“The ecological crisis is a spiritual crisis. It’s not just about nature and bees and the birds and the trees and the toads. It’s also about human beings and how we live as spiritual beings in a physical reality. And so, you know, with all due respect to Elon Musk and everyone buying a Tesla, we’re not going to curb climate change with Teslas alone — when the operating system of billions of people is consumer-driven.”
As Rabbi Neril points out, we’re not going to stop climate change by buying something new. In fact, buying an electric car is really just part of consumerism, the ideological myth that buying something new can solve our problems. Consumerism is the problem, not the solution. Rabbi Neril continues:
“The only force in the world that changes this operating system of consumerism is religion and spirituality. The root issues we’re talking about are greed, short-term thinking, egoism, seeking pleasure in the physical. The spiritual solutions to those are humility, long-term thinking, caring for other people and creatures. The only institutions in the world that can deliver that are religious institutions.”
We’re getting ready to move to Massachusetts, some 3,150 miles away (give or take a couple of hundred miles).
Right now, we’re packing all our belongings into four moving containers that are approximately 8 feet deep, 5 feet wide, and 7 feet high, or 1120 cubic feet. When we moved to California in 2009, we fit everything into a moving container that was 8 feet by 8 feet by 12 feet, or 768 cubic feet. Somehow in the last 13 years we’ve accumulated another 352 cubic feet of belongings. We would be poster children for consumer capitalism, except that many of our belongings have been scrounged or otherwise obtained outside of consumer capitalism.
We’re using a lot of cardboard boxes to pack up all these belongings. I find myself astonished at the number of cardboard boxes we’re packing up, and schlepping out to the moving containers, and then stacking up. After a week of this, my muscles feel a little sore. I don’t like owning all this stuff. But I have enjoyed spending this past week not sitting at a desk, or logging onto videoconference meetings, but instead engaging in constant physical activity. I’ve lost an inch around my waist, and I feel fit and strong.
We’ve also been giving lots of stuff away. Carol is part of the local Buy Nothing group, and they’ve taken some of the stuff we don’t want to move. One woman just came up and mostly filled the back of her small SUV with things she wanted to take away, including a Tree Mallow (Lavatera sp.) we had growing in a galvanized metal washtub. Another of Carol’s friends is coming up this afternoon to take away an eight foot high potted bamboo plant. Carol has also sold some clothes on Poshmark, and we’ve taken other things to Goodwill. There is a thriving network of exchange that exists partly within the dominant capitalist economy (Poshmark, Goodwill), and partly as a non-capitalist parallel economy (the Buy Nothing Project).
Time to get back to working, putting cardboard boxes into moving containers. Watch this space for further updates….
During the UNCO 14 session on ecclesiology and entrepreneurship, convened by my old friend Ms. M, I got to hear a little about innovative ministries, and innovative approaches to ministry, that UNCO participants are engaging in right now. Some of these innovative ministries are outside traditional congregations; some are innovating within traditional congregations. But it seemed like all of us are trying to figure out how to find money to fund these ministries.
Mindi, who is working part-time in a traditional congregation and part-time in a non-traditional start-up ministry, pointed out that the old donation model — asking church members to donate money to their congregation — is on its last legs. What will take its place? Amy said her new non-traditional congregation has a business model where worship services are open and free, and everything else is on a fee-for-service basis; they still solicit donations, but donations will go to allow sliding-scale payment for the fee-for-service programs. A number of people talked about using crowd-sourced funding. Anna said she will be trying patreon.com, a platform for crowd-sourcing ongoing funds for arts projects through a monthly payment scheme, to fund her non-traditional arts-based congregation — she said she’ll let us know how that goes. Jeff said he had tried Kickstarter, and had had less then stellar results.
During this session, we talked quite a bit about using capitalist methods to fund organized religion. Should we just accept that consumer capitalism is our cultural milieu, and use it to fund good projects? Or should we in organized religion stay in tension (to a greater or lesser degree) with consumer capitalism? Carol argued for staying in tension with capitalism; Amy seemed to not worry about it, focusing instead on the good she could do by using consumer capitalist techniques. While this discussion was going on, I was asking myself: If the old donation model is over, what’s our theology for new funding sources? — this is the question at the heart of an ecclesiology of entrepreneurship.
Disaffection is not going to be repaired by politicians, business leaders, or pastors trying harder. Over the decades the modern West has built a consumer society in which people get more personal choices and lifestyle freedom in exchange for a loss of community, tradition, and stability. We are still interdependent, of course, but the connections are complex, malleable, idiosyncratic.
Some people still live in tight-kint communities; others are lucky enough to have the education and money needed to pursue their “lifestyles choices.” But the people at the bottom have limited choices, and some choose to be left alone. Flea market dealers are an extreme example of this segment, but poor and lower working class people all across America have tenuous relationships to the institutions of family, school, business, and government.
A recent Pew study confirms the rising number of people who claim “no religious affiliation.” People are also increasingly choosing “no political affiliation.” (Many people who say they are politically independent reliably vote conservative or liberal, but this only proves the point — they have opinions but resist membership commitments.)
— in Christian Century, 23 January 2013, p. 25.
If you want to adequately explain why people are choosing to have no religious affiliation, you have to take into account the effects of consumer capitalism on the way we perceive and live in the world. We expect to have choices these days, and institutions of any kind limit the kinds of choices we have come to expect as consumers.