Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Religious asceticism and consumerism

Did Jesus have an affiliate program?I don't discuss religion very much on this blog, mostly because I don't prescribe to any particular one, but I am always curious about other's belief systems regardless of what they are. Having ruminated on the most varied of religions while studying Anthropology, I have a tremendous amount of respect for the people that practice pretty much any ideology and am open minded to most.

In many of the world's religions there is a strong vein of anti-materialism. Jesus counseled his followers that did have money to give it to the poor and hungry: Jesus said, "If you will be perfect, go and sell that you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me."

Buddha tried to find enlightenment through near total deprivation of worldly goods, the Prophet Muhammad lived an austere life, and more recently, individuals such as Gandhi have advised that people "live simply so that others may simply live."

Of course, everyone's idea of wealth and excess are different and one man's Hummer can be contrived as another's Geo Metro. How do we determine what is sufficient and what is excess?

Not unlike the message we read in Affluenza, Father Timothy V. Vaverek has written the following:

The consumerist lust for a better life is inherently destabilizing of our personal and economic lives. Since we are not satisfied with the good we possess and since our self-worth is connected to never settling for less, we must always be earning and acquiring more. Hence we work longer hours, fill our days with more self-actualizing activities, and increase spending so that we can have the better life now. In this way we become slaves to dissatisfaction, time, and money--harsh task masters who allow no rest.

So, how can someone who follows a belief system that promotes some level of asceticism also accept materialism? Is this contradiction justifiable? For example, is it possible to follow the teachings of Jesus and accept personal, monetary wealth at the same time?

I'm interested to get your input on how your religious beliefs affect your opinions on consumerism. Do your religious views (or lack of them) directly drive your desire to limit consumeristic desires in your life?


Anonymous said...

I am not religious at all, nor am I comsumerist. I think the absence of religion makes it easy to live the life you want.
it annoys me when people talk of (for example) 'Christian values' as in 'how can you raise your children properly/morally without christian values' when 'Christian values' are pretty much the same as the values of other religions, and the same values that we have, even though we dont believe in God. We have probably the most anti-materialistic of our families/friends, but the only ones who admit to not beleiving in a god. Are they hypocrites because they accumulate more wealth/stuff than they'll ever need while professing to follow the Christian teachings? who knows, and its not my place to say!

Having said that - Im not waiting for God to get us out of the shit - i figure that in the absence of a higher being its up to us as humans to sort out the mess we've made. action not prayer .

equa yona(Big Bear) said...

This is(or should be) a big issue for Christians. The anti-consumerism or ant-materialism you correctly identify in Jesus' teachings has to do with at least two issues, justice and trust. In Matthew 6 Jesus says,
"Be not therefore anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?... for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."
The point is to seek security in God,the Eternal, not material things,the temporary. By putting your trust in God, you live for God, not wealth, "No man can serve two cannot serve God and Mammon"(wealth) In fact, Jesus makes it hard to argue that being rich is ok with God, "But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation." Luke 6:24
So to be Christian and be rich is a complete and utter contradiction. According to Atahanasius, one of the so-called Church Fathers this means if you have two coats give one to the person who has none. Anything less is akin to theft from the poor.
I have long believed that Jesus' teachings lead to communitarianism as the only way to actually practice Christianity. I am not a Christian per se, although I was at one time.

WILDBLUESbysus said...

Recently my husband and I read as essay by Wendell Berry, published online at
The essay is an indictment of Christianity in its role as world hypocrite. I am a Christian and am convicted that consumerism is a type of toxic waste destroying the Earth. One paragraph from Berry's essay:
"If we credit the Bible's description of the relationship between Creator and Creation, then we cannot deny the spiritual importance of our economic life. Then we see how religious issues lead to issues of economy, and how issues of economy lead to issues of art, of how to make things. If we understand that no artist - no maker - can work except by reworking the works of Creation, then we see that by our work, by the way we practice our arts, we reveal what we think of the works of God. How we take our lives from this world, how we work, what work we do, how well we use the materials we use and what we do with them after we have used them - all these are questions of the highest and gravest religious significance. These questions cannot be answered by thinking, but only by doing. In answering them, we practice, or do not practice, our religion."

Joyce said...

It is so interesting to me that you brought this up today, because I've just posted on this subject in the last few days. As a Christian I believe we are to share when we see a need. Being blessed financially allows you to do that; I think of a wealthy family in my church who has been able to adopt four special needs children because they can afford to raise them. I agree that, like most Americans, we can easily lose sight of the difference between wants and needs, and that is a constant struggle for us, though I think we should recieve some credit for at least struggling with it at all. We do not believe that acetecism makes us better or more holy, as some religions do, but we are to have our eyes open to the needs around us and be willing to serve our fellow man.

It sometimes surprises me that there is so much venom directed at us. We are humans trying to wrestle with the same big issues of life that everyone else is. I actaully know very few sincere Christians who think they have arrived at some perfect balance and have it all figured out. In trying to live a Christ-directed life, there is always more to learn and more areas in which to grow. But at least we are trying.

Check out my last post. You night also like to look at a YouTube clip called "Jesus For President".

Howling Hill said...

Do your religious views directly drive your desire to limit consumeristic desires in your life?


I will post about this on my own blog. Thank you for the wonderful topic, Crunchy.

TheNormalMiddle said...

I spent 25 years growing up and into my early adulthood in the Quaker church (Society of Friends). Quakers of yesteryear were much like the Amish and anabaptist. Quakers of today, not so much...well, not at all, really. But---the message of SIMPLICITY is a huge one still in the modern Quaker denomination.

I try to keep things simple. Not just possesions, but things like time, kids hobbies/interests, extra activities. And heck, even church.

