Following Jesus in a Consumer Society

Following Christ in a Consumer Society: The Spirituality of  Cultural Resistance, John F. Kavanaugh, 157075666X

 This is quite a powerful book: Following Christ in a Consumer Society – The Spirituality of Cultural Resistance (2nd rev. ed) by the Jesuit priest, John F. Kavanaugh (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2006).  Originally written in 1981 and updated twice (1991 & 2006), this book is a serious unmasking of the consumerist powers that be.  Kavanaugh points out the dominate traits of our American culture and shows how they’ve crept into Christianity – or how churches have welcomed them.  One major problem is how the relationship between Jesus and politics in America has “reduced Christ to Americanism and capitalism” which has resulted in “the impoverishment and domestication of the Christian faith” (p. x).

“In a time of closing parishes and dwindling attendances, of a youth seemingly not drawn to priestly life, religious life, ministry or service, perhaps we might ask ourselves whether we have been offering them a way of life that is a mere variation on a capitalist, depersonalized and de-Christianized world.  The failure to grasp the whole Christian message, to fully accept Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, is the core of the problem.  We may say we believe in Jesus Christ.  We act as if we do not” (p. xliii).

The first half of the book talks about how our consumer-centric culture results in an empty “interior” life, broken relationships, lust for things instead of longing for relationship, depersonalization of persons, and a flight from the marginalized in society.  Kavanaugh also talks about how the media and the mall preach the ‘gospel’ to us: he who has the best body, bank account, and most belongings is blessed.  Finally, before the second half of the book, Kavanaugh writes about how our consumer culture has turned people into commodities, from sex to violence to lack of deep relationships.   He also talks well in this section about how idolatry is all wrapped up in consumerism.

Part two is about the Christian “person” and the Christian view of persons.  He explains how to live as Christians in an idolatrous culture.  Kavanaugh mentions prayer, community, sacraments, marriage, and other “churchly” things.   Some of the second half didn’t sit well with me as his Catholic anthropology and ecclesiology comes out – though it was still challenging and worth reading.

In summary, this is good stuff. I recommend it, especially the first half.  The reading level is probably college (give or take) and it is just over 200 pages (the 2006 edition).  It makes a good companion to Stephen Nichols’ Jesus: Made in America.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

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