William T. Cavanaugh, Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), £6.99, pp103, ISBN: 978-0-8028-4561-0.
Cavanaugh argues that a eucharistic account of everyday economic life provides Christians resources to resist capitalistic pathologies of desire. Challenging presupposed conditions of neo-liberal economics, Cavanaugh provides a nuanced, yet accessible theological analysis of consumer culture. Rather than blindly condoning or condemning free markets as such, Christians bear witness to a different kind of economics through the creation of imaginative alternatives truly free and just; that is, concrete practices, spaces, and transactions that participate in the life of God.
In four short chapters, Cavanaugh first exposes the illusory claims of the free market, arguing that genuine freedom must be ordered towards good ends. Absent transcendent telos, only the arbitrary power of one will against another remains. Second, he describes consumerism as a spiritual disposition that perpetuates a vacuous desire for desire itself. Its logic is not fundamentally a greedy grasping for possessions, but a hollowing detachment from production, producers, and the products we consume. Third, despite globalization’s claim to accommodate the local through diversity, difference often gets absorbed into the universal gaze of multinational corporations. Finally, Cavanaugh contends that scarcity, the axiom of contemporary economics, is not based on empirics, but the assumption that human desire is inexhaustible. This failure to rightly order desire resigns us to the reality that there will never be enough to feed the world’s hungry.
Cavanaugh engages these challenges through a robust theological account of the Eucharist as the normative embodiment of the church’s life and practice. Throughout, Cavanaugh points to tangible exemplifications of this eucharistic economics. Christians are consumers, but of a radically different sort. In consuming the Eucharist, Christians are consumed by it, re-made, re-membered into Christ’s body and given again for the life of the world.