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Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  682 ratings  ·  78 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 o ...more
Paperback, 120 pages
Published March 17th 2008 by Eerdmans
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Martinez Claudio
Nov 18, 2020 rated it liked it
The economy , we are told , is driven by demand and not by substantive tells of human good. When we are in recession we are told to consume (whatever) . Buying pushpins or pornography serves the same purpose. Everything is available but nothing matters. It is not difficult to feel, as Bruce Springsteen sings, that there are "57 Channels and Nothin' On" (Page 69) ...more
Oct 23, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Nathaniel Spencer
Hovered between 4 and 5 stars because of its brevity, but I went and gave it the edge after the phenomenal chapter on how Christ embodies the problem of the one and the many in a way that satisfies - and reconstructs - economy and the forces that drive economy.

I would read a book 10x as long on the subject, but this is a fantastic introduction to how Christian theology adresses economics, the phenomena of globalism, human desire and proliferation of choice, and wealth disparities. Only problem
Jeremy Garber
Sep 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 22, 2020 added it
Shelves: theology
Consumption read #5:
-just deleted a bunch of stuff I wrote about the first half of this book bc it was more critical and uninteresting than I wanted—it’s fine, I’m just not the audience I think
-in the second half, he makes the case that Jesus solves the problem of the particular and the universal (which is the lens Cavanaugh used to think about globalization) and the Eucharist is part of this. I feel like I need to revisit this—imo this is the strongest/most interesting part of the book, but I
Zack Clemmons
Jul 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Cavanaugh takes on as much of our economic life as he can in four short essays, each approaching an aspect of economics through a dichotomy--"Freedom/Unfreedom" "Detachment/Attachment" "Global/Local" "Scarcity/Abundance"--and then seeking to resolve the dichotomy by means of a theological sleight-of-hand. He uses Augustine, the monastic tradition, von Balthasar, and the Eucharist, respectively, as lenses by which to understand these particular tensions of economic life after the Fall Christianly ...more
John Shelton
Hard to know how to review this: chapters 1, 2, and 4 were great and well-written. Chapter 3 may have been important too but felt like the kind of academic essay I wrote in graduate school, cleaving so close to a specific thinker so as to never get to saying what one is trying to say.

The book did help me think better about markets vs. communion, Augustine’s uti-frui distinction, and how being united in the body of Christ makes a difference for how we think about our giving.
Not bad. Average. His other book, Migrations of the Holy, is far better imo.
Sep 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book shifted my paradigm on Christianity in the sphere of economics.
Jun 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
A great introduction to important topics. Left me wanting longer, more detailed arguments.
Dec 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 17, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Dwight Davis
Aug 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Few things form us more as Westernerers than consumerism. William Cavanaugh, a Roman Catholic theologian, believes that the prescription for our untethered desire is found in the third century theologian, Augustine. In our relationship with Christ, Cavanaugh suggests, our desires are both directed and filled.

Cavanaugh explains that “In a consumer culture we are conditioned to believe that human desires have no end and are therefore endless.” In contrast, as we experience intimate relationship wi
Jul 23, 2009 rated it liked it
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 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
John Gardner
Feb 22, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Neal Spadafora
Oct 11, 2020 rated it liked it
Cavanaugh convincingly illustrates the ills and horrors birthed by late modern capitalist consumerism. First, Cavanaugh sees that neoliberal concepts of freedom have, in part, brought about issues of labor migration, animal cruelty, existential insecurity, production, consumption, and the like. That is, Cavanaugh discards the idea of freedom as the autonomous, spontaneous, and uncoerced movement of the will. Of course, this voluntarist notion of the will, of an act of the will being a good withi ...more
Adam Ross
Apr 26, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Michael McCarthy
Jul 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Cavanaugh’s short work deftly explains the proper Christian (really, Catholic) view on the modern economy by stepping back from the perennial arguments over “free market” vs. “socialist” economics. Instead, he clearly details how we even are to define and understand ideas such as “freedom,” “consumerism,” “globalization,” and “scarcity,” and how by redefining those terms we can begin to approach a concretely more just exchanges.

Having no philosophical and little economic background, I was still
Nate  Duriga
Feb 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
I really appreciated the fresh perspective this short book brought to the thorny issues of consumerism in a globalized context. Drawing on Augustine, Cavanaugh sees the root of exploitation of labor as the distance from, and thus dehumanization of, the producers of our goods. He sees the problem with consumerism not as attachment to goods, but detachment, as always stirring up desire for more dominates our lives, and so the things we just consumed are easily discarded in pursuit of something new ...more
Thomas Ryden
May 24, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Helpful reframing of the concepts of consumption, the free market, and other ideas related to economics in light of Christian identity. There is hope for a better way among the binary. Cavanaugh charts that territory with clarity and wisdom, drawing on theologians like Augustine and Von Balthasar. Giving the model of the Eucharist to form our understanding of what it means to be a consumer is a challenging and beautiful idea. We consume so that we can then be consumed by others in love. My favor ...more
Aug 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
Cavanaugh is a lovely writer, and an incisive theological ethicist, here exploring the implicit anthropology and theology of so-called free market capitalism, and criticizing it in light of (Catholic) Christian understanding of human desire. The chapter in globalization is a bit weak, but overall a really astute, accessible book.
Daniel Silliman
Jan 01, 2020 rated it liked it
Cavanaugh's account of the modern situation of life in a market economy is pretty basic, but his attempt to argue against free market ideology with Augustine and the eucharist is well worth serious consideration. ...more
TJ Jakubowski
Jul 18, 2021 rated it liked it
Maybe I just don’t understand philosophy enough to appreciate this book fully, but most of it was more like esoteric discussions of abstract ideas than Christian principles of economics. I think it would be better with clearer connections between the two.
Pastor Matt
Jan 15, 2017 rated it liked it
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.
David Blanchard
Jul 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Seldom has sucha short book made such a large impact on me. This one will make you look deep into yourelf and your motivations.
Morgan Johnson
Nov 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Thought provoking and convicting at times. Good book for Christians living in a place where consumerism is rampant.
Jeff Learned
Jun 02, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: theology, 2019
Misleading title. Chapters 1 & 4 were pretty good.
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Dr. William T. Cavanaugh, Ph.D. (Religion, Duke University; M.A., Theology and Religious Studies, Cambridge University) is Associate Professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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60 likes · 22 comments
“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.” 7 likes
“Consumerism is a restless spirit that is never content with any particular material thing. In this sense, consumerism has some affinities with Christian asceticism, which counsels a certain detachment from material things. The difference is that, in consumerism, detachment continually moves us from one product to another, whereas in Christian life, asceticism is a means to a greater attachment to God and to other people. We are consumers in the Eucharist, but in consuming the body of Christ we are transformed into the body of Christ, drawn into the divine life in communion with other people. We consume in the Eucharist, but we are thereby consumed by God.” 3 likes
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