DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Cavanaugh, Consumerism, Community, and Christ

Written by: on February 21, 2017


The future Kingdom of God is brought into the present to bring the world’s time under the rule of Divine Providence, and thus create spaces of resistance where bodies belong to God, not the state.[1]

… Christians themselves are called to create concrete alternative practices that open up a different kind of economic space – the space marked by the body of Christ.[2]

“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).

Dr. William T. Cavanaugh has written and lectured on a wide range of topics in theology. In Torture and Eucharist, Cavanaugh discusses how the state attempts to reduce the Church into “disappearing” and thereby eliminate a rival power. His solution takes us out of the purely political answer and into a theological answer. In Being Consumed, Cavanaugh describes how Christians can change their economic practices in order to achieve the real goal in life – participation in the life of God.

These two books are connected with the theme of how Christians are to live and serve. A starting point of theology for both books is that of Augustine of Hippo.

In Being Consumed, Cavanaugh points out that Augustine gives us the true definition of “freedom”. In the midst of our consumerist society where everyone is trying to find freedom “from” interference in their pursuit of fulfillment, Augustine says, that freedom is “a freedom for, a capacity to achieve certain worthwhile goals. … the one overriding telos of human life, the return to God.” (3)  Freedom to give away things, not consume things.

In Torture and Eucharist, Cavanaugh discusses Augustine’s view of the “mystical body”, politics, sacrifice, the spiritual/spatial dualism, and the Eucharist.

In Being Consumed, through a discussion of freedom, the dynamics of attachment and detachment in consumer culture, globalization, and the question of scarcity, Cavanaugh connects theology to practice.

An important theme for both books, reminiscent ofVincent Miller, is a solution for society’s ills – the Eucharist. A Eucharistic community, the body of Christ, comes together for the true consumption (Being Consumed), for the nourishment of Christ’s body, and then goes out into the world and ministers sacrificially to others. The Eucharist is a picture of the One Who was tortured for us and believers enter into His life through their own self-denial and taking up their cross to follow Christ (Torture and Eucharist).

Cavanaugh lived in a slum area in Santiago Chile during the despotic military regime headed by Pinochet for seventeen months. He returned to Notre Dame to study about human rights and then returned to Chile for the research which was the basis of his doctoral dissertation and the book, Torture and Eucharist. Among other evils, the state makes the tortured individual believe that the state owns her/his body.

Cavanaugh then explains how the Catholic Church failed to help the tortured because of a faulty ecclesiology – the belief that the Church and the state exist on two temporal and spatial planes with the Church in charge of the “spiritual” and the state in charge of the temporal. But there is no such thing as a peaceful co-existence – the state will always subsume the Church. (page 193). And furthermore, Cavanaugh says that this duality is wrong; a new ecclesiology is needed, one that involves the transcendence of space and time. (page 268, 275). This ecclesiology is to be Eucharistic. “In constructing the body of Christ, the Eucharist overcomes not just spatial isolation but temporal isolation as well.” (280)

How can a Eucharistic community “perform the body of Christ”? (page 253)

Using his experience in Chile as a backdrop, Cavanaugh shows three practices that the Church must engage in if it is to resist the evils of the modern state – excommunication, both individual and public, social work, and creation of Eucharistic spaces of resistance to the state when it is evil.

Torture is anti-liturgy; resistance became a street liturgy to reclaim the places of the city where the regime policed people and forced the “disappearances”. In connection to the Eucharist, “the true body of Christ disrupts present historical time and opens a new space in opposition to the regime. The bodies of those disappeared reappear in the reappearance of the visible body of Christ.” (277)

Lastly, “Christianity itself is founded on a disappearance. The tomb is empty; the body is gone.” (281)

Being an Ex-Roman Catholic (my relatives say I’m a Lapsed Catholic) I found myself struggling in several places with the strong emphasis on the Eucharist. My memory is of being told I was going to Hell if I didn’t go to Mass and take the Eucharist. I grew up with a strong sense of the Church, with its assumed position of holding the keys of the Kingdom, ordained priests, and papal infallibility, as the holder of my salvation. One example of many in the book that I found to give some sort of power to the Eucharist was:

“The emphasis here is on the externality of the liturgy to individual bodies, the way it incorporates individuals into the body of Christ.” (page 12)

The “way it incorporates individuals into the body”!?!  But I thought that it is the Holy Spirit Who incorporates people into the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12). And so throughout the book I found myself just mentally substituting “Christian Community” or body of Christ or Holy Spirit for “Eucharist” in many places.

A discussion of the theological differences between Roman Catholics and the rest of us catholics would be fun, but I think it would be better in a face to face.

