From consumptive to consummative learning

One of the seven capital vices–a classification of vices that has been used since early Christian times–is gluttony.

Gluttony is an excessive consumption for one’s own pleasure and over-indulgence of anything to the point of waste and destructive, which usually associated with food.

Thomas Aquinas insightfully expanded the meaning of gluttony, that gluttony is not only about eating food too much, but also eating food too soon, too expensively, too eagerly, too daintily and wildly, and of course we can add the other too-es since “too” as an excess is always vicious.

Now we may also expand the meaning of gluttony, that it is not only about physical food, but also metaphorical one. Homo homini lupus has expressed such metaphorical understanding of food. Human has indeed become a wolf to his fellow human being. 

We easily find homo homini lupus phenomena in almost all spheres of life: in politics, business, social life, sex, and sadly, education. Let’s take some focus on school education. School education has become a place where bodies of knowledge are commodified and consumed gluttonously. In many schools, students (are even forced to!) consume the bodies of knowledge too much, too soon, sometimes too expensivelytoo daintily, to the point of waste or even destructive for the learner!

Now, what’s the cause of gluttony? It’s PRIDE. Gluttony is capital vice out of human pride, that is, rejecting God at the most fundamental level of human being. In the condition of rejection, man replace The Creator God with the created as the ultimate satisfaction for man’s existence. Human being worship creation in many ways.

But, what’s left after the rejecting God? Inevitably “there’s a God shaped vacuum in the human heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus” says Blaise Pascal.

With a God shaped vacuum at root, a person inevitably lives gluttonously. He gluttonously consumes creations in the hope that the creations can fill the Creator God shaped vacuum and satisfy him. But off course, it’s a bullshit. So we see that the practice of consumption is inevitably a religious act at root. Gluttonous consumption is rooted in sinful dissatisfaction, while a temper consumption is rooted in godly contentment.

Accordingly, the Christian way of consuming meal should offer a breakthrough model of consumption. As modeled in the sacrament, Christian practice of consuming should inherently be consummative rather than a consumptive. A Christian banquet might look like a typical one, but actually Christians in the early church gathered not just for consuming the meal. Their meal is profoundly a consummative and politically subversive act.

While the consumptive way of eating supports the empire of the gluttonous world. The consummative and temper way of eating, on the other hand, is a symbol of proclamation and celebration of the coming King(dom) that forms people living according to the virtues of the Kingdom. In this sense, the Christian meal, if faithfully done, is inevitably an active countercultural practice.

Christian education has to go the same way, where Christian learning is essentially also a response to the promised Consummation. Instead of enforcing the excessive consumption of the bodies of knowledge of a subject, Christian education should primarily be a place for faithful engagement with the subjects themselves. Instead of focusing on scores and competition, Christian learning should focus on the growth of holistic life.

Here are some questions occurred in my mind that can be used for reflecting on the consumptivity of our schools:

  • Is “consumption” becomes the ultimate theme of our learning contents (e.g. “buying and spending” in math or “being a tourist” in language learning)?
  • Is a learning process too costly and luxurious and so eclipses justice and humility as a goal of consummative learning?
  • Are we learning too much to the point of wasting and unuseful?
  • Are we learning a subject matter too fast that we do not authentically engage the subject?
  • Are we learning too eagerly that we forget ourselves and even compete with our fellow human beings for own glory?
  • Are we focusing too much on the cognitive and neglect the holisticity?
  • Are we using a particular way of teaching (e.g. chalk and board) too often that we are not being responsive to diverse needs?

So we see that what significant is isn’t only what we learn, but how we learn. Hence, Christian teaching and learning cannot be reduced to the business of delivering and consuming information, but consummating life-formation.

A Christian teacher should make sure his act of teaching practice is shaped by the virtues and vision of the Consummation, that his teaching practice itself is a consummative act. The purpose of Christian learning is to establish a faithful engagement and redemptive reconciliation between subjects. Otherwise, something ironic can happen: A Christian teacher may teach about the being temper or doctrine of Consummation, but doing it in the consumptive way of teaching.

Consumptive teaching and learning is nothing but delivering and consuming information. It is not formation as it has no real eschatological concern and redeeming relationships as God has called us to embody.



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