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Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire

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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 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 the debate. Among other things, Cavanaugh discusses how God, in the Eucharist, forms us to consume and be consumed rightly. Examining pathologies of desire in contemporary "free market" economies, Being Consumed puts forth a positive and inspiring vision of how the body of Christ can engage in economic alternatives. At every turn, Cavanaugh illustrates his theological analysis with concrete examples of Christian economic practices.


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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 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 the debate. Among other things, Cavanaugh discusses how God, in the Eucharist, forms us to consume and be consumed rightly. Examining pathologies of desire in contemporary "free market" economies, Being Consumed puts forth a positive and inspiring vision of how the body of Christ can engage in economic alternatives. At every turn, Cavanaugh illustrates his theological analysis with concrete examples of Christian economic practices.

30 review for Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire

  1. 4 out of 5

    Martinez Claudio

    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)

  2. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    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 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 Internet, listening to the radio, shopping, looking at junk mail and other advertisements. Nearly everywhere we lay our eyes -- gas-pump handles, T-shirts, public restroom walls, bank receipts, church bulletins, sports uniforms, and so on -- we are confronted by advertising. Such a powerful formative system is not morally neutral; it trains us to see the world in certain ways. As all the great faiths of the world have attested, how we relate to the material world is a spiritual discipline. As one corporate manager frankly put it, 'Corporate branding is really about worldwide beliefs management' (47-48)." Consumerism seeks to exploit our restlessness, while Christianity seeks to cure our restlessness. St. Augustine, Cavanaugh's primary discussion partner and guide, once "confessed," "Thou hast made us for thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee." Thus the worldview of consumerism and its quasi church of globalism with its sacraments of technology are idols meant to replace Christ, his universal church, and the sacraments of bread and wine. Cavanaugh shows that as we consume we become more "detached" from the things we consume. Because consumerism is based on desire for desire instead of the object that is desired, we constantly throw away what we consume as we move on to our next purchase. But in the Eucharist (the Lord's Supper/communion) we become consumed by what we consume. Instead of detachment, we experience greater attachment to Christ and thus satisfaction in Him. Cavanaugh points out that in consumerism possession kills desire, but in the Eucharist possession transforms and satisfies desire. This is because God made us for himself. We were created to know God and enjoy him forever (Westminster Confession of Fatih), but we worship and serve the creation instead of the Creator (Romans 1). Cavanaugh expertly diagnoses the problem but he also gives solutions, at least on the individual and local level. Cavanaugh is not as ascetic who is trying us feel guilty about consuming materials. He wants to reform our view of what we consume. Every created object contains traces of the Creator. When we use created things we should be enjoying the Creator. Created objects don't satisfy us when they are treated as an end in themselves. The satisfy us when we use them to point us to their source in God. Thus, the things of earth don't go strangely dim, as the misguided hymn says, but they grow, as one of my friends likes to say, "strangely alive." Cavanaugh brings in Hans Urs von Balthasar for a philosophical discussion of how we see the universal and the particular united in Christ. In globalization we see only particulars unrelated to anything universal or as mere interchangeable stand-ins for the universal (as in the liberal idea that all religions lead to God so it doesn't matter which one). Thus particulars are dispensable. But in the incarnation of Christ, we see the universal Son united with the finite Jesus. By becoming man, God makes room for every particular. Every material object, just like Christ's humanity, can be set apart for God's purpose. God created us to create under him. Thus we should consume what we produce and produce what we consume. Cavanaugh realizes that we can't produce everything we consume, so he says we should consume locally and get to know our producers in order to make God-glorifying choices. We don't realize that our clothes, coffee and other consumables are produced by poor people in third world countries who are being exploited by businesses feeding our consumption. Do we know how our God-given cows are being treated? Cavanaugh does. He buys his beef from a local farmer who feeds his herds healthy, naturally produced food instead of drugs meant only to bulk them up. The cows are clean and not penned up in their own muck. Does the meat cost more? Definitely, but a little less beef goes much farther in terms of satisfaction. Adam Smith could not have been more wrong when he said that the market provides all the knowledge necessary for the consumer to make rational choices for the common good. Cavanaugh argues that Adam Smith's and Milton Friedman's definition of freedom as the absence of coercion, actually leads to a coercive capitalism. He argues for a return to Augustine's definition of freedom as the ability not just to choose but to choose the Good. We must choose the Good as defined by God who created human nature. Without the Christian understanding of the chief end of man, nothing remains but lust for power through profits. Cavanaugh compares the Mandarin Co. who outsources jobs to El Salvador to the Mondragon Cooperative Corp. in Spain who hires locally. The Mandarin Co. widens the gap between employer and employee by forcing workers to put up with substandard pay and working conditions. If the workers protest, as they have, the company simply threatens to leave El Salvador for cheaper labor elsewhere. The workers aren't coerced. They have a choice, but few options, and they can't afford the consumables they are producing. A priest founded the Mondragon Co. on Distributist principles, which means that the employees are owners and the highest paid in the co. only makes six times more than the lowest paid. Compare that to the average CEO who makes 300 times more than the lowest paid worker in a modern corporation. Mondragon is a multi-billion dollar company who has created a healthy, educated local community with low crime rates. "Which has promoted human freedom?" asks Cavanaugh. Neither group is coercing its employees to work there, but one of them as enabled human flourishing and the other is oppressive. What Cavanaugh doesn't address, and this is probably the major weakness of the book, is how to restructure the state, national, and global economy along the lines of Augustine's definition of human freedom and the principles of Distributism. Distributism seeks not to redistribute wealth through taxation but to distribute ownership to as many people as possible. G K. Chesterton did address how to implement this at the national level, and he needs to be heard along with Cavanaugh.

