I’ve heard this charge leveled at the US many times before, but recently I heard it leveled from a Christian from the left side of the political aisle. He adds, to the usual concern about wasted natural resources, that consuming so much in disproportion to our numbers is immoral and unjust.

But this is only one side of the equation. I came up with a parallel situation to demonstrate the problem.

I spend most of my money on a very few things. My biggest expense is no doubt my house. I pay so much money to one person; my mortgage banker. He and my grocer, between them, probably get the biggest chunks of change out of my annual income. I have a family doctor who, too, gets a significant portion of my resources. And, as my kids have started going to college, two colleges have been getting a bigger slice of the pie.

(At this point, I quote a paragraph from his post and apply it to my parallel situation.) As a matter of justice, it would not be reasonable to think that it’s morally acceptable for those few people to consume more than half of my resources. Even though the laws were written in such a way that they are allowed to acquire those resources legally, it makes for an immoral and unjust situation, does it not?

If all you’re looking at is the percentage of resources consumed (and that’s all his bullet points cover) and using only that criteria to determine whether it’s just or not, then my mortgage banker, my grocer, my doctor and two colleges are acting unjustly with my resources.

Except that, for those resources, I’m getting shelter, food, health care and education. I’m getting a disproportionate percentage of what I need to live from this small number of people. Perhaps they could charge less for some things and not take as many of my resources for their lifestyle, but on balance I’m getting some essentials from these few folks.

In the same way, while it is true that the US consumes a disproportionate amount of the world’s resources, and while it is also true that many of us could do with less, the world gets quite a bit out of the bargain. Medical advances for longer and better lives. Educational opportunities that people come from all over to take advantage of. Technological advances in energy production to bring a higher standard of living around the world (and higher standards of living almost always result in better health). Agricultural advancements that let vegetables grow in the desert and other inhospitable conditions. And on top of all this, when the world needs protection from enemies or help during calamities, who’s the first place they turn for a shield or a helping hand? And who has the armaments and money to help out?

We do. The world’s getting quite a lot for the money.

Ask the illegal immigrant risking what he has to come to America for work. Ask the African who now has a garden courtesy of a charitable organization. Ask the Libyan who may soon be out from under a dictator. Ask the Dani tribesman in Papua, Indonesia who won’t die from an infection that is now easily curable. Ask the survivors of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami.

So unless he’s ready to start laying into his grocer for the "unjust" use of his resources, it might be best to reconsider this pronouncement of immorality and unjustness.

Do you agree or disagree? My main point is that you can’t just look at the consumption side; there’s so much more to the question than that. While we consume more than our share, we produce so much from that consumption, and the benefits absolutely do not stay within our own borders. I believe the religious (question of how moral this consumption is) is being colored by the political. Not "going green" as much as you may wish me to is not, by itself (and this post isolates consumption by itself) a moral failing, or certainly can’t be used to solely just the overall morality.

I believe the Christian Left falls into this trap more often than they care to admit; conflating the political with the moral. Being against Cap & Trade or the Kyoto Protocol, or not following the Green Othodoxy is somehow immoral. We should be good stewards of our resources; I’m not denying that. But to look at the "bad" side of the equation without looking at the "good" side results in fatally flawed policies. We need to deal with the bad without damaging the good.

Filed under: ChristianityEnvironmentEthics & MoralityReligion

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