Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Cavanaugh and von Balthasar on Eucharist and Consumerism

Word for the Day: Kenosis : a Greek word for emptiness, which is used as a theological term. The ancient Greek word κένωσις kénōsis means an "emptying", from κενός kenós "empty". The word is mainly used, however, in a Christian theological context, for example Philippians 2:7, "Jesus made himself nothing (ἐκένωσε ekénōse) ..." (NIV) or "...he emptied himself..." (NRSV), using the verb form κενόω kenóō "to empty".

In chapter 3 of Cavanaugh's 'Being Consumed' Catholic Theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar is engaged to illustrate how Christians (specifically Roman Catholic) view consumption differently from the conspicuous consumption of our culture. Cavanaugh writes; 'If in consuming the Eucharist we become the body of Christ, then we are called, in turn, to offer ourselves to be comsumed by the world. The Eucharist is wholly kenotic in its form. To consume the Eucharist is an act of anticonsumption, for here to consume is to be consumed, to be taken up into participation in something larger than the self, yet in a way in whcih the identity of the self is paradoxically secured.... the Eucharist is not a mere sign that points to Christ; this particular piece of bread is the body of Christ. (pg 84)

I believe that one of Cavanaugh's criticism's of consumerism ( and postmodernism to an extent?) is that consumerism effectively transforms everything into a symbol to be bought and sold. We are so separated from the products that we buy... we do not know the process of their creation or assembly... sometimes not even their ingredients (what is in our suntan lotion or the processes that bring them to existence(how are the cattle that will one day be our steak actually treated while alive?)... that marketers do not present the thing itself in advertising (perhaps because we will not actually need it) but a package of symbols; love, power, success for the consumer to associate with the product. We are in a constant state of manipulation by market forces, seeking satisfaction of some sort, but never given the 'life' we are promised. For Cavanaugh, Eucharist provides an alternative to this process, for in consuming, we are consumed, ushered into a life that lasts, and connection with the God does offer safety, security and satisfaction to those who exist with 'Him'. Part of this is because the Eucharist IS Christ.

But Baptists see communion very differently and in my experience of my heritage... we proudly proclaim that the bread and cup are a symbol... which Cavanaugh would, I assume, find problematic... because the bread and cup aren't anything... they are just symbols... which can be marketed and therefore manipulated.

So I am wondering if the Baptist understanding of Communion ultimately participates with Consumerism in its 'symbolism'... if their is an alternative understanding of communion in the Baptist tradition that would combat consumerism... or is their some other Baptist Believe/Practice/Ordinance that offers a liturgical alternative to consumerism?


Ron Short said...

John Colwell, a British Baptist, has recently written a book in which he argues for a more sacramental view of the eucharist. Paternoster has also published two volumes on Baptist Sacramentalism.

darin said...

Thanks Ron, I've one of the Paternoster books, that i'm also taking on vacation. I guess what I'm asking is not whether Baptists should have a sacramental view, but whether something in the Baptist tradition has a similar ethical influence as the Catholic view of Eucharist.