The people of ancient Israel relied too much on economic security, and forgot all about God, which led to their downfall.

March 12, 2012
CHRIS MILLER
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

A boy has a sandbox filled with about seven cubic yards of sand. With a toy tractor, he can easily shift all of the sand to one corner. After awhile, however, he does not have a sandbox anymore – he just has a hole in the ground. His sandbox has limits.

"Well, that's what we're doing to our planet. We're removing mountaintops in the United States to access coal or in Guatemala to get at gold or silver," said the Rev. Hans-Dittmar Mündel, a Lutheran pastor and university professor.

"Our capacity to exploit is so phenomenal, so where do we find a limit? We cannot have endless growth because the planet is our limit."

Mündel examined the present situation of oil dependence through the eyes of the prophets. He teaches courses at the University of Alberta's Augustana Campus in Camrose in contemporary theology, religion and public life, local and international development.

His Feb. 29 discussion – Faith, Farming and Oil – drew 22 people to St. Peter's Evangelical Lutheran Church, situated between Millet and Mulhurst. The event was sponsored by the Augustana Campus' Chester Ronning Centre for the Study of Religion and Public Life.

Mündel's message was that living as faithful people of God means living under God's great economy.

LEDUC 1947

Since oil was discovered at Leduc in 1947, the province, households, pension funds and farming enterprises have become increasingly dependent on oil. Mündel examined whether oil is a blessing, or, like all good things, could also become a curse.

Most in attendance were farmers. The farming mentality, espoused through government propaganda since the 1970s, has been "go big or get out," he said.

Governments encouraged the family farms to grow in order to stay productive. But even as the small family farms of rural Alberta expanded into high-tech operations, individual farmers were no better off, said Mündel. Since 1985, farming has not been profitable.

"At the time of the farm crisis, governments told farmers to be more efficient," he said. "You are the most efficient farmers there has ever been and you produce more than any farmers have ever produced, and most farms still don't make money."

As the farms expanded, the farmers became more technology-dependent. More reliance on technology resulted in greater oil dependence as well.

Rev. Hans-Dittmar Mündel

Another trend is that fewer young people want to stay on the family farm. Fewer people on the small farms hurts communities and rural churches.

PROPHET HOSEA

Mündel read from the prophet Hosea, who warned of the social, economic and religious dangers of idol worship. Hosea lived in Israel in eighth century BC, an era of amazing wealth for the nation. Within Hosea's lifetime, the empire deteriorated under immense political and economic instability.

What the modern age can learn from Hosea is "if we worship idols, they will always be destructive to the community and the individual, our spiritual well-being, and it will be destructive to the land. With every idol, it's bound to happen," said Mündel.

Hosea warned Israel of devastation if they continued their idolatry. Israel then, like Alberta now, was the proverbial land of milk and honey. But the people relied too much on economic security, and forgot all about God, which led to their downfall.

Today's consumer culture is no different, and instead of obedience and faithfulness to God, people rely on technology. It is what Mündel referred to as "technological optimism," creating problems with the false assurance that it will be rectified someday.

"Oil is a gift from God. When do gifts from God become idols? Any good thing from God can become an idol when we devote ourselves to it as something that will save us. We know from Matthew 6 that we cannot serve both God and money," said Mündel.

Yet gross domestic product (GDP) measures the health and happiness of a country. It is a false measure. From 1950 to 1985, household consumption increased fivefold, but people are no happier as a result.

STUFF OF HAPPINESS

"Nowhere until the 18th century was the notion that you measure the health and happiness of a nation or a people by its economic growth," said Mündel. "GDP doesn't measure how well you're doing, nor does how much stuff you own measure how well you're doing."

With the amount of oil and gas money going into provincial and federal coffers, people's reliance on those industries is greater than ever. There are oil corporations whose wealth is greater than many countries. They have influence to shape political decisions, so propaganda and misinformation about oil and gas developments persists.

"With that much reliance on oil and gas, how can you honestly assess what is the impact on the air, the water, the land?" asked Mündel, who worked in Mexico for 14 years and saw many villages non-stop struggle with clean water accessibility.

"Water will be our future struggle. If we contaminate our water with what we're doing, we are not being good stewards."

GOD OF PROGRESS

Especially in America, progress is the ultimate "god" they follow. Everyone is in pursuit of money, yet America's economy is collapsing rapidly.

Mündel said unemployment rates exceed 25 per cent in some areas. Middle class Detroit is hungry because the city does not have a supermarket chain to buy groceries. The 400 richest individuals in America have more wealth than 50 per cent of the American population.

"We have patterns in place that, because they are against God's creation, will ultimately be destroying the people, even if in the short-term it makes them feel very powerful," said Mündel.