America the Possible:
Let's Create a New American Dream
It's possible. We can live with more meaning and less stuff.
We can be happier and share more. We can create a new American Dream.
See also The Pope is Right: Unfettered Capitalism is the New Tyranny
Scroll down for a video on America the Possible
The Religion of Consumerism
Increasingly in many parts of the world the dominant religion is consumerism. Its god is economic growth for its own sake; its priests are the politicians and corporate executives who understand growth and promise access to it; its evangelists are the advertisers who display the products of growth and tell us we cannot be happy without them; its church is the shopping mall. Its doctrine of creation is that the earth is real estate to be bought and sold in the marketplace; and its doctrine of human existence is that we are trapped within our skin, and that our highest good is to aquire material goods and consume them. Its creeds include "Bigger is Better" and "Faster is Better" and "More is Better" and "You Can Have It All." It teaches that we are saved or made whole, not by grace through faith as Christians claim, or by enlightenment through letting go as Buddhists claim, or by compassion and good works as many believe, but by appearance, affluence, and marketable achievement.
Along with many other wisdom traditions, process theology advocates an alternative to consumerism. It says that God is a one-embracing-many who is deeper than all obsessions with growth; it pictures creation as a web of life within which all creatures have intrinsic value, quite apart from their value in the marketplace; it says that the human self is a person-in-community, not an ego-in-isolation; and it proposes that wisdom, compassion, and freedom are the highest ideals of human life, as opposed to appearance, affluence, and achievement.
Many process theologians agree with John Cobb that the need in our time is to develop new kinds of communities -- ecological civilizations -- that are creative, compassionate, pluralistic, equitable, participatory, ecologically wise, humane in their treatment of animals, and spiritually satisfying, with no one left behind. Whether we are Jewish or Muslim, Christian or Buddhist, Hindu or Sikh, Daoist or Confucian, Jain or Naturalist, we also agree with the Pope. We live in a world where unfettered capitalism has become a new tyranny and consumerism is its religion. For more on this see John Cobb's Five Foundations for a New Civilization and Ten Ideas for Saving the Planet.
-- Jay McDaniel
Where Can I Go to Learn More?
Center for a New American Dream
Institute for Local Self-Reliance
Post Carbon Institute
Business Alliance for Local Economies
Institute for Local Self-Reliance
Creative Frugality and Gentle Materialism
Healthy consumption is a very good thing. It is the enjoyment of goods and services that are produced and consumed in environmentally benign ways; that free people from drudgery so that their lives can be easier; and that enrich the body and mind. The fruits of conscious consumption are good food, comfortable shelter, attractive clothing, quality health care, and enjoyable forms of recreation, made possible by satisfying jobs and quality education. Some of these fruits are necessary for survival and all contribute to happiness in life. It is a tragedy that too many in the world suffer from its absence: poverty, disease, unemployment, drudgery, and a sense of helplessness. Economic growth in some parts of the world is helping offset poverty and avail people of opportunities for healthy consumption.
Healthy consumption is best accompanied by creative frugality. This lies in taking care of material possessions, utilizing them rather than discarding them, and appreciating them without wasting them. Such frugality involves a healthy respect for material things in life, and in this sense it is deeply materialistic. But it is not all stingy. Indeed people who consume in creatively frugal ways are often more generous than people who are absorbed in conspicuous consumption. But creative frugality has a joyful and reverential quality to it, because it actually appreciates the material dimensions of life and does not want to be wasteful.
The Ten Temptations of Consumerism
1. That appearance, affluence, and achievement are—and ought to be—the central organizing principles of our lives.
2. That being compulsively busy, even to the point of exhaustion, is a sign of healthy and productive living.
3. That having a successful career is more important than being a good parent, a good neighbor, a kind and loving person, or taking walks in the woods.
4. That good work is reducible to making money; and that unpaid work—particularly in the home—is not really working.
5. That the appropriate goal in life—higher than service to the poor or service to God—is to enjoy prosperity in the suburbs with the perfectly manicured lawn.
6. That depression can, and should, be cured by shopping.
7. That the most important thing is life is “to have my needs met.”
8. That we humans are not citizens of our communities, much less vessels of God’s love, but rather consumers who participate in the global marketplace, and that other creatures are commodities for our use.
9. That the universe is not a communion of subjects, but a collection of objects.
10. That we are all on our own, because there is no grace—no ultimate mercy—within the depths of things.
The Ten Alternatives to Consumerism
1. That living lightly on the earth and gently with each other is much more important than appearance, affluence, and achievement.
2. That healthy living requires, not only creativity and action and good work, but also rest and relaxation, so that our work can be productive rather than compulsive.
3. That it is much more important to be a good parent, a good neighbor, and a good person than to have a successful career, particularly if “success” is define in purely monetary terms.
4. That truly good work does not consist in making money or in exploiting natural resources, but rather in serving others, often without being noticed.
5. That helping others, and dwelling in solidarity with people in need, is more important than prosperity in the suburbs.
6. That compulsive shopping is a symptom of disease, not a cure for depression.
7. That happiness lies, not necessarily in “having my needs met,” but in living simply and in service to others.
8. That the world is not a global marketplace but rather a gorgeous planet, filled with many creatures, each of which is loved by God on their own terms and for their own sakes, and each of whom is inwardly animated by God’s Spirit.
9. That the universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.
10. That we are not on our own, because the universe is enfolded within an ultimate grace which renders questions of “success” and “failure” irrelevant.