We do the Sunday morning worship thing most Sundays when we can and feel like it. If we skip church to stay home and make pancakes and piddle in the garden I do NOT make myself feel guilty about it. I do not show up every time the church doors open.

I try to operate under the principal:

God first.
Family second.
Everything else, get in line behind these two.

TheNormalMiddle said...

And that should be principle and not principal :)

I'm a teacher and that typo in particular scares the heck out of me!!!!

Anonymous said...

Actually our individual church did not dig the well in Sudan, our diocese provided the funds to do it.

Anonymous said...

I am a Christian and one of the worst consumers. Other than groceries I don't shop... I've not bought new clothes for over three years because I can always get "hand-me-downs" that work just fine. I've decorated my house from garage sales. I'm afraid, however, that my lack of desire to shop has less to do with my religious beliefs and more to do with the fact that I just dislike shopping. However, this is probably why I ended up at the particular church I did – because there are other like-minded folks there… artists, environmentalist, social activists (lots of old hippies) and folks who don’t necessarily buy into the “gotta have it” group. No one dresses to impress – even those with large sums of money at their disposal.

I believe that every person who subscribes to a religion, decides how they choose to incorporate the teachings of that religion into their own life. I belong to a place that has a very diverse congregation (including socio-economically) and its dedication to Outreach is primary – because that is what we believe we are taught to do. Most folks bring food on Sundays for the food pantry and/or distribute food from the pantry during the week, and/or donate money for this work and/or make and serve meals for the hot lunch program on Sunday. Those with money are very generous with it, those who don't have as much do what they can. We also have a relationship with a diocese in Sudan, Africa, and two years ago dug a well and was able to provide water for a village. So, with our weekly prayers also comes action.

Robin Shreeves said...

i am a Christian and I feel called to environmentalism. As a writer that calling leads to me to write about why its important.

I do not believe that the Bible or Jesus taught that having things or money is wrong - it's our attitude and use of them that become right or wrong. We are to be responsible with this earth and the things that it provides, sharing and taking care of those in need. Hoarding things for ourselves, piling up stuff for stuff's sake, that's not what God wants for us because its not good for us, others, or the earth.

I do admit to ignoring this core belief that I had for years because as Joyce above put it so well "We are humans trying to wrestle with the same big issues of life that everyone else is." I got out of college and wanted things. I had kids and shopping became one of my "getaways" when they were young.

But I have had such a change of heart over the past two years, and I am now committed to helping others Christians included, understand that this world was created to glorify God, just as people were. We are hampering that purpose of the creation itself by polluting the earth.

I also understand that my best way of doing this is by leading by example, not preaching at the top of my lungs to those who aren't interested in hearing.

If anyone is interested in reading a Christian's point of view on this, there are some good books by Christian authors - a whole plethora have come out in the past few years. But favorite is still one that was written in the early 90's by Dr. Tony Campolo entitled How to Rescue the Earth without Worshipping Creation. It's out of print, but there are many used copies for sale online.

Crunchy, thank you for having the courage to tackle this topic.

Anonymous said...

I am a Christian and I do believe it is possible to follow Jesus’ teachings and accept personal monetary wealth, I think it is your attitude and how you use it that matters.

The main thing to understand about God’s view on money is that it’s a gift from God and although we can choose how we use it, we should always honour him through its use and look to him for guidance.
It is highlighted throughout the bible that it is the LOVE of money that is a sin, not actually having money. God gives some people the desire to give all their money to the poor etc. while he gives others the opportunity to have lots of money to use for different things.
It is necessary to look at the whole bible in context though. If people have lots of money, but do not use it in a way that honours others and shows love (i.e by being materialistic/ exploiting others by what you buy/ by being selfish and ignoring the poor) then that’s not how God wants them to use it.

(I realise that for people who don’t know their bible well what I’m saying seems to totally contradict the quote you gave in your entry but it is an important to realise that in biblical times people considered personal wealth to be a sign of God’s blessing and showed you were better than the poor. In the story you quote from Matthew 19 Jesus turns this idea on its head showing that this idea is wrong and that money is not the way to get to heaven.)

Basically what I’m saying is that as Christians we should be listening to God always. We shouldn’t all necessarily make ourselves destitute but we shouldn’t be caught up in the ‘treasures of the world’. We should be ready to give up all our money at a drop of a hat if God asks us to and we should always be aware of what we are buying and how our actions are affecting others.

jewishfarmer said...

Judaism struggles with dual traditions, in much the way that Christianity does. First, there's the religious tradition that emphasizes justice (the Jubilee, Pe'ah - the idea that the margins of your wealth, land and even body belong to G-d and the poor, etc...) and the Rabbinical tradition that includes the claim that "Poverty is as lovely an adornment on the people of Israel as a red ribbon against the neck of a white heifer." Ancient Judaism was agrarian and wealth, if it existed, was land based and passed down from parent to child, rather than obtained through consumption of resources.

At the same time, Jews were driven towards materialism by history - Jews were routinely displaced from their land, or outright prohibited from owning it, while they were permitted to loan money and earn interest (which Christians were not for much of history). Jews were displaced into cities, and never allowed to get too attached to a piece of land. Which means that our culture was shaped by the idea that education and portable material goods (money, rather than land) were better, since you could take those with you when you had to run for your life. That kind of history gets built into your consciousness fairly quickly.

So it is a challenge to come up with a contemporary version of Judaism that shifts its focus back to land - there's some of that in Israel, but that comes with its own problems too. How do you tell people who have spent thousands of years being chased off land and survived by bribing border guards with their jewelry and silver that traditional wealth and consumption aren't worth anything and land is?


