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The disordered loves of our hearts

Written by: on February 24, 2017

Being consumed – William T. Cavanaugh

 

In his book on economics and Christian desire, Cavanaugh borrows from Augustine’s teaching on desire and disordered loves  to examine the effects of consumerism on our lives and what a Christian/Catholic response to that might be. He quotes Augustine’s well-known refrain:

 

“Thou hast made us for thyself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee”[1]

 

as he reflects on our ultimate desire for God and the way in which we try to satisfy this desire with cheap replacements – with created things. We want and we desire things and we consume things but are constantly left dissatisfied and our ultimate appetite unsatiated. That is why the act of shopping is more fun than actually getting what we want – we enjoy the wanting, the desiring and the pursuing. Once we have what we think we wanted, we are dissatisfied again and the cycle is repeated – endlessly.

“A person buys something – anything – trying to fill the hole that is the empty shrine. And once the shopper purchases the thing, it turns into a nothing, and she has to head back to the mall to continue the search.”[2]

Shopping is the new religion and shopping malls are the new cathedrals, but they leave people feeling empty and dissatisfied.

 

Cavanaugh questions and challenges the concept of a “free market” – the right and freedom of two parties to exchange goods or services, stating that there is no such mutual freedom, but often the exercise of power and influence and coercion by the stronger over the weaker. He looks at the commodification of labour, whereby we buy the cheapest possible labour we can from around the globe, paying people wages from which they can hardly live. Globalisation and the availability of other labour sources in a different country or on a different continent means that people working for ridiculously low wages must either take it or leave it. A cheaper alternative workforce can simply be purchased elsewhere. Cavanaugh also takes a good look at marketing and advertising and the creation and manipulation of dissatisfaction and desire.

He also questions our own internal choices and wills, and the slavery of our misplaced desires.

 

“In Augustine’s thought, we desperately need not to be left to the tyranny of our own wills. The key to true freedom is not just following whatever desires we happen to have, but cultivating the right desires.”[3]

For Cavanaugh, “we must consider the end toward which the will is moved”.[4]

In all of these processes, we have become detached from the production processes and the people that produce the goods that we consume.  Whereas we used to make things and produce things ourselves, which we would then consume, thus appreciating the work and effort that has gone into the production of such goods, we are now completely isolated and detached from the source of the meat that we eat or the clothes that we wear. Price has become the bottom line and we easily discard what we have for the new and the novel.  Cavanaugh shares some very interesting insights into the misuse of labour, the mistreatment of livestock and the social and moral costs and compromises involved with the free market.

 

Cavanaugh offers some responses to this, from the use of Fair Trade suppliers to buying locally from suppliers with known sources where possible. He also argues for the Eucharist as an answer to our misplaced desires and our endless consumption. We are to consume the body and blood of Jesus and to be consumed by it. His arguments here do not convince wholly, and are very Catholic in their view of the “magic” element of the body and blood of Christ. Overall, however, this book provides some fascinating thoughts and insights on desire, economics and the free market, which made me think hard about my consumption and disordered loves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Quoted from Augustine’s Confessions

[2] Cavanaugh, William T. Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire. Grand Rapids, Mich: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2008), 15

[3] Cavanaugh (2008), 11.

[4] Cavanaugh (2008), 11-12.

 

About the Author

Geoff Lee

10 responses to “The disordered loves of our hearts”

  1. Mary Walker says:

    Detachment really is a problem, but I don’t know how we can go back to everybody producing everything they use. Even here on our farm I don’t grow everything.
    I am thankful though for the community markets that are growing up everywhere. There are even community gardens near in Salem, OR. We also buy Fair Trade products when we can, but many of those come from places so far away. But is that OK since we’re a global community now?

  2. Stu Cocanougher says:

    “In all of these processes, we have become detached from the production processes and the people that produce the goods that we consume.”

