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CONTROLLING CONSUMPTION: A ROLE FOR CHRISTIANITY?

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Economic globalization suggests that sustainability will be threatened more by consumption than by population. While technology should prove helpful, our major environmental threat appears to be the rising demand for products and services. Hence, in the long run, sustainability requires human actions to prevent systemic harm rather than technical solutions that might merely reduce specific harm to the environment. In general, Christianity has dealt only weakly with the ethics of sustainability, and especially with the continuing consumption of global resources by affluent nations. In this paper, I analyze the potential for a new Christian focus on the satisfaction, satiation, and sublimation of material needs and desires. Important queries considered by the analysis include the following: (1) Does technology create metaphysical desire? (2) Is consumption thus inherently addictive? (3) Can religion help control this addiction?

Employing dispositive and operative aspects of responsibility theory, I argue that a convivial future requires that we give prime attention to the demands of both distributive justice and environmental sustainability. On this basis, Christianity ought to place greater emphasis on equity issues associated with conservation, resource reduction, and renewable energy. Unfortunately, responsibility theory is inherently responsive rather than proactive, and thus probably more appropriate for avoiding a worse rather than creating a better future. My suggestion is that an eschatological approach to sustainability may offer new hope for the control of rampant materialism. In particular, Christianity must take seriously the need for an eventual re-integration between technology and religion. This re-integration should focus primarily on respecting physical limits, especially in an uncertain world characterized by a rising rich-poor gap. Such respect defines a new kenotic technology, which leads naturally to an allied kenotic consumption. As a result, Christian responsibility suggests that we can best imitate Christ by moderating profligate life-styles. From this perspective, the Church's prime responsibility in an environmental age is to model much better than it currently does the re-conversion of modern material growth to post-modern spiritual growth.

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