Anonymous said...

Christian history leaves many great examples of asceticism, but I don't believe that every Christian is called to an ascetic life. However, we should ensure that our belongings do not become more valuable to us that God, and we should always remember that all that we have truly is Gods, and we are merely its custodians.

Personally, my religious beliefs have influenced by desire for a more simple life. I'm not going to be quitting my job any time soon, but I don't think that I'm consumed by the desire for more money. I believe that everyone should do what they can for the less fortunate, whether that means donations of items, money, or time.

DC said...

Well, historically speaking, people have used religion to justify just about anything they have wanted to do. The Nazi guards at concentration camps had the words "Gott ist mit uns" ("God is with us") inscribed on their belt buckles. Then, there was that whole Spanish Inquisition thing. I'm not trying to single out Christianity. At one time or another, people have contorted the teachings of all the major world religions. It is easy to use religion control people and rationalize immoral behavior. I can't imagine that Christ, Krishna, Moses, Mohamed or Buddha would condone a good part of what's been done in the name of religion over the last couple thousand years or so.

That being said, I have met a number of deeply compassionate, spiritual people of many faiths who are committed to caring for others and the environment and are willing to make great personal sacrifices for the greater good.

So, religion can be a good or bad thing for the planet, depending on the people and circumstances.

I'm waiting for someone to write a new version of the New Testament that has the four riders of the Apocalypse coming to earth in Hummers. Maybe then I'll convert.

Anonymous said...

I am religions professor and can talk WAY too much about this. But three quick points on Christianity, Buddhism and Usury.

On Christianity, economics was the MAIN ISSUE in late 19th century and early 20th century American Christianity (after the whole slave thing got backburnered after abolition). The two main camps were called "The Social Gospel" and the "Gospel of Wealth" (Wikipedia them if you want). Andrew Carnegie (yes the tycoon), argued in print that Christians should strive to become wealthy, spread Christianity and good business practices to all corners of the globe, and then give generously of their wealth through charity. The idea was that you should work hard and joyfully to make lots of money so that you could give lots of money away. Consumption wasn't the point, but making and giving away wealth was. The Social Gospel folks, such as Rauschenbush and Sheldon (who coined the "What Would Jesus Do?" line) argued that concern for the poor and for social issues should come BEFORE gaining wealth, and that gaining and giving away wealth was not as good as trying to prevent economic inequality from becoming bad in the first place. They supported labor and fighting poverty, and saw guys like Carnegie as trying to keep the poor poor so that he could feel good about giving money to them. The Social Gospel line of thinking is still influential among mainline Protestant denominations like the Presbyterians, Episcopals, or UCC.
The Gospel of Wealth movement morphed into the "Prosperity Theology" movement during the 1950-60s, and is still popular in many Pentecostal and Charismatic circles. The Prosperity Theologians (like Robertson, or Tilton) argue that God wants us to be happy and to lead an abundant life, and that gaining, consuming, and giving away wealth should all be part of this. Further they think that Christians ought to be more wealthy that there secular counterparts because of their better ethical stances and their blessings from God, so inferior wealth is a sign that something is wrong with one's faith. This got taken to extremes by the televangelists in the 80s, but you can find some of it even in someone as mainstream as Billy Graham. During much of the 20th century, Christian leaders were quite worried to oppose Communism with its explicit Atheism, and often felt obligated to argue for anti-Communist economic positions, despite lots of evidence that the early church and many medieval ascetics practiced a fairly communal style of economics themselves. So the Christian issue hasn't usualy been framed as "consumption vs non-consumption" until recently, but in terms of charity vs inequality, or wealth vs poverty, or Capitalism vs Communism. In fact if you look at consumption specifically rather than wealth issues, Jesus seems fairly pro-consumption, albeit also pro-live simply. (He turns water to wine for a lavish wedding, he approves of using oil and wine luxuries at the time, he opposes saving as "storing treasures on earth", in his most pro-consumption passage he directly defends consuming an expensive oil vs the arguement that it should be sold and the money given to the poor, Matt 26:6-13).

On Buddhism, according to the stories Buddha tried extreme asceticism and found that it didn't work. He then tried a balance of asceticism and normal life, and found that more effective, and taught a mix of the two. His analysis was that extreme asceticism requires a kind of self-hatred or self-anger, which brings feelings of guilt that distract one, and that someone can live as an extreme ascetic for a while, but can't keep it up long term, not long enough to bring full spiritual fruits. The middle ground he advocated, that Buddhist monks follow today looks pretty damn ascetic to our eyes, but it was intended as a middle ground and is far less extreme than the Hindu or Jain ascetics of the same time frame. He did think that if you are on a spiritual path, rather than a householder lifestyle, it was important to be ascetic enough that no one would confuse you with someone living a householder lifestyle. (Sorry but in ancient India, Asceticism was thought of as the opposite of being a householder).

Finally let me note that ALL of the major world religions opposed usury, giving even small interest on loans until late in the middle ages. Exactly why is tricky, and you can get into lots of econ arguments about usury vs non-usury systems. But Aquinas for example thinks that opening the door to ususry allows for predatory pricing, unfair labor practices, and a whole host of economic ills. That is the medieval Catholic Church allowed some people to be ascetics, but encouraged others not to be, it also tried to structure things so as to prevent economic problems for householders from arising in the first place. Judaism and Islam have always been pretty strongly opposed to asceticism, especially more than just a little, or just occasionally. But they too have been interested in trying to prevent economic problems from cropping up in the first place, rather than putting a lot of limits on consumption after the fact. In China Confucius was mildly anti-consumption, but allowed a lot of consumption. Both Mozi and the Taoists took more strongly anti-consumption positions and portrayed Confucius as being tacitly pro-consumption. Damn well I could go on and on, but that is more than enough

C said...