  3. 4 out of 5

    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 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 is I wish the examples of how Christians are addressing this stuff was fleshed out a bit more. Probably slated for a re-read soon.

  4. 4 out of 5

    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 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 abundance. Instead of freedom being the absence of constraint, Christians believe that freedom is a gift from God to orient ourselves toward the truly important. Instead of reality being a commodity to be consumed, God empties through kenosis into the Eucharist so that our desire is consumed into a drive to be a gift for others. Instead of the local being sucked up into the universality of the multinational corporate market, Christ gives us a picture of the absolute particular that reveals to us our common interconnectedness. And instead of scarcity and competition being the heart of reality, God’s gift of Christ reveals that there is more abundance than human imagination can conceive. Cavanaugh does a beautiful job in a very short book. He is readable while arguing consistently. He uses biblical materials and historical theologians such as Augustine and von Balthasar in a way that illuminates rather than overwhelms. And he is careful not to fall into the trap of being either “liberal” or “conservative” but rather trying to reframe the terms in which we consider these vital economic questions. The only small critique might be that Cavanaugh’s particular suggestions—buying local or fair trade, participating in Church Supported Agriculture, etc.—might be seen as too little or too modest. But in a way, even these critiques reinforce his argument that we are called to do small, particular, local and relational economic activities in a way that reinforces the kingdom. Be warned – if you are an uncritical devotee of the idol of the free market, you will not like what Cavanaugh has to say, because he dissects it thoroughly and theologically. But if you are open to the Spirit and to Cavanaugh’s argument, no matter what “side” of the question you thought you were on, you will come away with many more questions about what it means to be Christian in an age that worships desire rather than God.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Nicole Schrag

    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 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 am always so biased to the particular / local and had some issues with how WC talks about universals. This made me want a book that was focused on case studies in Christian economic endeavors—like farm shares and fair trade networks and several other examples WC incorporates. I’m sure they’re out there, and part of what is interesting about this book is that it makes massive claims that can I think expand our imaginations about what economics could be/do. I’m just kind of skeptical about how those claims would play out. But I am a six (enneagram), so I’m skeptical of most things. Thanks for the rec/loan, Matt!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Zack Clemmons

    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 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. Cavanaugh helpfully frames all economic questions within the clarifying concept of "human flourishing," allowing the utilitarian dross that typically clings to economics as a discipline to be quickly burned away. None of the essays are comprehensive on their subject, nor are they meant to be. What Cavanaugh succeeds in doing is laying some groundwork for rejecting conceptions of markets and trade and labor and capital and consumption passively imbibed from the ambient culture and instead replacing them with particularly Christian realities. A helpful starting point, in other worlds, for Kingdom Economics.

