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Being Consumed

4.09  ·  Rating Details ·  460 Ratings  ·  56 Reviews
Should Christians be for or against the free market? For or against globalization? How are we to live in a world of scarcity? William Cavanaugh uses Christian resources to incisively address basic economic matters - the free market, consumer culture, globalization, and scarcity - arguing that we should not just accept these as givens but should instead change the terms of ...more
Kindle Edition, 120 pages
Published (first published March 17th 2008)
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Oct 23, 2010 Matt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Cavanaugh argues that globalism is a counterfeit of the church. Consumerism is the worldview that drives the structures of globalism and it is a direct challenge to the Christian faith. Cavanaugh writes:

"Consumer culture is one of the most powerful systems of formation in the contemporary world, arguably more powerful than Christianity. While a Christian may spend an hour per week in church, she may spend twenty-five hours per week watching television, to say nothing of the hours spent on the In
Summary: An extended essay in theological reflection from a Catholic perspective on the economic realities of the free market, consumer culture, globalization, and scarcity.

There is something more than vaguely disturbing in the word consumer as it is applied to human beings. It suggests an idea of "I shop, therefore I am" and calls up reminders of the biblical warning that we risk our souls when we define our lives by the abundance of our possessions.

In a mere one hundred pages, William Cavanaug
Jeremy Garber
William T. Cavanaugh, professor of theology at DePaul University, provides an excellent and thoroughly theological interrogation of the economic assumptions underlying our understanding of what it is to be human and live in the world. Rather than react to the reality of the free market, Cavanaugh suggests, Christians should question what it means to be free, what it means to consume, what is the relationship between the global and the local, and whether the heart of reality is scarcity or abunda ...more
Jan 17, 2010 Tim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good, but not as good as it might have been. Overall, I expected more. The chapters do not hang well together, the writing, beautiful and challenging on occasion, gets tired at times, and I wish his footnotes showed some wider research. He had wonderful ideas about desire and about the true end of freedom (interacting with Augustine), about the necessity of community and the potential to act differently in our modern world. On freedom, "In the ideology of the free market, freedom is conceived as ...more
This is an excellent book, and brings a unique perspective to our current economic issues from a Christian (Catholic) perspective. He discusses the nature of the free market: what makes a market free, according to Milton Friedman, and contrasts this with Christian ideas of freedom from a Pauline and Augustinian perspective. His discussion of consumerism was very enlighteniing. He compares consumerism with greed (they are not the same) through a lens of Christian tradition; and tackles the basic ...more
Finally finished the last chapter of this one. He makes some assertions on certain economic practices which are not explained or defended but only assumed to be good or bad. At the same time, his aim to situate a Christian economics in the doctrine of the Eucharist seems completely right.
Chet Duke
Oct 26, 2016 Chet Duke rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: theology, ethics
This book will rock your world. After reading this, you will not ever think the same way inside of a Wal-Mart. I only wish it was longer (100 pgs). My review won't do it justice, so I suggest that you buy it and see for yourself.
John Gardner
This book by Bill Cavanaugh, professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas, is short — weighing in at a mere 5 ounces and 103 pages — but packed with well-reasoned thoughts regarding the crossroads of economics and theology. The book is actually a collection of four related essays, where the author investigates four different pairs of perceptions of economics: Freedom and Unfreedom, Detachment and Attachment, The Global and the Local, and Scarcity and Abundance.

Cavanaugh does not seek to
Adam Ross
Can't decide between three or four stars (if only we had half-star ratings!). I finally decided to give it four because I'm leaning more in the direction of really liking the book, despite its (many) flaws.

I started out thinking I'd just breeze my way through this book in an hour or so (its 100 pages exactly). Instead, I found myself really taking my time, savoring the prose and mulling over the ideas therein. I'm not usually one to mark up books, but within fifteen or so pages I had my pen out
Pastor Matt
A fair critique of western consumerism and the spiritual damage it an do to ourselves and the world but a shallow and historically limited view of both macroeconomics and microeconomics.
Donald Linnemeyer
Cavanaugh does a good job of tossing out some ideas on redefining some pretty tired economic debates. He's got some interesting stuff here, especially in trying to redefine economic in terms of the Eucharist and kenosis, and he keeps the book fairly accessible. It's a short book and skims over the surface of everything, so he hasn't made it to the detailed, practical work yet. But he's provided some fun starting points for further development.