This has been a new area of growth for me spiritually in the last two years. I would love to say that my upbringing in the Bible belt taught me to always share what I have. Far from it.

I've actually heard things like, "If some Christians aren't rich, then who is going to take Christ to the wealthiest people in the world?" ugh.

We now approach our finances in a vastly different way. God has blessed us with more, so we give more. Period. There is nothing more that we need. We DO budget a set amount for each person in the family for Christmas and birthdays. So we celebrate in our home, and we do have times of gifts and the occasional "extra." However, after the last big raise, we did not get TIVO or a newer car or better computers. Spending $25 to enjoy an entire season of softball is reasonable, but $60 a month for competitive cheerleading, while others around us are hungry, would not fit into our convictions.

We just give more.

For me, that is what God has taught me. He may give us more, but He has already provided for our needs. That extra is to help others with their needs ... it's very personal, how that plays out for all of us, and you constantly have to be talking with God about it.

The Simpleton said...

Lots of Christians getting airtime here, so I won't belabor the point. Three things: I would respectfully disagree with brian m. that Jesus is pro-consumerism. The Matthew passage he references is about respecting someone else's sacrifice, not an injunction to go out and buy a bunch of oil. Second, my congregation has an active Simplicity Circle that inspires me and many in my community every day. Third, I'm no Biblical literalist, but I wish Christians would take this passage more literally:
"Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common." Acts 4

Amanda said...

wow...great quote!

Anna Banana said...

I'm a Unitarian-Universalist. One of our principles is to respect the interdependent web of existence of which we are a part. My expression of this principle is to live as simply as I can. Try the quiz on, Crunchy. You sound like a UU.

Britta said...

A good post. I'm reading The Plain Reader at the moment, and am always struck by the communality aspect of "plain" religions (Amish, Shaker) and that this is how I envisioned many early Christian communities.

I was always taught the communal aspect of Christianity, even if my family didn't follow it. As an adult, I'm reconciling the earthly world and the life I wish to live. Yes, definitely, religion influences how I feel about the Earth, resources and community.

Anonymous said...

Ah did I say Jesus was pro-consumerism? I didn't mean to. Our modern system of consumption just isn't very much like any of the ancient economies. The early Christians DID hold property in common, they DID often live simply, and Jesus was nothing like wealthy. But things are rarely one sided. Jesus is far less pro-family than he is usually protrayed, for example. And he wasn't a pure ascetic either. He fasted sometimes, and at other times he goes to banquets. He uses banquets as parables too. Feasts and fasting are BOTH part of the story. The passage in Matthew is tricky, but it isn't isn't just about sacrifice, it is also about BEAUTY. He says "Why do you trouble this woman? For she has done a beautiful thing. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me." (Notice that Jesus says that he will not always be with us!). Comsumption, at its best, is about celebration and appreciation of beauty. Good food, good perfume, good art. Weddings, burials, religious rememberences. Appreciation of the ephemeral but valuable, rather than just the perennial and valuable. The UU's sing an old labor song called "Bread and Roses" reminding us that people need bread but they need occasional roses too.

Today it is too easy to make a habit of consumption, to over-consume, and I don't advocate that, or think that Jesus did. But at a time when the rest of the Essenes are ascetics, Jesus and John are trying to mix Essene ideas with regular folk, and regular daily living among regular folk (moreso Jesus than John).

Adam Smith opposed consumption. He thought that saving and investing wealth in the creation of more wealth, rather than consuming it was part of the key of a healthy national economy and was the reason that Holland was so much better off than France. Smith would have hated the US economy in many many ways. But he also argued that you can't get rid of consumption completely, and that you can go too far in opposition to consumption. He pointed out that art and religion and large chunks of education and justice are consumptive rather than investive at heart.

I oppose consumerism too. But I'm not sure that eco-asceticism is the right way to go about it. Many many religions have had some elements of asceticism in them, and a few like the Jains are aggressive about it. But many, many religions have worked to mellow their asceticism or blend it with other issues over time. For me, I was happy to live pretty ascetically, needing little and spending little but focusing on other things, when I was single and childless. But the experience of trying to support a family has changed me, and I am far more the householder now... Certainly the Essenes linked their asceticism to living celibate and communalist lives, as did later Christian monastics. In India, folk usually waited until their families no longer needed them to become ascetics. The tension between asceticism and family life is a tricky one. . .

Anonymous said...

My environmentalism was well established before I decided to become an active Christian (I have attended ELCA and Episcopalian churches, depending on where I am). These two beliefs developed in me separately, I think, but have dovetailed in my thinking to the point that I now see one as going along with the other (in MY life, that is; not necessarily for everybody). There are many aspects of each belief or mindset that overlap: simplicity, consumption only of what I need (well, if only I *always* had the willpower for that!), thankfulness, concern for justice, and the idea that I can give up what I don't need in order to give to others what they do. Both beliefs demand a lot of self-control, and both force me to struggle with consumerist messages in our society. I frequently fail at both, too. Keeping my focus on God and family helps me remember those principles, though, and I think that environmental action is key to treating others in a "Christian" way. But I don't like it when people label values, lifestyles, etc, as "Christian." There are many religions that promote similar ideals, as others have pointed out far more eloquently than I can right now. I think I'll take note of some of the books that have been mentioned here.

Thanks for bringing it up, Crunchy. And thanks to Sharon for speaking from a minority perspective / history. We need you, and I really value your voice on religious issues.

hmd said...