  7. 4 out of 5

    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.

  8. 4 out of 5

    pplofgod

    Not bad. Average. His other book, Migrations of the Holy, is far better imo.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Josh

    This book shifted my paradigm on Christianity in the sphere of economics.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kara

    A great introduction to important topics. Left me wanting longer, more detailed arguments.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Bob

    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 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 Cavanaugh explores four aspects of our economic activity and how Catholic theological resources might more richly inform our lives in these areas. He explores the free market, our consumer culture, the phenomenon of globalization and that of scarcity. Each of his four chapters explores one of these issues under a pair of opposing terms: 1. Freedom and unfreedom. Moving beyond classic definitions of the free market he considers the question of the end or telos of transactions as crucial in defining freedom, drawing upon Augustine and the idea of human flourishing as critical in defining whether a transaction is truly "free." 2. Detachment and attachment. Here he explores the relation of the consumer and producer and how we are often detached from the product we are consuming. The Eucharist calls us into deeper attachment as it both consumed, and consumes us in union with Christ. 3. Global and the local considers the phenomenon of globalization and the false ideal of the many and the one that loses the individual in the global market. He draws upon the Triune God and the incarnation of Christ as God and man as well as the Catholic Church in properly modeling the life of the many and the one. 4. Scarcity and abundance discusses the basic reality of many economic transactions that assume scarcity and that some gain at the loss of others. Much of this has to do with the hunger of human beings who gain and yet want more. Once again, Cavanaugh appeals to the Eucharist and the offer of abundant life found in Christ that bids us into a culture of communion with the poor. This is not a book on economic policy for the nations. He describes his book as "a contribution to a kind of theological microeconomics." While at points he cites examples of the inequities that result from free market economics, rather than to attack or attempt to change the structures, he commends personal and communal practices for Christians from purchasing fair trade products to Community Supported Agriculture and other efforts that connect buyers and sellers directly and the Economy of Communion Project where businesses dedicate one-third of profits to direct aid to the poor, a third to educational projects, and a third for business development. The strength of this book is that in quite a concise way, Cavanaugh introduces those from outside that Catholic tradition to the rich body of theological resources from which one may draw in economic thinking. However, the book does seem to be short both on application, and some of the resources like a bibliography or "for further reading" other than the works cited in the text. The one merit is that most of the concrete applications come out of the author's own experiences or other existing programs rather than untested proposals. Cavanaugh does not address how Christians might engage the larger issues of globalization and capitalist economics, and one senses his approach is actually more of a "Christ against culture" one of personal and communal economic alternatives to the system. For a somewhat different take, one might read this alongside Just Capitalism (review forthcoming) by Brent Waters, which offers a defense of economic globalization and capitalism, while being aware of its shortcomings. It seems to me that Waters addresses what it is to be in the world; Cavanaugh what it means to be not of it (cf. John 17:14-16). Since both seem to be the call of a disciple this side of eternity, then both of these voices may have important words for us.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Tim

    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 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 the absence of interference from others. There are no common ends to which our desires are directed. In the absence of such ends, all that remains is the sheer arbitrary power of one will against another. Freedom thus gives way to the aggrandizement of power and the manipulation of will and desire by the greater power." I like the reminder that advertising is "a powerful formative system [and as such:] is not morally neutral: it trains us to see the world in certain ways." Like many faiths it teaches us how to transcend the material world. "Each new movement of desire promises the opportunity to start over." Christianity too teaches us dissatisfaction but "the solution to our dissatisfaction is not the continuous search for new things but a turn toward the only One who can truly satisfy our desires." His discussion on consuming and being consumed in the Eucharist makes sense in his theological system, but became a bit disembodied in the third chapter. I would welcome what von Balthasar might say about globalization - it is not clear from his poorly written chapter 3 what it might be (did my eyes glaze over). His research on consumerism is really thin and that disappointed me - many thoughtful things have been written and they might have refreshed his argument. Still a good book to think along with for awhile - and I will return to it again.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Dwight Davis

    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 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 corrective. It does seem like Cavanaugh has some oversimplified takes on capitalism (he mentions the critique of the Fair Trade movement as being another part of consumerism itself in passing but doesn't answer that critique) and he rarely nuances his statements, preferring absolute statements with little support behind them. Overall I prefer Daniel Bell's work in The Economy of Desire on this subject, but it is a little more dense and less approachable for non-academics than this work is.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    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 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 nature of consumerism: desire versus possession. W. T. Cavanaugh does not here endorse or promote any kind of state action in these matters, but calls Christians everywhere to think hard about our consuption choices. There was so much good material here, I could've highlighted the whole book!

