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Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire Paperback – March 17, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

William T. Cavanaugh is associate professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota, and the author of Torture and Eucharist and Theopolitical Imagination.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 120 pages
  • Publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (March 17, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802845614
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802845610
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.8 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #278,138 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By wolvie05 VINE VOICE on August 17, 2008
Format: Paperback
If you are at all concerned about the economy or questions of how consumption relates to happiness, or how Christians should think about economic issues, this is the book for you. In four clearly-written, profoundly insightful chapters William Cavanaugh analyzes some of the most important issues facing economic thinkers today, including free markets, consumerism, pluralism and scarce resources, from a deeply faithful Christian perspective (although the author is Catholic and draws mainly on Catholic thinkers, his theology is strongly ecumenical) and provides sound, practical advice for how Christians can live in a world of scarce resources, rampant consumerism and meaningless relativism.

Modern economics is based on the assumption that human wants are infinite whereas resources to satisfy them are limited. The scarcity of resources creates an over-riding imperative to use resources efficiently (including human beings) and leads to conflict, whether military or monetary, over the rights to those resources. But Cavanaugh wants to tell a different story about consumption, one in which human desires can be directed towards a common end, the vision of God in community with other human beings and the natural world. Instead of people being impelled to constantly consume more and more things (where satisfaction is derived more from the pursuit of material goods than in their acquisition), they can attain a way of life in which desires are rightly ordered and where true happiness can be had in service to others in the body of Christ. The story of Christian economics is a story of abundance, because Christians become transformed to view service to others as their primary obligation, and not simply a 'charity' done during one's free time.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By John Gardner on May 5, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Derrick A. Peterson on May 24, 2009
Format: Paperback
Do not be fooled by the small size of this book, it packs a hefty punch. Cavanaugh presents his arguments here in four chapters:

Chapter One introduces the working concept of "freedom," contained in the Free Market, utilizing Milton Friedman's (in)famous definition that a transaction is free if 1.)it is informed and 2.)it is voluntary, indicating that a truly "free market," is free from the "restrictions," of any common telos, and that any desire is equally valid and free should it meet these two conditions. Cavanaugh argues that this freedom is too "negative," that is to say it is void of any discernable content, and more importantly in practice it can justify almost any of the multifarious and horrendous conditions of e.g. miniscule wages, outsourcing, and a whole plethora of other economic and dehumanizing maladies. Rather, using Augustine as a dialogue partner Cavanaugh argues that our economic transactions need to be viewed from our humanizing telos in God, and that freedom is not merely "freedom from," but "freedom for" our active participation in community and the realization of our humanity.

Chapter two brilliantly analyzes consumerism as, not greed or an over-attachment to goods, but rather a radical detachment (!) which displaces goods from their contexts, consumers from the products they buy, and producers from the materiality of production via outsourcing labor etc...Rather than completely decrying consumer, he actually sees it as a perverted form of an authentic striving after God (via Augustine's own analysis of this phenomenon). Cavanaugh then uses the Eucharist as an example of how to counteract this type of detachment, the details of which I will not spoil for the reader wanting to discern the brilliance of Cavanaugh's analysis.
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