Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
May 10, 2010
Counteract rampant consumerism with religious verve
Every indication, at this writing, is that the Deepwater Horizon oil well explosion off the Louisiana coast will become the largest oil spill in history, causing unparalleled ecological damage. There has been and will long continue to be discussion about who is to blame for the disaster and how future disasters of this sort can be prevented.
Such discussions are important and are likely to lead to important recommendations, some of which may be implemented.
Yet as important as this discussion is, it should not over-shadow the reality that such ecological disasters are virtually unavoidable because of our consumerist lifestyle. When there are not dramatic disasters such as that in the Gulf of Mexico, there are the ongoing disasters of global climate change, the production of 100 million tonnes of hazardous wastes a year, the loss of seven million hectares of forest annually and the increasing incidence of human obesity.
Consumer and over-consumption have built an economy that is unsustainable in every way - economically, ecologically, medically and spiritually. Such over-consumption requires vast and ever-increasing amounts of energy, a demand that currently can only be met through petroleum resources, resources that energy companies now must discover and exploit in ever-more remote locations. The technology used to exploit those resources will never be perfect and will, at times, break down with calamitous results.
A much healthier direction for humanity is to consume less and use fewer resources. This is easy to say and monumentally difficult to achieve. Consumerism is ingrained in Western culture and is becoming ingrained in cultures around the world.
Indeed, it has become a religion, the prevailing form of idolatry in a materialistic world.
In the recent State of the World Report 2010, Erik Assadourian put it this way: "Asking people who live in consumer cultures to curb consumption is akin to asking them to stop breathing - they can do it for a moment, but then, gasping, they will inhale again."
The Church, indeed all religions, have an important role to play in shattering the consumer culture. Because they emphasize transcendent values, instead of material ones, religions can be a counterweight to consumerism. Unfortunately, consumerism is itself one of the main reasons for the decline in religious practice in the West.
Religions need to follow the path offered by Pope Benedict in his message for the Jan. 1 World Day of Peace. They must continue to use their influence to explicitly challenge the views that having more stuff makes people happy and that perpetual economic growth is good.
Humanity is on an unsustainable path. To change direction, it needs more religion, not less.
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