  15. 5 out of 5

    John

    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 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 with God, that story is flipped on its head: “The Eucharist, by way of contrast, enacts a different story, a story of abundance: by being drawn into God’s life, we radically call into question the boundaries between the haves and the have-nots.” The fundamental issue with a capitalistic system is that there is no objective aim. “[A] free market has no telos, that is, no common end to which desire is directed.” In contrast, “Augustine’s view of freedom is more complex: freedom is not simply a negative freedom from, but a freedom for, a capacity to achieve certain worthwhile goals.” In other words, Cavanaugh says, “This is not just a matter of wanting too much; it is a matter of wanting without any idea why we want what we want. To desire with no good other than desire itself is to deserve arbitrarily. To desire with no telos, no connection to the objective end of desire, is to desire nothing and to become nothing.” The primary issue with consumerism isn’t then the amount of desire, it is that that desire is aimed at itself. Surprisingly, then, in this materialist world, “What really characterizes consumer culture is not attachment to things but detachment. People to not hoard money; they spend it. People do not cling to things; they discard them and buy other things.” This profound insight has haunted me since I read it. This is at the heart of the spiritual sickness of consumerism. Furthermore, “In consumer culture, dissatisfaction and satisfaction cease to be opposites, for pleasure is not so much in the possession of things as in their pursuit… Possession kills desire; familiarity breeds contempt.” Cavanaugh continues, “Consumerism is not simply people rejecting spirituality for materialism. For many people, consumerism is a type of spirituality, even if they do not recognize it as such. It is a way of pursuing meaning and identity, a way of connecting with other people.” Cavanaugh is right: consumerism doesn’t merely infect spirituality, it replaces it. This type of system can’t help but to create injustices between the consumer and the producer: “In a world of consumption without ends, it is assumed that the consumer will want to maximize his or own power at the expense of the laborer, and the manager does not feel free to resist this logic, lest his or her own corporation fall victim to competition from other corporation that are better positioned to take advantage of cheap labor.” But this is not what we were created for. “Our work was meant to be an outlet for creativity, a vocation to make our impress on the material world.” Furthermore, consumerism flattens out the world: “We are rapidly approaching a utopia, which, says the president of Nabisco, will be ‘one world of homogenous consumption…’” “The surface appearance of diversity in fact masks a stifling homogeneity.” “The tourist can go anywhere, but is always nowhere.” Cavanaugh believes that Christianity offers a solution for this sickness. Christianity tells us that we are made for a purpose and that purpose is God. Augustine in Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” The sickness of consumerism shouldn’t surprise us: we are desiring beings, made for desire that can only be fulfilled in God himself. Cavanaugh says, “Only Christianity satisfactorily solves the problem of the One and the many, because Christ is the ‘concrete universal.’ Only in the Incarnation can an individual be universal and the universal be individual.” The incarnation of Christ creates the reality of a life that is lived not for oneself, but for the sake of another. “The kenosis of God creates the possibility of a human subject very different from the consumer self.” This is a self that gives oneself for another. This is the selfless, the other-focused self. Cavanaugh quotes Hans Urs von Balthasar: “Thus, in the very discipleship in which the Christian ‘loses his soul,’ he can attain his true identity.” The way of the Christian is demonstrated in the Eucharist. “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.” Cavanaugh has, without a doubt, diagnosed the sickness of consumerism expertly. And his spiritual prescription is, likewise, compelling. I highly commend this book to you. However, Cavanaugh’s economic solutions are less compelling. He suggests that Fair Trade treats the neighbor with dignity. That’s a start, but I doubt that this is the makings of an economic system that fully expresses the justice of God. In fact, I wonder if, while Cavanaugh is correct, capitalism might be, borrowing from Winston Churchill, the worst form of economics, except all of the other forms that have been tried. This is not to let capitalism off the hook, but rather that we should continue as Christians to critique the broken systems in which we live, and to attempt to live lives that bear out the in-breaking hope of Christ in every system, all the while recognizing our finitude in demonstrating the fullness of the justice of the Kingdom of God in this age.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Toby

    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.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Chet Duke

    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.