Although I'm not religious, I do like the original messages from individuals like Buddha, Jesus, etc. They talked about simple living, loving one other, taking the middle path, mindfulness, etc. I think as religions age over the years and change, however, they become more about population control (the masses doing what the few want them to do).

Also, I think many of the problems in the US stem from the fact that Christianity and Capitalism just don't work together but we're forcing them to because we want both, right? So people justify their actions to whatever end suits them (All those WWJD arm bands and bumper stickeres, but then they go to their job and play with the numbers so that the investors will be happy, or drive a hummer just cause they can, or pay workers as little as they can get away with). It's like we check our religion at the door as soon as we leave church. What's up with that?

Again, personally, I'm not religious at all (aethieist religiously but philosophically buddhist) , but I love the teachings that we are all the same; that we need to take care of each other; and that living a simple life is where we will find contentment. I see these "orignals" as real inspirational leaders of movements gone wrong. So I just pay attention to the source.

ruchi said...

There is a very strong history of asceticism in Hinduism. The most religious people are those who sit and pray and meditate for hours on end. (That's how yoga was developed. So that yogis who pray for 20 hours a day could do so without developing pain.)

In modern day Hinduism, a lot of people incorporate things like fasting etc.

I think it is because of my religious background that I am completely against asceticism. The poet Rabindranath Tagore wrote a play that really resonated with me about an ascetic who was so focused on meditation and such that he didn't care at all about the world around him.

I don't see non-consumerism as asceticism. To an extent, sure, it is giving up buying stuff. But I don't shun the world and its worldly pleasures. On the contrary, I still like to spend my money in restaurants, or on theatre, or museums or concerts. I now have more money to give to charity, and I have more money to save for education, retirement and other things.

Joanna said...

I am religious and I am deeply aware of what I spend and what I give to the poor. I feel strongly that the idea that giving of money buys righteousness a-la Catholicisim is wrong, though I can see how from a human point of view the need to run such a vast empire of clergy requires funds.
I don't believe in the get get get culture of western society. I was lived in America till I was 19 before I moved to the UK. This didstance has made me realize how the national pastime is shoping in the states (and eating out). The strong emphasis on having, getting, bigger, better and faster is one of the major reasons I will never move back. The second reason is the disgusting wastefulness of many otherwise lovely people. The driving everywhere, and the simple lack of sidewalks on many roads is an example of what I mean.
I love my home (California) and I love my folks but I can't live like them.

katecontinued said...

I wish I had stopped reading after the first comment. That one said it for me.

Anonymous said...

I think that one can be a good person regardless of one's religion or lack thereof, and that good people care for others. As far as I know there is not religion that has at its core the requirement to be materalistic, though all sorts of doctrines and teaching can be perverted to make it seem that way.

I get a bit fed up when Christian is associated automatically with bigot. It's not that we don't have the history, but we really do have another side, and one that allows and encourages us to help others and share what we have.

Finally just becuase one (or most) of use fail to live up to our ideals, it's doesn't mean the ideals themselves have failed.


P.S. The young man in question asked Jesus what he needed to do to be saved. When asked if he kept the Law, etc. and answering in the affirmative, he was then told to sell all his goods, etc. and found he was unable to.

Maggie said...

I am Catholic and believe that we are called to live serving God first and foremost in our lives. I believe that I should love nothing more than God, and that includes stuff and money. My husband and I heard Dave Ramsey's podcast (and radio show) a while back and it really clicked with us. Dave is a Christian and teaches about money matters from that perspective. He especially discusses living life DEBT FREE! No credit cards! I think that God wants us to be responsible stewards of all the blessings that he gives to us and that is what we try to do. We also try not be wasteful people. It is always a struggle though to live in this world and not get caught up in all the stuffitis that goes on. We are human and fallible. My husband and I try to do all that we can to live simply and give what we can, whether it is time or money. (And we donate because it is what we are called to do, we do not believe we are buying any sort of righteousness - that is not what the Catholic Church teaches. Thanks.) Oh, and after a year, we are debt free (except the house)! Yeah! Thanks for the great question.

Michelle said...

I am a very conservative Christian apostolic pentecostal. We pay 10% of our pay in tithes. We also support missionaries abroad and at home. I think that my religion definitly makes me support those who are less fortunate through the church as well as outside it. Our church provides a dinner and service at a homeless shelter once a quarter (we would do it more, but that is all they have room for), we have a food pantry, we do an angel tree at Christmas to give children presents, we do Thanksgiving dinners, etc... However, after I do my part, I feel like the "extra" money in our household is a blessing from God. He does expect us to be good stewards of our money, to give, save for the future, but I don't feel guilty buing nice clothes and items for my family after the giving, saving, and necessities are taken care of.

Theresa said...

My spiritual self has been evolving a lot over the past couple of years. I was raised in a moderate protestant denomination and developed a belief in God, but over the past few years I've discovered I'm more of a Taoist.

It seemed to me that my Christian religion made God into a separate entity from people and nature, and Taoism instead sees everything as unified and interwoven, following the Way.

This idea that everything is part of the One, is what forms the basis for my environmental convictions and actions. Everything is connected. I do my imperfect best to live in simple connection with the planet and its sentient and non-sentient inhabitants, because we are all One. What I do to it/them, I do to me.

Therefore, I try to uphold the "three treasures" of Taoism. In chapter 67 of the Tao Te Ching, these are described as follows:

"I have three treasures
I hold on to them and protect them
The first is called compassion
The second is called conservation
The third is called not daring to be ahead in the world

Compassionate, thus able to have courage
Conserving, thus able to reach widely
Not daring to be ahead in the world
Thus able to assume leadership"

Jenette said...

