We all consume. We all utilize commodities of the free market economy in which we live. There is a temptation to vilify or glorify the market and its outcomes based on consumer interaction with the created systems. Yet, to only dwell on the evil or good of the market is to miss a critical point and to focus on symptoms of underlying problems in western culture, and certainly all cultures. The question we must address is, will we consider the intentionality of our decisions in the midst of the economic system in which we live? Choosing to be intentional rather than subject to one of the binaries of the economy provides freedom to act as agents of influence and benevolence rather than as victims of our reality.
As William Cavanaugh explains in his introduction to Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire, “Rather than blessing and damning the free market as such, I want to focus our attention on concrete Christian attempts to discern and create economic practices, spaces, and transactions that are truly free.” Cavanaugh shapes his text around economic topics such as freedom, globalization, and scarcity with the integration of Christian practice to reveal alternative modes of action around the God-given desires placed within humanity. The hope is that Christians would be able to conscientiously consume by first consuming and being consumed by Christ rather than the world in their engagement in the free market. Thus, “The result is an ecclesiologically informed economics whose capacity to transform our lives, if we would heed its various concrete suggestions, should not be underestimated.”
Cavanaugh questions “the human telos [or aim] of free market capitalism, and arguing how it is fundamentally at odds with Christianity’s proclamation as to human ends. What this means is that economic life must be reordered. Through four chapters, the book proposes a revolutionary transformation of economic life with the Eucharist as the model for what a truly free and just economic system might be.” The Eucharist taken with the examples throughout the text emphasize the practical communality of the body of Christ and the essential need for justice in living Christian values in a free market economy.
Cavanaugh is limited in his reach as Lake Lambert explains: “Being Consumed fails to offer a vision for how Christians might live out their callings with responsibility in an admittedly sinful economic system.” Further, John-Paul Spiro confronts the text by stating Being Consumed is “aggressively Catholic without advertising itself as such; its subtitle is Economics and Christian Desire and its first chapter refers to “Christian” resources, but its Eucharistic and Trinitarian theology will alienate many Protestants.” Lambert and Spiro’s critiques aid in a balancing one’s perspective of Cavanaugh, as to not swallow the text whole. Although from a Catholic perspective, Cavanaugh does no disservice to Christianity in his writing, and, in fact enlightens Christians to the importance of the Trinity and the Eucharist as core not only to belief but to everyday life and practice of the faith.
On the positive side of Lambert’s review, he remarks, “The great strength of Being Consumed is its willingness to question basic assumptions of free market capitalism, and this includes the definition of freedom itself. Economists seldom consider the philosophical underpinnings of their discipline.”
Cavanaugh’s text connects with Vincent Miller’s Consuming religion as both consider Christian desire and the structures and practices influencing behavior from a societal perspective. Cavanaugh even quotes Miller as a fellow Catholic in his perspective on consumerism’s damage to the kingdom of God as it leads to “endless superficial novelty” and “detachment from particular objects” while anticipating everything and hoping for nothing. Where Miller is focused on consumerism through pop culture and products, Cavanaugh lasers in on the spirituality of consummation and its counter practice in the midst of culture. He reasons that, “the solution to the restlessness of desire is to cultivate a desire for God, the Eternal, in whom our hearts will find rest.”
In Cavanaugh’s final chapter on Scarcity and Abundance, he reveals the vast difference between the way the market and the Kingdom of God view scarcity and abundance. The market says to care for those who have less we must care for ourselves or “If I take care of me, I will in effect be caring for you.” The miracle of the market is to consumer more to feed others. “Cavanaugh likens this to a secular eschatology because competition in a free market system is said to produce more, reducing scarcity and always promising that, “abundance for all is just around the corner” (93). Here again the Eucharist is the corrective since the sacrament is not about scarcity but abundance, and it is not a contractual exchange but a gift. The Eucharist proclaims an eschatology of both hope (abundance) as well as judgment, since ‘those of us who partake in the Eucharist while ignoring the hungry may be eating and drinking to their own damnation’ (98).”
For Christians to operate first as free market consumers rather than Christ consumers is to reorder our identity into a perception of being made into the image of the world rather than of God. Consuming the Eucharist week by week is an enactment of our oneness with God and each another. Thus, we are not lacking resources or community for we have the abundance of the grace of God, the resources of the kingdom, and the relationship to all people as equals made in God’s likeness and valued as such. The challenge is to live daily into the abundance of God’s consuming life in us in all our circumstances. As I finished reading Cavanaugh’s text, the words from Jack Shephard (Matthew Fox), a character on the TV show Lost began to haunt me, “Last week most of us were strangers. But we’re all here now. And God knows how long we’re going to be here. But if we can’t live together, we’re going to die alone.” If we consider ourselves lost and alone in this world for who knows how long, what’s not to stop us from mindlessly consuming in conformity of the world? But we are not alone. We’re in this together.
 Cavanaugh, William T. Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008, viii.
 Yong, Amos. “Cavanaugh, William T. Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire.” Religious Studies Review. (2009), 35.
 Lambert, Lake. “Cavanaugh, William T. Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire.” Dialog: A Journal of Theology (2010), 169.
 Lambert, 171.
 Spiro, John-Paul. “Cavanaugh, William T. Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire.” Augustinian Studies, vol 41, 2 (2010), 497.
 Lambert, 170.
 Cavanaugh, 93.
 Ibid., 90.
 Ibid., 93.
 Lost. “White Rabbit.” Season 1, Episode 5. Directed by Kevin Hooks. Written by Christian Taylor. ABC. Aired October 4, 2004.