  18. 4 out of 5

    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 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 answer the question of whether or not "the free market" is right and proper. Instead, he asks, "what kinds of economic practices can make the market truly free?" This can only be answered, from a theological viewpoint, when we have defined freedom by God's Word. That is, we are only truly free through our inclusion and participation in the Body of Christ. On the surface, he is absolutely right. Because of our different understandings (Cavanaugh is Roman Catholic) of what inclusion and participation in the Body of Christ (displayed and experienced especially in the Eucharist/Communion) truly means, though, we come to different conclusions. Cavanaugh begins by challenging the traditional capitalist/free-market definition of "freedom" — derived from the writings of prominent economist and Nobel Prize winner Milton Friedman — as being a purely negative definition. For instance, he says, capitalists generally understand freedom as being free from coercion and governmental interference. He contrasts this by quoting Augustine to demonstrate that the Christian understanding of freedom is that we are freed by Christ for good works. How then should this Christian ideal of freedom be reflected in our transactions? At the core of economics, he says, is desire. Desire, in and of itself, is good. We are created to desire God. As Augustine said, we are passionate, desiring creatures, and the constant renewal of desire is what gets us out of bed in the morning. After all, God's mercies are new every morning ( Lamentations 3:22-23 )! Unfortunately, our sinful human nature replaces this desire for the Creator with a desire for created things. Thus, our ultimate purpose in life — our telos — shifts from desiring God and seeking to please Him, to pursuing our own desires, seeking always to please ourselves. Cavanaugh goes on to describe ways in which our current economic system thrives on — and even depends on — the constant renewal of our desires. The "having" is not nearly so addictive as the "getting". We are bombarded with media and marketing which is designed to create and manipulate our desires through "the organized creation of dissatisfaction". In fact, he even goes on to say, rightly, that "the economy, as it is currently structured, would grind to a halt if we ever looked at our stuff and simply declared, 'It is enough. I am happy with what I have.'" It is the responsibility of the Church, according to the author, "to be a different kind of economic space, and to foster such spaces in the world." This is to be accomplished through the changing of our desires back to the things of God. Thus far, I am in agreement. The way in which these renewed and proper desires are to be obtained, however, is where I would begin to differ greatly from the author. He expends a great deal of effort and many words to paint a picture of how our capitalistic system has been driven by our corporate desire for consumption to seek the lowest prices, greatest variety, and ease of access for all of our goods and services, with no thought given to the ramifications this has on our work force (as jobs are exported) and on the lives of exploited workers overseas. Cavanaugh spreads the blame for this fairly and evenly among corporations, unions, individual workers, and consumers. Everything in our society is geared toward the ultimate end of consumption. He does not believe that any (or at least not many) of us consciously choose to satisfy our own desires at the expense of others. "The problem is a much larger one: changes in the economy and society in general have detached us from material production, producers, and even the products we buy." Over hundreds of years, we (especially in the West) have seen our society change from a time when the home was a center of production (nearly everyone made/grew everything they needed) to a time when labor is much more specialized, and very few people own anything that they have made themselves. Because of this, we give no thought to how things are produced. Even here I am in agreement with Cavanaugh's assessment, and his identification of the problems. His solutions, though, are completely wrapped up in human effort. His portrayal of current efforts such as Fair Trade and Church Supported Agriculture as ideal, even if they have the noblest of intentions, are simplistic solutions that do not sufficiently answer all the questions he has raised. In fact, they don't even support his earlier (true) statement that freedom is found only in Christ! Our best efforts — and I would agree that all of us, myself most of all, could and should do more to understand the plight of the poor and work to meet their needs — can never free people from their enslavement to sin. Those actions must always be secondary to our primary mission of taking the Gospel of Christ around the world. Of course, the manifestation of being the body of Christ in the world is the feeding of the poor and the pursuit of justice, so on the practical level our ends are very similar to