Do my religious views directly drive my desire to limit consumeristic desires in your life? I don't think it has any affect ... I have been a Christian all my life and while I haven't gorged my self in consumerist way it has more evolved with my life and education.

Going Crunchy said...

I don't know if I could answer that in just a comment. I'm Christian and very involved in my Church- - but am very disappointed by the utter lack of attention over the environmental state of our world.

I do things like donate, participate, volunteer and leap forward because it is what I'm called to do, and what I feel God asks me to do in life.

But I can't go to a pancake supper without looking at the disposable plates and kinda wanting to throw up. We take all of our "used" things out.....I've written and called and talked to our Church for better environmental stewardship.

I'm currently Presbyterian, but have considered trying a Unitarian Church nearby because they do have a greater emphasis on world stewardship and our role. Well, at least from what I've heard.

Anyway- - my spiritual beliefs do deeply motivate me in many respects, but it is also human spirituality and not necessarily "Christianity." It's a connection to our part of nature and our stewardship of it.

And I'm not the crunchiest- - there are probably many more that are much further along then I.

I also study and read and like to experience a variety of other religions and beliefs as well. I deeply respect and believe in Karma, and teachings of other religious leaders. The Gaia philosophy actually makes a tremendous amount of sense ot me.

Allie said...

I don't subscribe to any particular religion. I just think you should be kind and not wasteful because that's part of the responsibility of being a human being who lives around other human beings. It's simple. I wish everyone felt that way.

Robj98168 said...

Well shoot. I believe in a higher power and if you choose to call him/her god, so be it. I have a hard time believing and "immaculate conception". I believe a lot in Karma so Bush and Cheney are fucked. I believe I need another cup of coffee. I believe that the next person who asks me "How's the not smoking going?" is gonna get a size 11 foot shoved up their ass.Nice talk for a discussion on religion, no?

Anonymous said...

I don't subscribe to any particular religion, though I am fascinated with the philosophy behind all religions. If there were a survey done to gauge whether religiousness correlates to environmentalism or consumerism, I believe that the correlation would likely to be extremely weak or non-existent. In my personal circle, I have seen many combinations of religions and consumerism/environmentalism. To me, they are separate concepts, at least in practice.

Jenn said...

I'm strongly opposed to organized religion and do not consider myself at all spiritual. I'm an atheist -- and I find it hard to categorize that under "religious beliefs" since I have no religious beliefs. I can define my own system of morality, thank you.

I don't think "spirituality" really exists -- you might as well say "I'm a Trekkie" because it all amounts to the same thing. Really.

One of my grandparents was a-religious but raised a Quaker -- I think that I really was drawn to a lot of the "plain" aspects of that religion and the fact that Quakerism is less a faith than a community defining common morality (ie, the idea of compromise and that everyone can be a winner -- coming out ahead is viewed as bad form).

For the most part, I think that there is such a gap between what people claim are their "Christian values" (or any other religion) and the way that the mass of their religious brethern comport themselves and (fail to) execute those beliefs.

Fucking up the planet is wrong. Do your best to not do so, and to clean it up along the way.

I worship trees. The living kind, not the kind that have been turned into currency.

Anonymous said...

I belong to an earth-centered humanist church that came out of the alternative living/neopagan counterculture, and I would say that I can't really separate my spirituality from environmentalism or social justice beliefs - they all developed together and inform each other. But I had the spirituality before I found the church.

I've found that neopagans are no more or less likely to be green than Christians, but that I judge them more harshly for it because I know their talk and it demands a better walk. I've mostly stopped going to pagan events and am sticking with local cross-faith community, solidarity, and simplicity groups.

For me, it's not the theology, it's the core values, and they seem to be a part of the spectrum for most faiths.

Anonymous said...

After reading your post this morning, I didn't have anything to add. Then, while looking at veggie starts at Lowes, an 80 year old Armanian started talking to me out of the blue. After an hour long discussion, I had learned a lot about his beliefs. Namely- Americans are so caught up in consumerism/materialism that they would't be able to feed themselves from nature/garden if their lives depended on it. In eastern Europe, he may have been "poor", but he always ate well and always had people that he could count on when needed. Second- he doesn't follow any religious belief because they all seem to contradict. In his mind, ancient pagan beliefs might be best because they honor the earth, from which springs all life.

It was a long complicated discussion and it was amazing to find such connection on "crunchy topics" with an 80 year old Armanian immigrant.

Anonymous said...

Oy vay. What a wide selection of opinions on what it means to be a "Christian!" I appreciate Brian M's historical view of the different attitudes toward wealth and consumption (I have a theology background as well) and Sharon's perspective on the Jews historical need to accumulate stuff in the face of ongoing oppression. BUT I've got to say I don't get the whole concept of believing wealth is "God's blessing." Just look at who's wealthy, and who's not. Either God's got a very mysterious way of deciding on who's worthy of financial blessing and who's not (Dick Cheney but not the baby born to a starving mother in Haiti?) or we humans are a self-serving lot who've got a lot to answer for. I believe it's the second. By the way, I'm from the Catholic Worker tradition -

Joanna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joanna said...

MKJN I appreciate you may give to your church out of an open heart, I wasn't trying to be offensive however I'm just wondering if you've ever read any of the history of your faith. Look up "catholic indulgences, purgatory" on Google and see what comes up. The catholic faith sold indulgences to buy folk out of supposed purgatory in the 1500's. It's historical, they did use money in that way to fund the church. People gave money to be saved from punishment from sin.

