I have been reading Enough Is Enough: Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources, by the economists Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill (Earthscan, Routledge, 2013) – part of the growing literature arguing for a steady-state economy. The authors sketch a comprehensive blueprint of the systems necessary for achieving a stable level of resource consumption and a stable population. The blueprint is admittedly clearer in some parts, fainter in others, but amounts to a complete transformation of society as we know it.
Probably few people who have thought candidly about the grave environmental and social problems of the present time would dispute the necessity or desirability of such a transformation. Opinions might vary as to whether or how it can be achieved. The authors regard the Occupy movement as possibly a hopeful sign of positive change. They make quite detailed proposals relating to production and waste, population control, reducing the gap between rich and poor, financial reform and business models. Dietz and O’Neill admit that these proposals require ‘a revolutionary change in values’ (page 161).
I also revisited an older book with a similar title: Enough is Enough (SCM, 1975), by John V. Taylor, one-time General Secretary of the Church Missionary Society and, at the time of writing, the newly appointed Bishop of Winchester. It was published at a time when the world was, more obviously than now, in the shadow of colonialism. Voices were already being raised against the pursuit of perpetual material growth in a finite world; against the growing gap between rich and poor; and against unjust trading arrangements between nations. Taylor gives passionate support to this opposition.
He urges a spirit of ‘joyful resistance’ to the commercial pressures to consume more and more. Simplicity of life should be the aim of families, individuals and churches. The principles of ‘Intermediate Technology’, promoted by E.F. Schumacher, are enthusiastically endorsed. The way ahead is seen as being modelled by a variety of communities, or ‘communes’, both within and outside the mainstream churches.
Things have moved on since Taylor’s day – perhaps for the better in a few respects, but for the worse in many ways. The threat to biodiversity and human civilization from climate change has become apparent, and the devastating destruction of species and ecosystems has gathered pace. Of special interest to me, and of permanent value, is Taylor’s chapter on ‘The Theology of Enough’.
His series of informal studies of key Hebrew and Greek words is especially valuable. In the Old Testament pride of place is given to shālōm, ‘the harmony of a caring community informed at every point by its awareness of God’; and its opposite betsac, a word that ‘seems to combine the idea of vaunting ambition and of unjust or fraudulent means’ (see Isaiah 56:10-11; Jeremiah 22:13-17; Habakkuk 2:9-11; and compare Proverbs 30:15-16, where the word is not used but the same spirit is described).
In the New Testament, Taylor refers to pleonexia, ‘excess’, or ‘wanting more and more’ (see Mark 7:22, and Colossians 3:5 where it is identified with idolatry). Its opposite is epieikeia, with the corresponding adjective epieikēs – see Philippians 4:5; 1 Timothy 3:3; 1 Peter 2:18 – a word that is often translated by words like ‘gentleness’ and ‘kindness’, but Taylor thinks is more accurately seen as ‘a matching, a toning in with the whole…’. Perhaps those versions that render it by ‘consideration’ could be seen as combining both ideas.
As examples of the practice of Old Testament shālōm and New Testament epieikeia Taylor reminds us of various provisions in the Old Testament law codes: specifically those that relate to gleaning (Leviticus 19:9-10, Deuteronomy 24:19-22); limited cropping (Deuteronomy 22:9); and the giving of the firstfruits to God (Deuteronomy 26:1-11). Especially thought-provoking is the prohibition of taking interest on loans to a fellow-Israelite (Exodus 22:25; Deuteronomy 23:20). We might well be startled to discover that the Church forbade the taking of interest up to the sixteenth century!
Taylor defines the Kingdom of God as the ‘kingdom of right relationships’. Christians are called to become part of this kingdom. In my opinion, ecologically-aware Christians would do well to absorb the economics of the first of these books, and the theology of the second.
Keith Innes was in parish ministry from 1958 until his retirement in 1997. Since then he has studied and written on biblical eco-theology. A paper based on his M.Phil. dissertation, “The Old Testament Wilderness in Ecological Perspective” is available online here. His note “British and American attitudes to nature” is available on the JRI Briefings page of this website.