Catholic Methods for Addressing Consumerism (2/3)

 

The Praxis Model

The most succinct explanation of the praxis model is that it “focuses on the identity of Christians within a context particularly as that context is understood in terms of social change.”This model is most often associated with its use of Marxism and liberation theology, but it is not confined to these applications. What marks this model most clearly is its concern with “right acting” rather than with specific doctrinal affirmations; reflective actions proclaim the faith of the church rather than the recitation of creeds.

In its purest and most basic form, the praxis theological method begins with active participation in the context and, more specifically, participation in the context’s crisis. Next, one’s actions and the context are reflected upon in light of social and political theories, and this leads to a re-appropriation of the Christian tradi- tion. Finally, one returns with thoughtful action to the situation at hand. Like the counter-cultural model, the praxis model recognizes the “deep ambiguity” of the context within which it is being performed. But rather than proposing “the Christian worldview” in opposition to the context, the praxis model, by focusing less on ideas and more on actions, uses the best thought of the culture to propose a way forward.

Consuming Faith by Tom Beaudoin oscillates between the praxis and anthropological models pro- posed by Bevans. Akin to the anthropological model, which sometimes under the title indigenization stresses that “human nature, and therefore the human context, is good, holy and valuable” and actively reveals God from within, Beaudoin often acts as companion to the North American struggling to find meaning amidst a branded culture. He sees the seeds of God’s work in con- suming habits, and desires to help North Amer- icans find similarities in our branded economic system and our spiritual lives. He writes, “Yet there is also spiritual power in these branded ob- jects. Understanding ourselves as humans seems unavoidably indirect. We always must go through a third party. Individually and communally, we only come to know who we are in and through ‘mediations’—other people, objects, symbols, language.”

Still, I find his work to be more faithful to the praxis model because it begins and ends with thoughtful/purposeful action, or what Beaudoin calls “performative” faith; additionally, though he does see God at work in our consumer society he also critiques many facets of it using current social thought. The flow of Consuming Faith bears this out. Beaudoin begins with his experience as a con- cerned and confused consumer; he then moves to analyze consumerism and branded economics using the diverse reflections of Naomi Klein and phe- nomenologist Drew Leder, which allows him to re-envision the Catholic faith tradition in such a context; and finally, he offers both “indirect” and “direct” responses for individuals and the Church as a whole to make in light of consumerism. Using this method, Consuming Faith focuses specifically on branding within our consumerist society.

For Beaudoin, branding both reveals and con- ceals aspects of the product being sold but, even more importantly, it tells us about our own spiritual selves. He writes, “The branding economy works through such schooling of imagination . . . It works in part because of its unique dynamic: branding also offers a consistent, coherent identity, in which you are told about your true self; it offers membership in a community; it issues an invitation to un- conditional trust; it offers the promise of conversion and new life.”

Because of this, the best response, according to Consuming Faith, is not to create or articulate an opposing Christian worldview and so demonize consumerism altogether (this he considers moralizing), but to cultivate a way within con- sumerist society for Christians to be faithful to the example of Jesus Christ. To this end he calls Jesus “God’s economist,” and highlights the biblical story about the death of Lazarus and the rich man (Lk 16:19-31), Ignatius’ spiritual disciplines and their focus on imagination, and the Pauline articulation of the body of Christ (informed by Leder and others) in order to fashion a way forward. In a con- cluding paragraph Beaudoin states, “We can’t do without ‘stuff.’ There is nothing wrong with buy- ing, nothing wrong with the existence of brands. In order to turn the spiritual corner before us, we will need to integrate who we are with what we buy. To realize that we each have some freedom to accept God’s gifting us with life, by becoming someone who stewards more life for others.”

Source: Setmeyer, A. P. (2010). Consumerism, Catholicism, and Hall’s Theology of the Cross. Dialog: a Journal of Theology, 49(4), 306–314.

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