Joyce said...

what we need-I don't think wealth is distributed according to religiosity. The Bible says that the rain (a good thing) falls on the just and the unjust. I do think that if you are fortunate enough to have wealth, you are accountable for how it is used. I also have seen several surveys that show that the most generous people in the US are the ones at the lowest end of the middle class (by percentage of income given). It may be that they understand more completely the difference a little generosity can make in a situation, in a way the wealthy cannot. The percentage of generous and greedy people is probably pretty evenly distributed among classes, I would guess. The poorer ones just relate to poverty more closely. Any way, I don't think it is fair to bash on any particular group. We really can only have discernment about people we have actually gotten to know personally.

Anonymous said...

I think it's funny that most of us commenting begin with a statement of faith. Being no different from everyone else in thinking it's important to know where the writer is coming from, I shall do the same.

I am a Christian. I believe that the love of money is the root of all evil, which means that loving money causes humans to do all kinds of despicable things. Like pollute the environment, and start wars, and sell people into slavery.

I also believe that we would all be better off if we just took what we needed (of money, food, STUFF) and left the rest for others. This would not be "good for the economy," of course, but it would be good for our souls. Less clutter to come between us and God, us and each other, us and ourselves.

That being said, my family has been struggling with money for a long time. I lost my job a little more than a year ago, and we've been scraping by ever since.

We don't live extravagantly. In fact, we rent. Most of our furniture is used. My in-laws buy almost all of my daughter's clothes. We don't have cable.

Our only extravagances are our cars (two, when we could probably get by with one), high-speed internet, and local/organic food.

I have two observations about this, in regards to God. One, I am constantly praying for money so we can pay our bills. Two, living in poverty has me more focused on money than my former middle-class existence did.

I am forced to rely on providence to pay my monthly bills. But has this increased my faith? Honestly, no. It hasn't. In fact, my worries about money have become another thing distracting me from God.

So...does that mean the lack of money can be a root of evil, just as much as the love of money? I don't know.

I suppose if we had lived within our means from the get-go, we wouldn't have all of these problems. After all, how much money should a family of three need to survive?

Ah, but now I'm rambling. Here's the crux: Jesus roamed around, living entirely by providence. He was not obsessed with money. He lived by faith.

I think he had it right.

Anonymous said...

N. and I (J.) recently read an article in our perish news letter about the possibly negative effects that consumerism can have on Christian faith.
I can't quote from it (I'm pretty sure that its been recycled by now), but the jist was this: how can you truly prescribe to beliefs on the order of loving your fellow Humans more than yourself and giving completely to those in need when you have unnecessary excesses?
Some may have heard this phrase: you cannot serve two masters; you cannot serve God and money.
In my opinion, this extends to consumerism, or the pursuit of procuring things by having more money. N. and I do without a lot, and we typically don't assume to tell anyone how to live their lives. Not for some self-deprecating ideal, and certainly not to set an example or to persuade anyone that our religion is better or right, but because we believe we cannot maintain our faith with the distraction of Earthly things. We cannot serve God and money. When we try to do so, we fail.

Connie said...

I think that many have tried to make it OK and to be materialist. I'm going to pick on the prayer of Jabez here for a minute because that was all the rage a while back and even the president was said to ascribe. I pick on it because it is all taken out of context. There are wealthy persons in the bible but they are there as having supported the poor and the righteous endevors of society. Remember it was a wealthy man who gave a tomb to Jesus. The wealthy have a place in the bible but it comes with great responsibility. I believe we have to view the New Testament writing in context of the society where they were written, one whose main economy was that of honor or shame, not materialistic goods.

Our current prediciment is untouched by the bible, except where we might head the call of the prophets. The earth is God's own creation, I do believe religous persons should know better than to pollute it.

Those persons who achieve great holiness are indeed those who have forsaken the trappings of the world and lived on faith.

We must remember, however that we are the wealthy of the world, even when we feel we struggle. By the way, happiness is hardly ever mentioned in the bible. Now Justice, or love ... now there are some words that get a work out.

I personally have far to go.

jenny said...

Wow.. lots of interesting views here!

My husband and I don't believe in labeling but we do have our faith in God. We don't feel the need to go to a church and listen to someone preaching when we can be at home and celebrate the wonders around us. As Jesus did long ago, he sat on a rock and shared God's word under the big blue sky. That's how we feel.. We appreciate all that is around us and we try to live simply, especially these last few years after we moved to our home here 3 years ago.

Before we moved, we were over 50 thousand dollars in credit card debt and sinking. We found this house with 15 acres of land, moved, and since then, Hubby has quit his job for one closer to home, got laid off, and has not found steady work in more than 2 years. We had a 3rd child at home because we had no insurance and I am currently pregnant with baby number 4. Yet, despite everything, we have managed to pay off all our credit cards, paid off one vehicle and are 4 payments away from paying off another car. That will leave us with only a mortgage and the usual monthly bills to take care of.

We have learned to make do with what we have, or do without. If there is something we want, we scrimp and save and pay cash for it, but half the time we find we have changed our minds and don't want it anymore. We are big secondhand shoppers-- thrift stores and yard sales, and we rarely buy new. We garden and preserve our harvest and do lots of bulk buying to cut down on waste.

Does our faith dictate how we live/shop? Yes and no. We want to live simply to focus on the better things in life- God, family, love, food. And part of it is to defy the mainstream and give consumerism a big fat middle finger!

Rev. Peter Doodes said...

Hi CC,

The question you asked was "is it possible to follow the teachings of Jesus and accept personal, monetary wealth at the same time?" Well, I think that it IS possible, depending on the followers attachment to that money.

The quote you mentioned was from Jesus words to a young man who was wealthy and gave him the choice to choose between his real priorities, his money or his faith... he chose his money.

When the rich youg man walked away Jesus then said that "It is hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven." Hard, but not impossible.

