Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire by William Cavanaugh

Being Consumed: Economics and Christian DesireTakeaway: I like the interesting take on the Eucharist and consumerism.  But the book as a whole was disappointing.

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This is my second book on a Christian view of economics in a week.  I am not sure why I read in themes.  The two books have very different methods.  In God’s Economy, Jonathan Hargrove-Wilson writes about his own experiences of conversion to ‘God’s Economy’ and how he has tried to live out that conversion.  In Being Consumed, William Cavanaugh writes as an academic theologian (although one that is most known as the author of Torture and Eucharist).

Both authors reject, simple free market/socialist dichotomies.  The first chapter of Being Consumed discusses what makes and does not make a free market. This is my favorite chapter because he directly takes on the understanding of the free market economy right off the bat.   His second chapter is about our relationship to goods.  The biggest weakness of this chapter is that Cavanaugh wants to talk about goods as only tangible things.  So when he discusses the movement away from making things, he means physical things.  Like many others, he mistakenly believes that ideas, intellectual property, creative acts are somehow different than cars, plows or clothes.  While it is a common understanding, it completely misses the economic reality of the digital world.  In general, I strongly agree with the theological reflections on work that are in this chapter.  But the dependence on the material-ness of work, makes it difficult to discuss in the real world.  It is not only new economic jobs that are not material, but jobs of teacher, pastor, musician, counselor that work outside the traditional creation of objects.

The third chapter I think I just did not get.  In some ways it was related to Tim Challies’ book Next Story.  On the face it is about Globalization, but it is really about the particularity and universality of goods and culture.  The points I understood were that: 1) Consumerism encourages false transcendence; we view the created good as the end, not a means to the end (enjoyment of God).  Every created thing, according to Augustine, has a trace of the creator, but is not actually the creator.  So the created world (which includes us as humans) should be used to point us toward God. 2) Consumerism encourages a new non-geographic community.  People begin to identify with people because of what they like, not because of where they are.  Then he has an interesting discussion about the interdependence of the body of Christ and after that I was completely lost.

The fourth chapter is about the way we understand scarcity and abundance.  This is when he talks about the Eucharist as a way to understand the difference between scarcity and abundance.  He has hinted about it in previous chapters, but this is longer discussion.  I would have liked to have more about how he thinks the Eucharist relates to ethics and economics.  I will have to read his book Torture and the Eucharist in order to get more.

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