Friday, April 22, 2005

Consumerism is sin

William T. Cavanaugh teaches theology at the University of St. Thomas in Saint Paul. He is brilliant, young, serious Roman Catholic, and very committed to living the Christian life -- by which I mean the life God intends his people to live. He would be considered a "liberal" by most people -- but it is not liberal in the classic sense. He lives his faith, though.

Bill has just published a very short article in Sojourners Magazine (May, 2005) which deals with "consumerism" and its implications. He distinguishes consumerism from avarice or greed, seeing it as a "permutation": "Consumerism is not so much about having more as it is about having something else." It is a spiritual disease that results from detachment from the "things" we need and use to live. As USAmerican consumers, we are detached from the means of production (Q: does he echo a marxian complaint about alienation here?) with the result that we "commodify" everything -- making even our own lives items to be bought and sold. With the addition of marketing, we are constantly on the make for something new. Pleasure is in the shopping, not in the acquiring.

The article is helpful for getting a handle on the problems of consuming in this society. We are guilty of greed and acquisitiveness, but even our desire for something new (whether we wish to acquire lots of it or not) reflects a sinfulness in our fundamental condition. Bill names the condition, describes its roots, demonstrates why it is wrong (because it contradicts God's creational intent for the earth), and suggests ways of fighting the sin.

Try reading the article here. Because I subscribe to Sojourners, I have no trouble accessing the article. I'm not sure whether it is quite so easy if you do not (though it sounds like it is). If you have difficulty, try here, and follow the links.)

I also recommend Bill's books: Eucharist and Torture is an important work that I have recommended before. His new one, Theopolitical Imagination, looks really great, but I'll have to wait to review it until the copy I have ordered comes in. (Its subtitle is alluring: "Christian Practices of Space and Time." I'll bet there's lots about the Eucharist in it -- as there is in the article here.)

I think the entire complex of issues for USAmericans involving money, possessions, and related issues (like self-protection) is in critical need of attention in the Church. It's easy to denounce greed -- though harder to do so when you actually define it, I think. And doesn't it come off sounding moralistic to ask, "Do you really need a new car, just because the design has changed?" And how about the whole issue of "storing up for ourselves treasures on earth" in the form of massive retirement accounts (don't I wish!), life insurance, church foundations and development offices?

But those are issues of Gospel. In fact, name me an issue that is not!

This article is a place to begin

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