, and the writing of historic theologians such as Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, rather than to the Word of God.[7] I, for one, am convinced Cavanaugh’s writings – while connected to Catholic Doctrine – are grounded in God’s word.  Americans may not fully recognize that the issues facing economic practice are theological at their core. As is our response to the refugee crisis theological.  It is evident in his writings that Cavanaugh has a sincere practical concern for Christians to live responsibly and faithfully in God’s creation.[8]  I’m with Cavanaugh.

[1]       Cavanaugh, William T. Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008) loc402

[2] Cavanaugh, William. Being Consumed. loc583

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2012/oct/30/no-catholic-should-follow-ayn-rand

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2012/oct/30/no-catholic-should-follow-ayn-rand

[5] http://www.uscatholic.org/articles/201702/why-catholic-church-stands-refugees-30923

[6] http://www.uscatholic.org/articles/201702/why-catholic-church-stands-refugees-30923

[7] https://www.amazon.com/dp/B001E96JC4/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1#customerReviews

[8] https://marketplace.regent-college.edu/ideas-media/business-economy/book-review-of-being-consumed–economics-and-christian-desire

About the Author

Jean Ollis

12 responses to “We are all really responsible for all”

  1. M Webb says:

    Yes, what a tragedy in Florida. My youngest daughter is a principal at a High School, they were scheduled to exercise a “lock down” plan for just such a scenario. The news freaked out all the teachers and they wanted to postpone. I’m so proud of her! She said this is exactly why we need to go through with the exercise, to confront our worst fear, to look evil in the face, and to put our faith and hope in a God who knows.
    What are your thoughts on the Eucharist as described and focused on by Cavanaugh? I am very inspired by the next-level dimension of the practical eating of Christ, but am especially excited to synthesize the consuming Christ ritual with a wearing Christ ritual.
    Finally, I have to say, “Go Catholics” and their CRS challenging people to be “true to the values” that the early church and the Apostle Paul established in the 1st Century.
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

    • Jean Ollis says:

      Hi Mike,
      It sounds like your daughter has your same tenacity! What a scary time to be in education. I’m thankful that we still have devoted teachers…
      I think Cavanaugh’s statements on the Eucharist are interesting. I found this statement in one of his articles: “The enacting of the Body of Christ in the Eucharist has a dramatic effect on the communicability of pain from one person to another, for individuals are now united in one body, connected by one nervous system.” I can only imagine how the world would operate if we could translate this metaphor to reality!

  2. Shawn Hart says:

    Jean, I was intrigued by the “detachment” point you made. I would almost challenge to take that a step further by realizing that there seems to be a severe detachment from God Himself; not just in the world, but even within His church. Even in the last 25 or so years, we have seen the commitment to attendance, giving, volunteer work, and even common love to become lessons wasted on deafening ears. I have had people complain over the “hard sermons” and ask me why I can’t just “teach the happy stuff” more. We want to be coddled and pampered by God rather than rebuked and molded by Him. We will serve God happily when He seems to serve us, but hold back when we feel He has held back. Our love for Him has become contingent upon His ability to satisfy rather than on what He has already given to us.

    I have read some other posts as well as a number of the critiques on line to this particular reading. It has amazed me how many reviews of this work (not by classmates) have used the “catholic” card as a reason for dismissing the content. I too agree that there are some valid points made in this reading, regardless of the fact that I do not agree with many of the religious beliefs of catholicism. I wonder how many find it easier to argue religion than accept responsibility for their own short-comings.

    A question for you: I can see the passion you feel toward the refugee situation; how do you see the church turning this situation into a ministry resolution? Or do you believe that should even be done?

    • Jean Ollis says:

      Hi Shawn!
      Yes, I believe the church should be “hands and feet” to help refugees. Especially because refugees have been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. I can’t imagine God seeing this any other way. It’s easy to do God’s work when it’s safe and comfortable. It’s obedience when we do His work in a complex, messy world. Your thoughts?

  3. Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Jean,

    Loved your writings about detachment. When you were talking about not being attached to the things we buy, I immediately thought, “It’s because we are so stinking selfish.” Would you agree.

    Plus, I think we are so BUSY, we don’t take the time to attach to anything! Including God’s people…

    You’re “responsible for all” is so true!

    • Jean Ollis says:

      Thanks Jay!
      I think our detachment is really the spiritual/emotional search for happiness. What people find is nothing really satisfies this outside of relationship with God and others. And sadly, relationships are messy too. Thanks for your thoughts.

  4. Dave Watermulder says:

    Great post, Jean! I was also struck by that portion about attachment vs. detachment. Really interesting way of re-framing the way we think about that, since most of the time we would say that consumerism is about “attachment” or wanting more, rather than the detachment from, etc, etc, etc as you lined it out. The policy and politics that come out of the book, as you explore are really interesting, especially from a Roman Catholic perspective. Thanks!

    • Jean Ollis says:

      Thanks Dave!
      As a therapist I understand the concept of Attachment Theory (the inability to attach is born out of trauma). I never connected it to belongings and things. I plan to do some more meditating on this!

  5. Dan Kreiss says:


    The communal nature of the community of God is what has largely been lost in US forms of faith expression. The individualism that birthed through the Puritans as the protestant work ethic has been perverted to such an extent that this epidemic of detachment has resulted. I think you are correct in highlighting the catholic expression of John Paul II that the sense of God has been eclipsed (blanked out) by our individualism. I am not sure what the remedy is. I see in my own children many of the same tendencies even though we have made an effort to live and consume differently. Do you think we are fighting a losing battle in this regard or do you see signs of hope? If you do see some hope where is it evident to you?

  6. A brilliant post. Thanks Jean for highlighting the work of CRS.

    I’m not familiar with them as much as I am Canadian Jesuits International which have a focus on displaced people. I went on a trip with them to a red zone of Colombia which was deeply moving to me personally as I witnessed their work advocating for justice and bearing witness to the suffering of the people caught between the guerrillas and government-backed groups.


  7. Chris Pritchett says:

    Hi Jean, thank you for another powerful reflection. Thank you for sharing the insights form John Paul II on individualism and communion. I’m with you on the critique of Cavanaugh at the end…to criticize him for using classic theologians and not enough Bible is a cheap and thoughtless critique in my view.

  8. Yes Jean, great therapist minds think alike! I am not surprised we both picked up on the whole detachment theme and your connection to the Florida tragedy was sobering and right on target. We have become so detached from ourselves and each other, it makes sense that we are less attached to things as well and always looking for the next shiny thing to keep our attention. I’m with you, the answer is found in God’s word and in the person of Jesus!

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