    I remember seeing a video years about of a Buddhist man apologizing to a cow before he butchered it. He passionately explained to the cow that his family was hungry and the he had no other option.

    While this may seem silly to us, this man clearly understood that there was a cost to his consumption.

    This may seem silly to some, but that is why I like to ride a motorcycle year round. Getting wet in the rain, dealing with the cold winter air or the unbearable Texas heat, and the smelling of the trees and the mud…all of this is a strangely comforting to me. This dose of reality helps me get my bearings. I make a conscious choice to not see comfort as the highest goal.

    CHALLENGE: Drive your car with the windows down tomorrow, even it it is uncomfortable.

  3. Yes, Geoff, I was reminded as well about my disordered desires from these readings. With the Eucharist being a solution to meeting my true desires gave a greater meaning and purpose to it, albeit very Catholic. In our church, they serve communion every Sunday which seems a tad excessive and ritualistic, but in reading these books, I came away with a greater appreciation for it. I was also reminded that not everyone has a need for communion at the same time and the weekly availability better accommodates the needs. My problem is when to take it? If I take it every Sunday, I fear it will lose its significance. If I take it once a month as I’m accustomed to, then it is a ritual versus a sacred act. For now, I’m settling on an as needed basis…when I need it to feel I need to express and experience God on a deeper level. Any thoughts on this internal dilemma?

  4. “A person buys something – anything – trying to fill the hole that is the empty shrine. And once the shopper purchases the thing, it turns into a nothing, and she has to head back to the mall to continue the search.”
    This reminded me of the Hoarder shows. Many of those individuals buy so much to compensate a loss that they have not grieved.

  5. “Shopping is the new religion and shopping malls are the new cathedrals, but they leave people feeling empty and dissatisfied.”

    Geoff this is a very powerful statement! Going along with that same vain, “transactions” must be a worshipful practices seeking to exalt our desires and wants.

    Another thought I had is that unfortunately there are some churches that leave people feeling empty and dissatisfied. For me personally, communion is an acts of worship that is so fulfilling not in a superficial sense of satisfaction but I weep everytime because I am reminded of the life of Christ, His death and the power we live in light of through his resurrection. I am reminded that I am apart of a community of believers called to share in Christ’s suffering and resurrection.

  6. Geoff, it is always interesting to me when Protestants refer to Catholic thinking about the Eucharist as “magical” thinking/theology. It is strange because I hear the same thing from many of my Catholic friends about Pentecostals and Charismatics. 🙂
    The reality is, much of our faith sounds like magical thinking and possibly a bit of a fairy tale until we experience the Spirit’s work, whether through participation at the Table, through the gifts the Spirit bestows, or the steady transformation of our lives.
    What delights me about Cavanaugh (and Miller) is their reminders that our Christianity is not for ourselves or strictly between us and God, but for the development of the Kingdom.

  7. ‘Cavanaugh offers some responses to this, from the use of Fair Trade suppliers to buying locally from suppliers with known sources where possible.’ – You hit on something here that I think probably needs to be at the focus of the discussion: If the problem is our disordered loves for lesser things – then higher quality goods or goods sourced more ethically or locally are not really the answer – spiritually, at least – are they?
    This is hard, because I like these movements (fair trade, eat local, etc.), but for the Christian we might be motivated to ensure that our consumption is as ethical as possible, but that alone isn’t enough – I think we have to deal with how we actually satiate our desire for connection and relationship with God.

  8. mm Katy Lines says:

    We value convenience over community. When we buy ethically (local, fair trade, organic), we seek to honor the people and land who have otherwise been commodified. Yet we are still consumers. What participation in the Eucharist provides is a recognition that we are a community with those who provide the chocolate and tomatoes we eat, that the Body of Christ is in us (which also reminds us we are filled with the Holy Spirit), and we are in the Body of Christ (the church). It is not magic or mystical, but an earthy, tangible reminder of whose we are, and who we are together in Christ.

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