On 18th November last year there was a one-day workshop in Sheffield called “Joy in Enough – Awakening to a New Economics”. It was delivered by Green Christian who are a multi-denominational charity that have been operating for over thirty years. Joy in Enough is however a new venture.
I am not a member of Green Christian but I converted to Roman Catholicism twelve years ago and have been an environmentalist for much longer. I believe that the two ways of living are inextricably linked. I have also believed for many years that religious organisations have both the power and means to bring about the required systemic change that is needed to protect the environment. So, I went to this event, and other meetings, to find out what British Christians were doing, if anything.
Prior to the event, I had been sent the ‘Joy in Enough’ Core Document, which I read on the train journey to Sheffield. For those who are interested it is available from their website (this is for the Joy in Enough webpage but there are many other resources that the Low Impact reader will find interesting. The Green Christian magazine is a good read and can be obtained without joining the movement). As a superficial introduction, here is what one of the founders said about it in one of the Green Christian magazines that were freely available on the day: “Fundamentally as Christians we should offer alternative routes to happiness and well-being. Consumption in response to status anxiety and marketing pressures does not make anyone better off. Quiet time in the garden or the park or the church, does, as does time spent with family and friends, and in local groups…Let’s see the Church contributing to a renaissance in local community activities…” (Emerson, T. What makes us consume as we do? Green Christian, 84, Autumn 2017, pp. 12-13).
The event got off to a good start. The first speaker gave an inspiring talk about how people who are trying to build a new society should “never be poor in hope”. He described how global movements can start from even the smallest beginnings, using as a first example the initial meeting between Stalin and Lenin in a London pub in 1903 (accepting however that they were perhaps too optimistic about human nature), then finishing by leaving the audience to consider another gathering of radicals in Jerusalem two thousand years ago.
The second session was as good as the first, with members of Joy in Enough talking about their Core Document, their aims, plans for implementation, and how to get involved. Christians, they said, have in their toolbox the right resources with the “Cardinal Virtues” – Justice, Prudence, Temperance, and Fortitude, which are needed as much today as they were two thousand years ago because Christians are the most persecuted of all religious groups – 90,000 Christians were killed for their faith in 2016.
As the day went on and the content got more “new economics” heavy, my fortitude weakened. On this subject of economics, I feel like Christ when he was shown a coin with Caesar’s head on it and replied “give back to Caesar that which is Caesars and give to God that which is God’s. But the speakers were articulate and knowledgeable, and the resources continued to be impressive.
What I really liked was the “meeting of similar (green thinking) minds” aspect and the strength that comes from this solidarity. As I’ve got older I can more fully understand exactly why laws were passed in the 1800s to stop people meeting in groups. This commonality is actually central to Joy in Enough as it aims to combat the “current economy focused on radical individualism”. One member of the audience described it very well. They said that the current “economy of acquisition” is based on fear – the fear that we have no security, and how Christianity can inherently counter this. We have “Enough” and we should follow Jesus by sharing and caring for each other and in turn strengthening local groups.
Joy in Enough, is in fact a development on a document called ‘ Laudato Si’ – On Care for Our Common Home”. The word “economics” derives from the Greek “oikos” meaning ordering one’s house, and as its sub-heading suggests Laudato Si’ is about re-ordering our common home (planet Earth). This “circular” was published in 2015 by Pope Francis. It covers many topics, and in my opinion, it is hot stuff. If, like me up to a few weeks ago, you have not heard of it, then it is perhaps no wonder that the corporate-influenced media have ignored it, when you read the contents (encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ of the Holy Father Francis on care for our common home, 2015. Available here). I particularly like paragraphs 36, 44, 56, 58, 110 to 114, but here a couple of alternative extracts:
The alliance between the economy and technology ends up sidelining anything unrelated to its immediate interests. Consequently the most one can expect is superficial rhetoric, sporadic acts of philanthropy and perfunctory expressions of concern for the environment, whereas any genuine attempt by groups within society to introduce change is viewed as a nuisance based on romantic illusions or an obstacle to be circumvented” (paragraph 54).
We should not think that political efforts or the force of law will be sufficient to prevent actions which affect the environment because, when the culture itself is corrupt and objective truth and universally valid principles are no longer upheld, then laws can only be seen as arbitrary impositions or obstacles to be avoided (paragraph 123).
Following the Joy in Enough event, I met with other groups that are active in building local community cohesion and which have been catalysed by Laudato Si’. I also communicated with others by e-mail. I found that there is a lot going on, and a groundswell of particularly grassroots activity. This includes community repair cafés, widespread international parish fossil-fuels divestment, fundraising to buy and protect forests, an expanding “Live Simply” award and overarching this a strengthening of community, local-scale “wealth”. Some examples of this are:
- Neslen, A. Catholic church to make record divestment from fossil fuels. The Guardian, 3rd October 2017
- CAFOD, Live Simply Awards. Resources and ultimately an award available for local groups to strengthen community bonds and live more sustainably
- These people will soon by publishing community resources based on Laudato Si’
- Norton, R. Defeat is not an option in the battle against climate change. Operation Noah, 6th November 2017
To quote Laudato Si’ again:
There needs to be a distinctive way of looking at things, a way of thinking, policies, an educational programme, a lifestyle and a spirituality which together generate resistance to the assault of the technocratic paradigm. Otherwise, even the best ecological initiatives can find themselves caught up in the same globalized logic (paragraph110).
