Continuing discussion of William Cavanaugh’s excellent little book Being Consumed: economics and Christian Desire.
Have you bought something a bit special recently? Technology? Clothing?
What emotions went with the whole buying process? Before, during and after?
Was there a process of restlessness, discontent, then a buzz thinking about the new thing to meet the feeling of discontent?
‘Anticipation’ coming from doing research into different buying options and experiences?
Excitement? Satisfaction and contentment in the purchase?
Ongoing delight in possession of the new thing? Especially if it has a high pleasure-index of use like an IPad!?
To quote my friend Stephanie K , “I love my Ipad”
Any feeling of anticlimax now you possess it? A ‘moving on’ to think about the next thing?
It is this inner world of consumerism that Cavanaugh explores next.
How we relate to the physical world is a spiritual issue. Consumerism, marketing, advertising – has a particular moral and spiritual message attached to it.
“Corporate branding is really about worldwide beliefs management’.
Cavanaugh talks about ‘transcendence’ and ‘community’. I’m just going to focus on transcendence.
Consumerism fosters a disconnection, a dis-satisfaction and detachment from the physical world – from production, producers and even the products themselves.
It encourages discontent with what there is and a restless desire to have something else. It relentlessly delights in the thing itself yet the thing in itself is never the ‘end’ – it is only a temporary experience to have and enjoy before it is superceded by something better.
Consumerism attempts to transcend the mere physicality of things by connecting them to experiences and feelings of freedom, love, community, relationship, joy, fun, excitement etc. And each new thing promises a renewed experience, a fresh start, a new ‘buzz’ of anticipation and of buying.
Cavanaugh reflects briefly on a Christian spirituality of things: It also affirms the goodness of the material world. But since God is their creator, created things are not ultimate. They point outside themselves to their good creator.
So Augustine, things are meant to be used, but only God is to be enjoyed.
So Christians can agree with ‘consumer theology’ that there is an inbuilt restlessness and dissatisfaction to life. But where consumerism relentlessly creates desire that can only be met by more things, Christianity says desire can only be met in God. We wear out, things wear out, desire is only met in the creator of all things.
[I’d like more here – room to talk about themes of joy, or peace, of being content with much or little. I’d also like some links here to the antithesis of suffering within Christian discipleship and consumerism’s utter opposition to self-sacrifice and self-restraint]
All this makes me wonder, are more deeply spiritual Christians those who are content? Content to live simply? Content in the sense of being ‘free’ from the restlessness and dissatisfaction consumer culture continually attempts to cultivate? What does it actually mean to have our deepest desire met in God rather than in things?