Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire

By William T. Cavanaugh

Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008


Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire is the latest book of Catholic theologian William Cavanaugh; a professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is also the author of Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ and Theopolical Imagination: Christian Practices of Space and Time, among many other publications and articles.

In this short book [a merely 103 pages of heavyweight theological insights and social critic] Cavanaugh addresses the matter of economic life, free market, consumerism, globalization, scarcity and desire from the deep perspective of the Eucharist. 

This book is a must read [right away] by those interested in looking for substantial alternatives to the way we view our engagement as consumers and the of use of our resources. As the author expound in the book, most of us when confronted with the questions and matters of economy, especially the idea of the free market, we tend to be confined to two bound sets of ideas/opinions. One group  embrace completely the idea of “free” market, be it out of the ideology or the propaganda of nationalism or out of docile pragmatism.  While the other group question and/or reject the economic model without presenting much of a solution to the problem with it. In this book Cavanaugh invite us to look at the Eucharist as an alternative foundation for creating really free micro-economies of abundance and grace. The author included several excellent examples of community based organizations and business collectives that embodied [pun intended] his points.

In my opinion this is the most accessible book dealing with the creation of a radical re-framing of how we engage the model of free market in a non-reactionary way. Everyday we are exposed to the new construct of desires. From the latest Apple gadget that promise to give us that edge as creative individuals, to the newest emerging/emergent/missional books and conferences that promise to enlighten everyone with new insights into culture and Christianity. Free market has this unobtrusive way to turn into profit it’s own dissident voices and movements. It is not surprising that religion is quite a profitable product in the global mall. 

As a Catholic Theologian Cavanaugh point to the Holy Eucharist as the alternative telos to our participation in the free market.  While the market is driven by the manufacture of the never acquired sense of fulfillment via desire and consumption, it is in the Eucharist that we encounter the graceful abundance of God and our sense of purpose. But this is not just via some spiritual gymnastic. If we are to take as truth the call to participate and consume the elements of  Communion along side others, this mean that at a point in the celebration when take such elements that belong to One Body, that of Christ, by it’s agency  we are transform us into the same thing we are consuming, The Body of Christ. The Consumer is consumed.  The author is serious about the implications of being part of One Body with other brothers and sisters. It is because of that connection [that goes beyond social strata, blood, national identity] that we are aware and work toward an economic engagement that is just and generous. It is impossible to ignore the effect that the so-called free market economy have in our sisters and brothers, when we take to heart the reality of they being part of us and us being part of them, One Body.

I invite you to read this powerful little book and start dreaming of some alternatives.