The views expressed in our blog are those of the author and not necessarily lowimpact.org's
1Dave Darby January 23rd, 2018
I believe that the core messages of the world’s major religions revolve around letting go of the ego to reunite with the ‘oneness’ (or Brahman in Hinduism), and the various ‘prophets’ were radicals of their day who emphasised a particular means of doing so – for example living in harmony with nature (Taoism), seeking enlightenment and renouncing worldly goods (Buddhism), love (Christianity) and submission (Islam) to a higher power (or ‘nature’, ‘existence’, ‘the universe’ etc. if ‘higher power’ is too unscientific-sounding – but whatever it is, we all came from it and we’re all going back to it, and if the requirement to submit isn’t obvious, it should be at the moment of death or final loss of consciousness).
But the reason I worry that religions won’t be able to help us change the system is that capitalism directly contradicts the core message of every religion, and if their prophets couldn’t do anything to prevent its dominance, what else can? Having said that, I strongly suspect that if I’d lived at the time and in the vicinity of any of the prophets, I’d have dropped everything to follow them – and especially Jesus, with his message of love and humility, his struggle against the Roman Empire, throwing the money changers out of the temple and his willingness to die for what he believed in.
Our current economic system (which we’re going to have to kill before it kills us), along with mainstream manifestations of the world’s religions, actually prevents the implementation of the prophets’ messages. In other words, we are living hideously out of balance with nature, bread and circuses overrule enlightenment, competition rather than love is the way that we’re supposed to relate, and imposition of material compulsions and prohibitions have eclipsed spiritual submission. Back-to-basics, in all cases, would be a good thing, I think.
Remarkably radical pronouncements from the Vatican, though.
2Theresa Munson January 23rd, 2018
I was bright up a Roman catholic until I reached 18, educated in their schools until the age of 12, then exposed to The Church of England through school until I left. I decided as a young adult that I couldn’t reconcile teachings in either religion with the reality I encountered in daily life. I’m now a non-believer in any form of life after death or godlike figure/supreme being.
In my view, believing that the life we all live in the flesh is merely a stepping stone to a better one can lead to a disregard for the planet and other beings, whether human or not. Not always, you understand but it can encourage it.
3Andrew Rollinson January 23rd, 2018
I agree with almost all of that, except with your first sentence paragraph 2, where I tend to be more optimistic. To reverse your sentence “Christianity contradicts the core message of capitalism”, and as such, in my opinion it offers a pre-existing way to bring down the system, quickly and from within. It is the antithesis of greed, selfishness, seeking to win at all costs, etc., and it also still has a large and strong global voice and following. Why look for a new messiah? The reason for my research that led to the blog was to investigate this. I also think that it was Christianity which constrained capitalism in Britain during the two-hundred years prior to the 21st Century, the results of its removal being evident now, but yes indeed, the powerful have often used (and still do use) religion as an excuse for doing bad things. CK Chesterton said a famous quote: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult”.
Yes, the Vatican and others high up in the catholic church do speak out all the time against the current system and on environmental matters. It is one of the things that drew me in. Of course that is all part of being a Christian hence the 90,000 martyrs mentioned in my blog.
Cheers for posting it, and thanks for all the other interesting blogs lately.
4Andrew Rollinson January 23rd, 2018
I am not a theologian by any means, and so I am very reluctant to attempt a discussion on what you have described about life being a stepping stone to better things and thus creating the potential for disregarding the environment. I was taught that “our life is God’s gift to us, but what we do with our life is our gift to God”. Hence our actions should be the exact opposite of disregard for the environment and others.
5james bate January 23rd, 2018
Renegade inc , a site worth following & you might have seen their film the four horseman , had an interesting article before Christmas – https://renegadeinc.com/he-died-for-our-debts-not-our-sins/, explains what trespasses really are. This recent article on Counterpunch goes into debt jubilees in greater depth and updates the concept, not an issue that appears to bother old etonian ex-oil traders.
6james bate January 23rd, 2018
7Dave Darby January 24th, 2018
Hi – thanks. As I said, I think that if people lived by the core messages of all the major religions, capitalism wouldn’t be able to continue. And especially, a return to the prohibition on usury would be good (that’s being circumvented in Islam now, too). But you say that Christianity offers a ‘way’ to bring down the system. What’s the way? How would it work? Having a message is one thing, but having a (realistic) implementation plan is another. The message alone hasn’t proven to be enough so far.
The more religious people who wake up to the fact that the current system negates their religion the better as far as I’m concerned, but we’re going to need an implementation plan – one in which everyone can participate, whichever religion they subscribe to (or if they don’t). The solidarity economy is the best idea for an alternative, as far as I can see. I’ll be blogging about it a lot more. It could and should, I think, be something that people of any creed can subscribe to.
8Dave Darby January 24th, 2018
Thanks for both of those.
9Sophie Paterson January 25th, 2018
Interesting comments and an interesting post. I’m reminded of Roger Scruton’s Green Philosophy, in which he highlights the role of localised efforts of what he calls ‘little platoons’, operating within civil society rather than the realm of politics. I think church groups and the strength of community they represent definitely have a role to play and it’s very encouraging to see larger-scale events like Joy In Enough taking place. Thanks for sharing, Andrew.
10Andrew Rollinson January 25th, 2018
“How?” By being a follower of Christ’s actions. By doing as Christ would do.
11Dave Darby January 25th, 2018
Yes, that’s great – I’m a ‘what would Jesus do?’ sort of guy, but realistically, that’s not going to work is it, because not enough people are going to do it? Why, suddenly, would most people listen to Jesus’s message and change their lives accordingly, when it hasn’t happened yet? Relying on individual lifestyle change is not enough – and that’s coming from someone who runs a website that’s all about individual lifestyle change. We need an implementable plan for system change. I honestly think that the solidarity economy is the closest thing we’ve got to an implementable plan. What’s the chance of getting significant numbers of Christians behind it, do you think (although we’ll need people of all religions and none, too)?