those proposed by Cavanaugh. The main reason for this distinction is the difference between Roman Catholic and Protestant (particularly Reformed) interpretation of God's Word. For instance, Cavanaugh frequently (and almost exclusively) quotes from 1 Corinthians 12 as the biblical foundation of his ideas. However, this passage is relating to members of the Body of Christ, meaning those who have been regenerated by the work of the Holy Spirit by God's grace through faith in Christ. Cavanaugh believes that everyone is a member of Christ's body. If this were the case, then he would be correct in believing that the greatest unmet need of the poor would be their physical well-being. I am certainly no expert on Catholic theology, and I don't want to speak from ignorance, so I will go no further into our theological differences other than to make one final comment. What frustrated me the most reading this book was that the author has asked all the right questions, and provided all the logical (even most of the theological) groundwork for arriving at what I believe are the "right" solutions. Unfortunately, when it comes to answering the question most critical to the entire book — determining an objective telos of mankind and all creation in order to form an economic framework around that ultimate purpose — Cavanaugh finds his answer in all the wrong places. His references are nearly always to "church tradition", "papal teaching", and the writing of historic theologians such as Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, rather than to the Word of God. Even when these traditions and teachings ARE based on sound doctrine, his choice to base its authority on human words rather than on the Word displays a reluctance to give the final glory to God alone. Similarly, if our ultimate purpose is to feed and care for the poor, then we are basing our charity on human effort. If, on the other hand, our ultimate purpose is to desire and serve God, and we are faithful in doing the things that he desires for us to do, then the physical needs of the poor are still being met, but the glory goes to God. Again, it's a subtle distinction, but it's one that makes all the difference. Most of what I have discussed here comes just from the first two essays... as you can see, there is a TON of food for thought crammed into a small, easy-to-read book! I don't want to go into nearly so much detail on the other sections (and there's a lot I've left out that you'll have to read for yourself), but I do want to touch on some of the highlights. One point Cavanaugh made that I found particularly interesting was the connection between capitalism and postmodernism. Since consumption is the engine that drives capitalism, and purchasing is necessary to stimulate economic growth, then without an external basis of moral values on which to base our purchasing decisions, there are no "wrong" purchases. Gambling and pornography can contribute to the growth of the economy just as much as purchasing food and Bibles. In a purely economic sense, there is no ultimate meaning in our choices. All that matters is pleasing yourself. This pervades everything about our consumer culture, and when this "anything goes" economic philosophy is applied to all of life, we begin to see that all choices have no meaning, and there is no objective source of Truth. This is obviously a very cynical view of capitalism — and I happen to believe that, within a Christian understanding of Biblical morality, free-market capitalism CAN conform to the Bible's teaching about economic transactions — but the logic of his point can't be denied. Our society does NOT, in general, have a Christian understanding of Biblical morality, so our unchecked desire to consume results in much corruption and the type of postmodern thinking that we see everywhere today. I also found the final and shortest essay to be very good. He shows how our current economic system is built around the idea that resources are scarce. Therefore, our desire to help others is always in competition with our desire to meet our own needs. Because we have been taught to believe that the solution to scarcity is trade, we convince ourselves that additional consumption meets the needs of others. Our purchases stimulate the economy, leading to jobs and more money and resources being available for others. Ironically, we begin to feel that our increased consumption is sufficient to feed others! This is built around the false notion that we can generate abundance for everyone... which is really placing our hope in the manifestation in this life of things that have been promised for Heaven, and fulfilled only in Jesus Christ. In reality, our problem is not scarcity. If we consume only what we need, placing our trust in God to provide for our needs and our hope in the Kingdom to come, we will always have an abundance from which to give to others. Overall, this is a book that I do recommend for anyone with an interest in economics. I must caution you to read it with discernment, however. There is much to be learned from this book, but I can't affirm the author's conclusions. You can buy it here .

