Okay okay, so I know I’m not exactly a guest contributor to this site, but I wanted to write about something that I’ve been thinking about and get some thoughts from those of you who are with me on this journey of living lightly. Because, I’ve recently found myself involved in a bit of an interesting dialogue.
It was started by an article in the March 09 edition of the Ecologist magazine, entitled ‘Abandon Hope’. Written by an associate professor of environmental ethics at Michigan State University and an assistant professor of animal ecology at Michigan Technological University, the article set out to challenge the standard means by which the environmental movement seeks to motivate individuals to change. That means is the concept of hope: if you do this, then disaster will be averted and all will be okay.
The authors state that there is a fundamental problem with this motivational tactic: ‘every other message I receive suggests that disaster is guaranteed, and the reasons to think that if I live sustainably enough others will do the same are unconvincing.’
In contrast to this utilitarian way of thinking, the authors want us to go back 2,300 years to Aristotle and his concept of the virtues (something, of course, that Aquinas was to develop later on). And so they say, ‘we need to equate sustainable living, not so much with hope for a better future, but with basic virtues, such as sharing and caring, which we already recognise as good in and of themselves, and not because of their measured consequences. Living by such virtues is a fundamentally right way to live – even if nobody else does and even if it might not avert environmental disaster’.
In the midst of their article, however, they talk about the ‘Christian view of hope that dominates the Western mindset’ and make the astonishing statement that, ‘Christian hope has nothing to do with the welfare of life on Earth; it refers to “hope in eternal life in heaven”’! Coming from a US perspective, I guess that statement isn’t really so astonishing and, of course, it is the stereotype of what a Christian believes. I couldn’t let such a statement pass by unchallenged, however, and so wrote into the Ecologist to say that actually this was a mistaken understanding of the Christian view of hope. On getting the most recent edition I was delighted to find that I wasn’t alone in writing in and the Wakefield Diocesan Adviser in Environmental Issues also wrote to say that, ‘if there is no hope, no future, no God, no continuing humanity, no Earth as we know it, it is hard to imagine many finding motivation in acting virtuously. Only in the context of hope does virtuous action make complete and logical sense’. An excellent letter, Bill Halling!
I find in the speaking and writing that I do on caring for this world, I often have to balance out the desire to express a Christ-centred hope for the future with a sober and chilling assessment of where this world appears to be heading. Although the authors of the Ecologist article aren’t writing from a Christian perspective, I find what they say resonates with the approach I often take. The reality is that I want to do things like use my car less, produce my own food, not buy so many things and so on, not finally because I think it will make a difference (although I long for that to be the case), but because, as an apprentice of Jesus, it is the right thing to do.
And how about you? In the face of increasing messages of doom, why do you still want to live lightly in this world?