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Simple Living

by John K. Stoner (September 5, 2017)

Our age has been called the “anthropocene” because humans (anthropoi) are now the main influence on the life processes of planet earth.  And we are slowly awakening to the fact that this influence is grim and deadly—humans are rendering the earth uninhabitable for their own species at a galloping and possibly irreversible rate.

In this situation, the most urgent task facing humans is to adopt a lifestyle that can be sustained by the intricate biological/ecological processes of planet earth.  It is either do this, or it is game over for species anthropos.

In a previous blog I proposed that the small communities we must form to shape our lives will have to embrace three fundamental commitments and life skills: community, simple living, and nonviolence.  Here we look at simple living.  It sounds perhaps rather small—not a big deal.  Let’s have a look.  

Embrace Simple Living

The words “simple living” are used to describe a manner of life that consumes a level of earth’s resources which could be sustained into the indefinite future.  This is no doubt a strange and unwelcome thought in a consumerist culture and capitalist economy.   But by all serious accounts, current levels of consumption in the industrialized west are taxing the biosystem far beyond its capacity for recovery.  In this situation simple living must be welcomed and embraced, or we will indeed end up where we are headed, dead and gone.  So if the words “simple life” seem small, the concept and the project are not.  

The new outlook will affirm that the earth supplies enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed.  This would be a revolution in thought for the USA.  Is it possible?   The answer to that may  not be certain, but there can be no doubt that it is necessary.  The grand myth, lie and deception of capitalism has been that we only need everyone’s greed in a self-balancing system to have a working economy.  This has produced the towering injustice of today’s filthy rich and despairing poor, with 1% of the population claiming right to a damnably disproportionate chunk of the earth’s resources.  For the vast majority of earth’s people, capitalism has turned  out to be a system of poverty production.

So now the great experiment with greed has run its course, and people are waking up to…what?   The possibilities of generosity?  Communal health may be an attractive alternative to individual wealth when it makes the difference between survival and destruction.  But again, who can see that?  Historically, this has been seen most clearly by people who live in a local community, in touch with their own interdependence and the living earth which gives them food and water.  Generosity, mutual aid, the kind of sharing that healthy families take for granted is the economy of small communities which offer hope for a sustainable future.  

End Warfare Capitalism

Warfare capitalism has run its course.  In its death throes, it thrashes about wildly—a sight unpleasant to behold and experience.  American consumers are finding it hard to get a grip these days.  The old working philosophy—“If some is good, too much is better” (Wendell Berry)—is no longer working.  We need historical perspective to understand what is happening and begin a serious search for something else.   

Norman Wirzba tells us what has happened:  

"What must not be forgotten is that capitalism has, from the beginning, been a military, imperial project that depended on brutal violence for its success.  As Sven Beckert has argued in his magisterial book EMPIRE OF COTTON: A GLOBAL HISTORY, even in its early mercantile phase capitalism would be most honestly described as ‘war capitalism.’  Entire continents and races of people were brutalized to secure commodities and profits.  The project of modern progress, in other words, depended on terrorizing lands and  peoples, extracting whatever wealth was available, and thereby keeping vast populations poor.”  THE CHRISTIAN CENTURY, Sept. 27, 2017, Norman Wirzba, p. 24. 

The poor of the world, and of our own country, are saying, “This game is over.  Your guns are not our masters.”  The American policy of endless war will have an end.  How much of that end is disaster, and how much is something better is basically a choice to be made by  millions of American people, acting alone and together.  Will we choose to replace greed with generosity?  A bloodless revolution…but a revolution to be sure!
Hear Jesus Define Kingdom of God
I’ve said that a simple lifestyle replaces the capitalist consumption obsession with generosity, and rejects warfare capitalism—both revolutionary moves.  What else?

Jesus gave form and content to a comprehensive alternative lifestyle when he announced the “kingdom of God.”  What he meant was  the kingship of God challenging and rejecting the kingship of imperial earthly kings:  Herod, Pilate, Caesar, et al—the whole lot of them.

There never has been a simplistic, easy or incontrovertibly inclusive definition of “the kingdom of God.”  But neither has there ever been a way, since it was announced by Jesus, for humanity to act as if this idea is irrelevant or capable of being ignored.  Tens of millions of Christians in the United States and across the world pay some kind of homage and allegiance to this kingdom of God every Sunday of the year—indeed, every day of the year.  

The power of this concept lies in its frontal political language and challenge to earthly kings, and in its assertion that there is a will of God that can be done on earth as it is in heaven.  

When people form communities around the project of discovering and enacting the will of God, they position themselves to add truths of the heart to those of science and the head for the education and governance of their lives.  All of this I have summarized with the phrase “simple living,” because that never has been, and probably never will be, used to describe the way of Empire.  

(see next blog )

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