  19. 5 out of 5

    Neal

    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 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 within itself, is nothing more than an endless nihilism that recognizes no ends, common good, or transcendence. Hence, Cavanaugh sets out to dismantle this voluntarist freedom by engaging with Augustine’s delineation of means and ends and espousing the belief that all actions (and therefore consumption) ought to be oriented towards the love of the Good and Beautiful. While Cavanaugh’s assessment of voluntarism and his Augustinian understanding of freedom are thorough and persuasive, his normative political project is anemic. Though Cavanaugh rightly mentions issues of ownership, property, wage slavery, and the like, he seems to believe that if we just buy meat from our local farmers market (p. 31) or participate in fair trade consumption (p. 58) or see ourselves as becoming what we eat in the Eucharist (p. 54) or have a sacramental view of the world (a view that sees Goodness and Beauty within materiality and nature) (p. 58) then all will be well. And while such prescriptive ways of acting are quite good, they do not address more pertinent questions; questions such as “Who owns the means of production?”, “Who has power and why do they maintain it?”, “Why does capitalism require its relentless growth through increasingly frightening marketing practices?”, “Why do the richest 26 people in the world possess the same wealth as the poorest half of the world, some 3.8 billion people?” etc.. Cavanaugh’s assessment of the issues was articulate and germane; however, if he does not seek to go the root of these issues—to be radical in his normative project—then his project will fail. Asking these radical questions and challenging capitalism as a given will do far more good for workers in Thailand who are paid 12 cents an hour to make shirts sold for $50 in North America than Cavanaugh’s call for us all to make bread more often (p. 58) ever could.

  20. 5 out of 5

    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 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 and was furiously underlining. Essentially, the book is four short essays on modern life to which Cavanaugh applies a Catholic thinker or two, and covers economics, consumerism, globalization, and scarcity. To economics he applies Augustine (always fun), and a lot of his points are quite good. Other points betray numerous economic fallacies, and many of his solutions certainly betray a trendy leftism. Nevertheless, he really scores in many places, especially in the first two chapters. The chapter on consumerism is simply phenomenal (the last couple of quotes I list below are from this chapter). He argues that free market folk define a market as being free if both buyer and seller are unconstrained by outside coercion. He then points out that the question isn't between free or not free markets, but asking the question of when a market is really free. He notes that Augustine noted that freedom wasn't merely negative (an absence of coercion) but positive (the ability to do good or right things). The Christian faith says that outside of Christ man is enslaved to evil and unable to do good, unable to choose the right. In this sense, then, a market could be free free from outside coercion but the people in the market could still not be free from internal coercion. And this is correct, since the "market" isn't something that decides good or bad. It will set a free (uncoerced price) for both diapers and child prostitution. He then points out that we are not even really externally free from outside coercion because modern marketing creates intentional dissatisfaction in shoppers so they are constantly searching for that "something more" that will finally fulfill them, finally scratch that itch they can't ever quite reach. Maybe this new IPod, or the new iPhone, or that new DVD, or that other "new" thing will Satisfy. Of course, you get no argument on that point from me. We haven't had free markets in the positive or the negative sense in this country since way before the civil war. There's more to it than that, which Cavanaugh does not discuss, however, and that is the fact Christianity creates free markets (in both negative and positive senses) by making free men. Set slaves free in Christ and eventually this will result in nosing the State further and further out. The converse is also true, in that if you have a bunch of free men (uncoerced men) running around who are unconverted degenerates, you do not have a free market now in a spiritual sense, and you won't have one in any meaningful sense for long. Insofar as a population is nonChristian, to that extent that population is enslaved. Most of the book goes that way. A lot of great insight into a problem, but it only goes halfway far enough down the road, and doesn't have very good solutions to the trouble. Quotes: "Where there are no objectively desirable ends, and the individual is told to choose his or her own ends, then choice itself becomes the only thing that is inherently good. When there is a recession, we are told to buy thing to get the economy moving; what we buy makes no difference. All desires, good and bad, melt into one overriding imperative to consume, and we all stand under the one sacred canopy of consumption for its own sake" (13) "But this view of greed does not really capture the spirit of our consumer economy. Most people are not overly attached to things, and most are not obsessed with hoarding riches. Indeed, the United States has one of the lowest savings rates of any wealthy country, and we are the most indebted society in history. What really characterizes consumer culture is not attachement to things but detatchment. People do not hoard money; they spend it. People do not cling to things; they disregard them and buy other things" (34) "Consumerism is not simply people rejecting spirituality for materialism. For many people, consumerism is a type of spirituality, even if they do not recognize it as such. It is a way of pursuing meaning and identity, a way of connecting with other people. Many others, finding themselves in a relentless pursuit of the requisite material things of the American dream, sense that something is awry. They read reports of Thai women being worked to death making the plastic toys and gadgets that litter our lives, and recoil" (36) "The act of consumption is thereby turned inside out: instead of simply consuming the body of Christ, we are consumed by it . . . If we remain satisfied with the unity of our own communities, however, we have not fully grasped the nature of the Eucharist. For becoming the body of Christ also entails that we must become food for others. And this often involves moving beyond our own communities and comfort zones" (54, 55) "The first step toward overcoming our detachment is to turn our homes into sites of production, not just consumption. ... simply acts such as making our own bread or our own music can become significant ways to reshape the way we approach the material world,. Making things gives the maker an appreciation for the labor involved in producing what he consumes. It also increases our sense that we are not merely spectators of life - for example, hours spent passively watching and listening to entertainment that others make - but active and creative participants in the material world" (57) "If Christ is the concrete universal, then it suggests an aesthetic in which the particular is given its particularity precisely by incorporation into the universal. The subject becomes a subject by being sent out of the self. The form of human life is then not consumption but kenosis. However, this kenosis is not merely altruistic self-emptying but participation in the infinite fullness of the Trinitarian life. If economic relations are not to be excluded in the drama of divine-human relations, then the form of economic life is the life of the Trinity, which is mutual self-giving and mutual receiving" (86).

