“The key to winning any battle is to identify the enemy.” Perhaps this quote by Dave Ramsey was precisely the battle author William T. Cavanaugh was attempting to defeat when he wrote, “Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire” Within this short 100 page work, the author breaks down the world-view of economics and then pits it against our understanding of God and our relationship to how we give to Him. At one point Cavanaugh makes this declaration to the reader; “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.” Though there are times in this reading (many times in fact) that I found the reading to be a blurred vision of economics, world-view thought, and then finally religion forced in the gaps, on the broader spectrum, it became clear that the goal was a more devoted relationship to God and less committed relationship to worldliness.
There were two particular concepts that drew my attention more than others in this reading; the first was the imagery given to being a “slave” to money. Cavanaugh discusses comments made by Augustine by mentioning; “In Augustine’s view, others are in fact crucial to one’s freedom. A slave or an addict, by definition, cannot free himself or herself. Others from outside the self – the ultimate Other being God – are necessary to break through the bonds that enclose the self in itself.” David W. Miller declared that “Cavanaugh inverts the conventional view that today’s hyperconsumption is driven by an overly strong attachment to material goods; instead, he suggests, greed causes detachment from the things we buy, consume and toss away.” The concept of slavery has always been a difficult discussion for especially Americans because of the sorted past that this country suffers from. We see slavery as a bad thing rather than something that I actually see as a reality of life, based on scripture though. The Bible has a number of interesting illustrations for this concept of life:
- “And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all.”
- “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slave to obey, you are that one’s slave whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?”
- “And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”
As Christians, we should not be seeking freedom, except the freedom from sin. Paul the apostle seemed happy to accept his bonds of slavery in regards to the role the Christianity played in his life, and encourages others to do the same. I believe this is part of the point that the author may have been striving for, however he seemed to combine the imagery with “freedom” and “choice” so much that it seemed that God was the ultimate earthly freedom. However, I believe there is not much in regard to earthly freedom about Christianity. The reality is that we have accepted the limitations of God in our lives because of the spiritual rewards that He has promised. The author makes this reinforcing statement: “The key to true freedom is not just following whatever desires we happen to have, but cultivating the right desires.”
The second area of consideration came in the discussion was rooted in his discussion on “consumerism”. “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.” The root word here is “consume”; though we tend to see the consumer as a purchaser or buyer of goods, it really is more of someone/something that uses for their own benefit. We have become a “what’s in it for me?” society. We started out as “One nation under God,” that is until we decided that God was taking away too much from us. We wanted more and more until we started trying to eliminate anyone or anything that would threaten our ability to consume. I believe the 10 Commandments will do the best job of demonstrating this point. The first (4) commandments are constructs on how we build a strong relationship with God, while the second (6) all have to do with how we treat our neighbor. Realistically, there is not much to these commandments that would seem anything more than good moral codes for living…though there is an obligation to God included. And yet, one of the first things that worldly people want removed from sight is the 10 Commandments. Why? I believe the reason is that they threaten their ability to consume the things they want…from my neighbor’s property to his wife, how dare anyone tell me I cannot want what they have! Cavanaugh mentioned a lot on the basis of supply and demand, and in it, I kept seeing the same problems erupting in churches today.
I had only been a minister with this congregation for about 6 months when the church started to realize that I may be a little more long-winded than the 20 minute preacher that preceded me. One Sunday morning following services, an older gentleman walked up to me and in a very kind, yet direct manner, began to ask me why I wasn’t scared of losing my job. I inquired what he meant, and he told me that people were not going to like that they were getting out of services after 12:00. Well, I am pleased to say that after 7.5 years at this congregation, they learned to sit there a little bit longer, but that did not mean the warning was not given. How many ministers have started changing their messages for the sake of “supply and demand”?
The real challenge I found myself seeing in this book was the challenge of having accountability to God in all things. There is nothing wrong with having possessions, providing you do not let them control you. There is nothing wrong with having money, providing it does not corrupt you. There is nothing wrong with wanting, providing you do not want the wrong things. Alex Abecina wrote in their review of this book, “Some are likely to question Cavanaugh’s choice of theological resources, or the radical nature of his approach. I can, however, commend this book as one very important voice in the growing theological conversation on the topic of theology and economics.” Cavanaugh has some though provoking ideologies presented in this work, though in some areas, I fear he did not go far enough with the conviction needed to penetrate the tough hide of Christians today.
James 4:1-3 (NKJV)
1 Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.
Abecina, A. (n.d.). Book Review of “Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire. Retrieved January 23, 2018, from Regent College Marketplace Institute: https://marketplace.regent-college.edu/ideas-media/business-economy/book-review-of-being-consumed–economics-and-christian-desire
Cavanaugh, W. T. (2008). Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire (Kindle ed.). Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Driedger, D. (2008, August 1). Being Consumed – A Review. Retrieved 1 23, 2018, from Young Anabaptist Radicals: https://young.anabaptistradicals.org/2008/08/01/being-consumed-a-review/
Miller, D. W. (2008, April 6). Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire Review. Retrieved January 23, 2018, from The Christian Century: https://www.christiancentury.org/reviews/2009-04/being-consumed-economics-and-christian-desire
Ramsey, D. (2009). The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishing.
 Ramsey, D. (2009). The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishing. P 110.
 William T. Cavanaugh. Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire (Kindle Location 25). Kindle Edition.
 Miller, D. W. (2008, April 6). Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire Review. Retrieved January 23, 2018, from The Christian Century: https://www.christiancentury.org/reviews/2009-04/being-consumed-economics-and-christian-desire
 Mark 10:44.
 Romans 6:16.
 Romans 6:18.
 William T. Cavanaugh. Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire (Kindle Locations 178-179). Kindle Edition.
 Abecina, A. (n.d.). Book Review of “Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire. Retrieved January 23, 2018, from Regent College Marketplace Institute: https://marketplace.regent-college.edu/ideas-media/business-economy/book-review-of-being-consumed–economics-and-christian-desire.