“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…” 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.” 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”. “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”. 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? 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.
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. 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. I’m with Cavanaugh.
 Cavanaugh, William T. Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008) loc402
 Cavanaugh, William. Being Consumed. loc583