Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Waking up from our illusions

"How much of this is real? How much of the economic growth of the past 60 years? Of the wealth and comfort, the salaries and pensions that older people accept as normal, even necessary? How much of it is an illusion, created by levels of borrowing – financial and ecological – that cannot be sustained? [...] To sustain the illusion, we have inflicted more damage since 1950 to the planet's living systems than we achieved in the preceding 100,000 years."

- George Monbiot, Out of the Ashes.

Monbiot again is making the case that the church ought to have been making all along (and in some cases, is making). Material prosperity is not the route to the good life; the more stuff we accumulate, the more anxiety crowds out our joy, the more social bonds are weakened, the more the living spaces of the planet are degraded. Of course, a certain basic level of material well-being is required, the scriptures acknowledge as much - "if we have food and clothing, we will be content" (1 Timothy 6.8) - but our society has long surpassed the foolishness of the rich farmer Jesus warned about in Luke 12.13-21. We are missing the plot, messing about with the shallows of life while the depths remain unplumbed. Personally, we could be plunging into more through having less stuff to worry about, and collectively we could be pursuing things that are better than growth.

Go and read Monbiot. Then listen to Jesus tell us how to be truly alive:
He said to his disciples, "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

- Luke 12.22-34 (NRSV).


in said...

Thanks for that link Byron, maybe there's hope after all. his article on nuclear power is excellent also.

byron smith said...

Monbiot's views on nuclear power have been much discussed recently (given that Fukushima allegedly turned him from hesitant into an advocate). I have been planning a post on nuclear power for some time. I very much understand where he is coming from, but wonder whether he has thoroughly integrated this with his pessimism towards the ability of government actions to solve our mess.

byron smith said...

The Conversation: Re-thinking GDP - what is the point of development?.