Both books still provided deep insights into culture and thoughts on how we as Christians minister to the world. In addition to what Cavanaugh said about the ‘one and the many’ in his discussion on globalization (Consumed, page 59ff) I see the one body of Christ, made up of many individuals with their own cultural ways of worshiping Him. The one body of Christ made up of Big C’s, little c’s – Protestants and Eastern Orthodox and all others who love Jesus.

I would end with a couple of questions:

  1. Being Consumed: Many who are receiving welfare in the United States feel that they are “entitled” to it. As Christians shall we set up church-based programs or should we just go ahead and let the government take care of them? After all, we’re paying for it anyway with our taxes. But are these folks disembodied commodities for the government bureaucrats? Shouldn’t we give them back visible, human dignity with personal care?
  2. Torture and Eucharist: Can we as Christians create Christian spaces? Do the peaceful resistance tactics of Dr. Martin Luther King fit here? Today we have an opportunity to serve refugees and immigrants. Even if our current administration is discouraging to refugees, shall we create Christian spaces in spite of politics and minister to those in need in the name of Christ anyway?

We have a ministry for refugees here in Salem, Oregon. My daughter Angie has been helping for 5 or 6 months. Because she has gone on several aid missions including the Middle East, she has begun work teaching English. What overwhelming joy that I can’t describe when she comes home and tells me the women are asking about this Jesus that she serves in the name of! The organization that is helping the refugees is made up of many different Christians from many different denominations. This is the unity that we need to present to a skeptical world.

No matter what our theological differences, I’m sure Miller and Cavanaugh would agree that our theology is no good if we don’t practice it. It’s not about us; it’s not even necessarily about the victims/martyrs; it’s about Christ.
















[1] William T. Cavanaugh. Torture and Eucharist (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1998), 275.

[2] Cavanaugh, Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire, viii.

[3] Cavanaugh, Consumed, 7,8.

About the Author

Mary Walker

10 responses to “Cavanaugh, Consumerism, Community, and Christ”

  1. Great summary Mary. I really enjoyed how you laid out the summary points. It was fascinating to see how the eucharist and torture were paralleled. Good questions too. I’ll address this one: Can we as Christians create Christian spaces? Yes, as long as we agree what a Christian space is. I like to keep it simple; a space full of love. Where God’s grace is expressed in love, boundaries are set in love, and community is lived out in love. Not easy to do and always harder to express in the ones that are closest to us.
    That refugee organization sounds really special. So glad your daughter has the privilege to experience this.

  2. Such a beautiful summary, Mary. I really appreciate your explanation of the Catholic view of the Eucharist and the Church as holding salvation. As an outsider in a Catholic parish, I grew up mixing my own brand of theologies and saw the Eucharist as the work of the Holy Spirit to bring all together in Christ.
    I think you make an excellent point that people who are given government aid are often commodified because we can detach from them, not really concerning ourselves with the way they become pawns in a political game. I feel the church needs the same caution as we create systems of care for people. It benefits no one when we use food and shelter as coercion for them to “get saved.”
    Thank you for sharing the story of the refugee organization. It is exciting to see denominations come together and love people in a way that makes them ask about the source of that love!

  3. I see the one body of Christ, made up of many individuals with their own cultural ways of worshiping Him. The one body of Christ made up of Big C’s, little c’s
    Thank you for this statement. We all are one in Christ and created by God with individuality.

  4. mm Katy Lines says:

    ‘How can a Eucharistic community “perform the body of Christ”?’

    I see a “Eucharistic community” as a particular congregation (or broader, a denomination or movement, etc.) that identifies itself unified by the sharing of the Lord’s Supper together. I love the reference to Augustine’s concept of freedom. I learned it similarly in understanding salvation: we are both saved FROM separation from God and others, and saved FOR aligning ourselves to God’s way and reconciling others to God.

    As we (united as the Body of Christ, through the body of Christ) minister to immigrants, including refugees, we have the opportunity to tangibly, temporally, physically perform the body of Christ in this time and place.

    I would love to have a conversation at the Advance about your Catholic background. It seems like Catholicism has much going for it theoretically, yet seems to play itself out differently for those who grow up in it. As an outsider, there’s much about it that appeals to me, but as a (former) insider, you have much to help me understand about it. Thanks.

  5. Great post as always! I agree with you on the work and activity of the Holy Spirit! It is His role and presence in our lives that brings us to salvation, transformation, reconciliation and restoration. No matter what act of worship we practice, He leads and guides us in all Truth!

  6. But wanna comment on few general things, The website style is perfect, the content material is very superb. “The sun sets without thy assistance.” by The Talmud.

  7. Acer Support says:

    I see one body of Christ, composed of many individuals with its own cultural ways of worshiping Him.

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