  21. 4 out of 5

    Michael McCarthy

    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 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 able to get a lot out of this book. Definitely a good starter book for someone interested in economics, theology, or philosophy. ~~ “The key question in every transaction is whether or not the transaction contributes to the flourishing of each person involved, and this question can only be judged, from a theological point of view, according to the end of human life, which is participation in the life of God. This in turn, means that a theological vision of economics cannot helps but engage at the micro level, where particular kinds of transactions - those that really enhance the possibility of communion among persons and between persons and God - are to be enacted... The only alternative to blessing or damning “the free market” as such is to create really free markets, economic spaces in which truly and fully free transactions - as judged by the true telos of human life - can take place.”

  22. 5 out of 5

    Nate Duriga

    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 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. What we need, though, are "communities of virtue in which [we] can learn to desire rightly." He also argues that, following Adam Smith's logic, we have separated justice and benevolence into two separate questions (basically, we justly earn what we deserve through market systems, then get to choose whether others are deserving enough to receive our generosity). And at the climax of his argument, he describes the eucharist as the moment which gives us an image to set this all right: we consume the elements, and in so doing we are consumed by entering the body of Christ and giving ourselves to service and mission as Jesus did. We develop a new perspective on justice when we come to the table of communion together, as equals, with other believers from different economic strata. Certainly the economic questions cannot be dealt with in all of their complexity in 100 pages, but Cavanaugh does an excellent job of questioning assumptions we don't often question and bringing Christian thinking to bear on them.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    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.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Silliman

    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.

  25. 4 out of 5

    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.

  26. 4 out of 5

    David Blanchard

    Seldom has sucha short book made such a large impact on me. This one will make you look deep into yourelf and your motivations.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Morgan Johnson

    Thought provoking and convicting at times. Good book for Christians living in a place where consumerism is rampant.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Learned

    Misleading title. Chapters 1 & 4 were pretty good. Misleading title. Chapters 1 & 4 were pretty good.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Joelle

    Thoughtful, wise, and profound, it also offers a tremendous kick in the butt. It will reshape your entire worldview on economics v Christianity, and "our right to our money".

  30. 5 out of 5

    David Bruyn

    Begins well It begins well, but then devolves into abstractions guided by Roman theology. Too much Eucharistic theology forced into economic service.

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