Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
March 7, 2005
Society needs to fast too
Fasting is a key feature of the Christian celebration of Lent. It helps to break the habit of making the stomach our god and to focus on the Lord and Creator who gave us all that we need for a good life. It helps us to focus on the poor, who day after day, year after year, go to bed hungry.
Fasting ought to be an act of personal piety, but it also must be more. It must be a step towards conversion of lifestyle, a conversion of society so that all may equitably share the goods of creation.
We are so far away from this . . . and getting further. It will take US$10 billion a year to provide clean drinking water for everyone in the world. Yet, $11 billion a year is annually spent on ice cream in Europe. People the world over spend $14 billion a year on ocean cruises.
A universal fast from ice cream or ocean cruises could enable everyone to have clean drinking water.
Personal consumption of goods quadrupled between 1960 and 2000. In the United States, homes were 38 per cent larger in 2002 than in 1975, yet the average family was smaller.
We eat a few calories less on a few days of the year, and it is a sacrifice. But when will we find the courage to adopt a 365-day-a-year lifestyle that will enable all people to enjoy the fruits of the earth.
The federal government, with good intentions, is pledged to implement the Kyoto Accord. But now it struggles with how to meet its targets for reductions in greenhouse gases without upsetting corporate establishments or inconveniencing individuals.
We want a cleaner environment, but without pain.
The new Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church says we do need new lifestyles, lifestyles marked by "sobriety, temperance and self-discipline."
If the choice of words reflects the calls of an earlier era for an end to alcoholism, perhaps that is deliberate. Consumerism is our drug of choice today and, like any addiction, it will be difficult to break.
The Compendium also says the environment and social equality are not goods that can be adequately safeguarded or promoted by market forces. There must be other objectives for society besides the maximization of profits. Again, tunnel vision must be overcome.
Is it too much to ask that governments and corporations proclaim a fast?
A 2001 study by the Pembina Institute (Alberta Sustainability Trends 2000) examined the factors that go into making a materially comfortable life - indicators such as air and water quality, auto crashes, problem gambling, free time, household debt and a host of others. It concluded that the quality of life in Alberta, over a 40-year period, was highest in 1961 and lowest in 1998.
There is no end in sight to growing levels of consumption in the industrialized world. And consumption is only now beginning to soar in major nations such as China.
Unlimited consumption is neither desirable nor acceptable. The earth's resources are stretched beyond their limit.
And while the poor become happier when their incomes increase, the link between happiness and income is broken when even modest income levels are achieved.
The Compendium "reminds us that the goods of the earth were created by God to be used wisely by all. They must be shared equitably, in accordance with justice and charity" (no. 481).
If we are to sustain the earth for the benefit of all, including future generations, the Lenten fast must become more than an act of personal piety.
The brakes will have to be placed on consumption. We will need an economic model whose main goal is not profits, but justice and sustainability.
Maybe Kyoto will start us in that direction. But it is, at best, only a start.
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