Monday, February 06, 2017

Is anti-materialism garbage? And other questions.

If there's anything in the less-is-more, few possessions and no-garbage movement that makes you slightly itchy, you're not alone. Although you may feel slightly guilty about that reaction; after all, it was Christians who popularized the phrase More-With-Less. The Scriptures have plenty to say about how messed up the rich man is, and why we shouldn't love "the world," however you define it. But that can get us into guilty legalism, or a Nathaniel-Hawthorne-esque picture of solemn, black-garbed lives. Or, in this decade, we're more likely to think of stark white, minimally-furnished rooms. Whether the concern is for our souls or for the planet, we seem to end up in the same place. Possessions are troublesome. Clothes are only for warmth and modesty. Brownies should be made out of black beans to justify their existence.

There is nothing new about the argument for and against things that give us pleasure. I think even St. Paul ran into it with his churches (e.g. his letter to Timothy, referring to people who tried to ban too many things). Yes, the days are evil, and we are to mortify the flesh, etc. On the other hand, every good and perfect gift is from the Father, and it is not sinful to enjoy and be thankful for the useful and/or the beautiful. In certain situations, you might find yourself grateful for the invention of disposable diapers or plastic water bottles. Or, equally, for the life of an artist whose work gives you joy. Or for a bunch of flowers on a difficult day.

It is a good thing, I think, for the extreme minimalists to ask big, uncomfortable questions, and for the rest of us to consider the answers they come up with. Is more recycling what's really needed, for instance, or just less produced and bought to recycle? What happens (asked one person) when the recyclables are recycled into something non-recyclable? In our own region, I hope that the current push to blue-box and green-bin more of our waste will be met at the other end by something other than chucking it in the landfill. But how do you really know where anything goes? Did my thrift-donated sweater clothe someone locally, or did it get bundled overseas to be donated or resold? Is a disposed-of laptop now getting picked apart by someone struggling for food in China? Is one endpoint better than another?

Is it a worthwhile pursuit to bring home cheese in a glass jar instead of a plastic package, for the sake of less garbage? Or, equally, for someone else to then post diatribes about the wastefulness of animal products, even in a glass jar? St. Paul knew about this, and so did Jesus when he talked about tithing herbs and straining out gnats. Are we creating the big picture, or are we missing it? Is it better to special-order a refillable pen and bottle of ink, or to simply buy what's on the Walmart shelf and not waste time worrying about it? Are the socks I bought hurting somebody in an Asian factory? Should I have spent the extra effort tracking down some that claim to be all-natural, fair-trade, or both? Or could I have used that same energy and time listening, reading, walking, helping?

Does God mind if we go out after church for a burger and fries?

Are there one-size answers to these questions, or are they all maybe yes, maybe no? If you have any thoughts, I'd like to hear them.

1 comment:

Amy Marie said...

Wow. How random to find someone thinking on this too! I've been thinking about an "anti-minimalism" post, but alas it's more of a rant then a coherent collection of thoughts. I'm just not sure about the scrubbing all bits of humanity from homes, like some of the extreme minimalist decor styles. Maybe this is extreme, but with human life in general sort of devalued across the board, it seems like the evidence of a human life being lived is offensive to some or something? The bare space or few things actually in essence replacing the person? I'm not very cluttered, yet I do enjoy my books and things, because they have a human connection or memory to me. I know I'm going down a different path then you were thinking on, but just some of the things rumbling around in my brain. :)