His chapter on the free market is decent, the main ta
Jan 04, 2013 Erika rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
What I liked about this book:
1. All the great talk/testimony about the Eucharist.
2. The comparison/contrast of our innate human desire/longing for the Eucharist with our desires for material things and how this all relates to the local and global economy.
3. The words "Republican" or "Democrat" or any other specific political agendas were NOT part of this book!
4. It was short (I read it in a week and could have easily read it faster if I didn't have other more important things (family) to keep my
David Ingold
Mar 26, 2015 David Ingold rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is an enjoyable read of the consumerist market, diving into meaningful theology and philosophy of desire and ends. If it weren't so insightful in parts, I would have given a 3-star because the third chapter is really a waste and not very helpful to the discussion.

If you are an economist (or a reader of economic theory), then this will disappoint you in part. If you break economics into 3 parts, philosophical/theological foundations, economic theory/practice, and actual impacts/results
Sam DeSocio
Feb 13, 2017 Sam DeSocio rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
This is a most profound text. Short and to the point. If I had read this book five years ago I would have tossed it across the room. in comparison, Berry and others flirt with the topic of faith and economics.

Apr 27, 2011 Jerry rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economics
Cavanaugh wants to maintain that a free market isn't truly free because transactions and relationships in a free-as-in-unencumbered-by-oppressive-government-regulations market are vulnerable to abuse. As far as that goes, it's correct, but immaterial. "Free" doesn't mean "perfect" in terms of a potential transaction any more than possessing free will guarantees someone will make a decision to love their neighbor rather than rip them off. The point is that they have the freedom to choose one or t ...more
Apr 09, 2014 Colby rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: theology, christian
Another excellent piece from William Cavanaugh. In Being Consumed he dissects the ideological and technical pieces which obfuscate and manipulate individuals around the economic board. With a critical eye he lays out the precise mechanisms of advertising, marketing, production and consumption as well as the ideological resources that they symbiotically sustain.

A quick read but one which will require a great deal of processing. Ethically and theologically as astute as possible a reading of Consum
Feb 20, 2016 Jake rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religious-books
I don't know about this one. There were certainly good things. The book gave me the depth to explore my conflict between faith and consumerism. And I like how the author challenged Friedman and other pro-globalization economists; rightly blasting them and their mentality as benefitting the few over the many. The incarnation bits were good too. But the author kept making the point that government regulation was bad for the free market, because it messed with the value of exchanges and a person's ...more
Sep 27, 2013 Nathan rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
As the stars suggest, I thought the book was "okay." Cavanaugh tackles an extremely important topic for Christians today - and arguably the most pressing issue for the American church today. He provides a handful of helpful insights on how desire, economics, and God interact. His explanation on how we become detached from production, producers, and even our products (basically all of chapter 2) is especially observant. However, I felt that he fails to provide enough substance, or practical advic ...more
Dwight Davis
Aug 18, 2016 Dwight Davis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A helpful, if at times simplistic, introduction to thinking through issues of consumerism from a Christian liturgical standpoint. Cavanaugh's text is approachable for those with little to no theological background, offering not only theoretical insights but concrete applications as well. I think that what Cavanaugh is doing with the Eucharist as that which consumes Christians and takes us up into Christ, thereby freeing us from the tyranny of the self for service to others is great and a helpful ...more
Joel Wentz
May 10, 2016 Joel Wentz rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Cavanaugh's work is incredibly sensible, balanced, and timely. As a relatively economically privileged American, I struggle with the tension created by my deep commitment to Jesus' teachings, and the access I have to "stuff." Cavanaugh cuts right through most of the rhetoric, and speaks directly to the economic systems we find ourselves at the mercy of, while offering a hopeful, deeply Christian, response.

In particular, the ways he handles the subject of "freedom of choice" (drawing deeply upon
May 18, 2011 John rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
I had high hopes for this one. Cavanaugh tackles the problem of consumerism theologically, attempting to counter idolatry. He begins by arguing, following Augustine, that freedom cannot be defined 'negatively' that is by the absence of coercion, but positively, through the possession of a 'telos' or purpose that gives meaning to the freedom.

He extends the argument to the unifying power of the Eucharist in giving us all a purpose in glorifying God and serving one another.