The point CC made about "Of course, everyone's idea of wealth and excess are different" is the crucial point here, because you, reading these words, YOU are wealthy, and so am I! For example It is a normal human fault to see others shortcomings but to overlook their own. I look good as far as my waste is concerned compared to my neighbour, but which neighbour should I compare myself to? Should it be the one next door or the one in a remote African village? I look as good compared to my African neighbour regarding my waste as I look generous compared to the widow who gave her last two coins to the collection in Mark 12:41-44. If I feel smug regarding my efforts to cut down on my petrol/gasoline useage I have failed compared to the girl down the road who cycles everywhere.

CC then wrote "The consumerist lust for a better life is inherently destabilizing of our personal and economic lives." And how! All reading this are, I hope, warm, fed and comfortable, as are most people in the Western World. This situation though, in Western World countries where fear of starvation, disease and invasion do not exist has led to addictions to antidepressant addiction, crime waves, alcholism, drug abuse, high murder and suicide rates etc, etc. The fact is that consumerism is simply another addiction.

We can buy or rent houses but find when we move in that they are not homes. We have education but little wisdom, can travel around the world but still are imprisoned within ourselves.

Like the young man, it is not our money or our possessions that will keep us out of Heaven, but our attachment to them and lack of will in giving them up in the service of others, the poor, the hungry, the imprisoned, the lonely and the sick of our world. As Jesus said about His Followers, "By their deeds you will know them," as the young man found out, words are cheap.

The "Treasure in Heaven" that Jesus spoke of was one where "Moths and rust do not consume and thieves cannot break in to steal." Now that seems to me worth working for, as I have yet to take a funeral where the hearse has been followed by a removal van.

Maggie said...

Dreamtree, it's nice that you think I might need to "Google" in order to find out about my faith. I am aware of the history of my church, and am also familiar with the many misconceptions that people have with it. You might find this link interesting and educational.

We should probably stick to the Crunchy topics too. :)

Laura said...

I'm with paulahewitt and katecontinued. I don't know if they call them atheists or agnostics but I have been in the atheist camp most of my life. Only in the past few years have I truly 'come out of the closet'.

I consider myself less materialistic than a lot of people but I still have some reigning in to do in that department. I wouldn't say being an atheist drives my trying to wriggle out of the consumerist straight jacket.

I would say that atheism hones my critical thinking skills. I feel confident questioning things and being questioned. I enjoy lively conversation about God, the absence of God, global warming, plastic, driving cars, our part, everyone else's part.

Phil said...

Spotted in the grounds of Worcester cathedral the other day:

Two convertible cars.

Looks like the two mix for some people.

I personally can't reconcile materialism and waste with spirituality.


F said...

This is so interesting.
I wanted to bring in the understanding in Judaism of charity. The word that is used in Hebrew is not charity, but "Justice", and it is a requirement to give one 10th of all one's income (voluntarily) to a "Charity."
The idea is that, both wealth and poverty are good and bad in their own ways, and with wealth comes extra responsibility to use this money to the good of everyone. Money is only on loan from above, and should be treated as a tool for one's own and other's good.
It is considered a blessing to be able to help others, and not embarrassing to receive, but also a good deed.
Sort of "share the wealth" but you don't have to refuse it in the first place.

Abbi said...

I am a Christian and that has everything to do with the way I live my life. Principle in the Bible teach us to take care of what we have,Be good stewards, not waste and to share with others. We are also taught to worship the Creator not the creation which I think is very important in view of how we live.

Mike said...

I believe this planet and its systems have come about organically. I believe we humans are animals and have the same value on the planet as bugs, mammals, fish and plants. But I think we live unnaturally and our lifestyle abuses our neighboring species and their homes.

Consumerism isn't the cause of the imbalance, but it's rocket fuel for the fire.

I'm having trouble defining my religion because I don't feel like I worship anything.... is that how religion is defined?

Anonymous said...

Not necessarily, Mike.

I don't worship anything; I think the living things of the world are self-creating and divine, and participate in rituals for the compfort & connection they foster. I belong to a church that teaches the divinity of *self-aware* beings, and also belong to another church that teaches that the world was divinely created and that God gave humans the power and responsibility to demand justice for the oppressed - both churches (on the congregational level at least) welcome members with a variety of faiths, so it's not belief that defines my membership, it's attendance, support, and affection.

Anonymous said...

I am an athiest, but my family is Congregational (descended from the Puritans, but not at all like them now). I was raised on a farm, which I think has contributed more to my morals, values, and beliefs about consumerism than religion ever could. I value what I can make myself, have respect for our home (the planet), and am not wasteful. Sometimes I feel like people look down on people who don't subscribe to religions, thinking that we have no morals. However, I feel that I have much stronger values and greater respect for the planet and other people than many religious people I know. I don't follow blindly, but rather I have observed and learned and have come to my own conclusions. I think that no matter what, you can't generalize about a person based upon their religious beliefs, because our actions are influenced by so many things, not just our religions.

Robbyn said...

I'm a Jew by choice, and came from a strong background in Christianity.

I find that religion can be manipulated or justified by the individual adherents despite the specific tenets.

I believe there is in every person the imprint of God's image, despite how that person chooses to live, and that the earth God gave us, He gave us as stewards, both of the natural world and of our human relationships. As far as the earth is concerned, I belive it was created to be fruitful and bountiful, and that's hardly materialism. But when those things become worshipped, or used destructively, that was never God's intent.

That's how I see materialism. Trade and possessions have sometimes been our means of keeping ourselves mobile, in the case of the Jewish people, which directly impacts our survival as a people throughout history. I don't see any difficulty with possessions as a for myself, I have no gift for amassing wealth and much prefer traveling light in this world :)