While there is much wort
Nathan Duffy
Sep 14, 2012 Nathan Duffy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very well written at a popular level. Switches modes fluidly between interrogating and appropriating the likes of Balthasar and Augustine, to utilizing tangible contemporary and pop culture illustrations.

Only weakness is his drifting in and out of awareness of the nature of his own thesis, especially when engaging Milton Friedman's thought. He is never really at direct odds with Friedman, and sometimes he's aware of this, then he'll turn around and imagine a conflict where none exists.

His obser
Mar 02, 2009 Megan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people interested in economics
Recommended to Megan by: Mark
A very interesting analysis of consumerism through Christian lenses. Cavanaugh explains what consumerism is at its root and offers the Eucharist as the only true act of consumption that satisfies our ever-wanting souls, an act that at the same time de-centralizes the individual by placing him into the Body of Christ. As I read, I thought, Finally, someone who argues why Christians most of all should care about sustainable, organic, local, and fair trade issues! Some of the more philosophical bit ...more
C. Christopher
Dec 12, 2010 C. Christopher rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Being Consumed needs to be read in our churches to lead us toward recognition and confession of our economic idolatries, especially in the present age of economic turbulence. Cavanaugh masterfully uses historical Christian theology to critique capitalism. This is a potent little book, and one that would shed much light on the recent financial crises of our land and could inspire us to discern distinctively Christian economic practices.

Read my full review on THE ENGLEWOOD REVIEW OF BOOKS
John Roberson
Cavanaugh suggests that instead of being caught up in left vs. right Christians should imagine third ways for economics. So, for instance, instead of asking whether we support or oppose free markets, let's ask what it really means to be free. Maybe we question the fundamental economic assumption of scarcity by pointing to the abundance of God's life in Christ by the Spirit. At times he gets a bit too, but it's a good read and it's much more accessible than his previous b ...more
Jacob Aitken
Aug 04, 2011 Jacob Aitken rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
While disagreeing with some of Cavanaugh's implied conclusions, the book was great. He was one of the first Christian theologians who are neither Evangelical or Free Market outline attemps at putting their theology into practice. He argues that for desire to be seen in Augustinian terms: we enjoy God; we use things.

The parts I enjoyed were the discussions about the Eucharist and the practical suggestions. Many people just say, "Hoorah for socialism, greedy capitalist pig swine." Cavnaugh moves t
Jul 27, 2011 John marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating book, though I agree with the reviewer who found some of the arguments underdeveloped. Here's a quote that I think is very insightful: "What makes consumer culture worth talking about from the point of view of moral theology is not primarily greed... Consumerism is not so much about having more as it is about having something else; that's why it is not simply buying but shopping that is the heart of consumerism. This restlessness - this moving on to shopping for something else, no ma ...more
May 21, 2011 Mark rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Insightful at applying Augustinian notion of 'desire' as seat of human motivation and driving ethical force to how 'free' markets work. Also, he shows how the Eucharist reshapes our imagination with regard to being consumers who consume the body of Christ as well as economically scarce goods. His examples of how to achieve the telos of community, where all members right desires and needs are embraced/fulfilled, are reasonable and achievable. Good brief treatment of economics through the lense of ...more
Adam Shields
Short review: I thought this was ok. There are some interesting parts to the book, but even at only 100 pages it still seemed like it dragged a bit. I appreciate that Cavanaugh is looking at this as a Catholic academic theologian, but to me he seemed to keep on hinting at ideas without really fleshing them out and then moving on.

My full review is on my blog at
Jun 17, 2009 Jeremy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fantastic book. Cavanaugh expresses a number of problems with our consumer and free-market driven culture that I've been starting to get a sense of myself. He shows that free markets, in the commonly-understood sense, are largely a misnomer, and discusses in great detail the relations between globalism and individualism. His discussion of the Eucharist as a model for a proper Christian mentality was absolutely fascinating. A very enlightening book.
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Dr. William T. Cavanaugh is Associate Professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. He holds an MA in Theology and Religious Studies from Cambridge University and a PhD in Religion from Duke University.
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“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 which the identity of the self is paradoxically secured.” 6 likes
“Economic relationships do not operate on value-neutral laws, but are rather carriers of specific convictions about the nature of the human person - the person's origins and
destiny. There is an implicit anthropology and an implicit theology in every economics.”
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