Thursday, June 10, 2010

Sustainability, Sin, and Happiness

Krista Tippett, host of NPR’s Speaking of Faith, had a wonderful post called The Definition of Sustainability Expands with Vocation yesterday on the SOF Observed blog. It was a timely post: this Sunday’s lectionary lessons lend themselves to a discussion of sin and grace and our response to both, and the oil disaster in the Gulf has caused some people to look more seriously at the need to live in more sustainable ways. Here’s the opening paragraph:

Our emerging national conversation about sustainability has a decidedly “eat your spinach” tone. We’re steeling ourselves to enter the realm of sacrifice, and penance. But in all my conversations of recent years, I’ve been struck by the heightened sense of delight and beauty in lives and communities pursuing a new alignment with the natural world.

The assumption that doing the right thing will somehow make us miserable seems deeply rooted in some part of our culture.  If doing the right thing results in immediate deprivation of something we have experienced as pleasurable – think of cardiac patients who must avoid fatty foods – we assume that the misery will continue unabated, never to be overtaken by a greater pleasure. But, of course, people who go on low-fat diets often lose their taste for the foods that clogged up their arteries initially and experience great pleasure as their health and capacity to be more active improve.

More generally, sin, the seeking of our own will that distorts our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation (Book of Common Prayer Catechism, p. 848), while momentarily pleasurable or convenient or the path of least resistance, is bound to make us miserable because we aren’t in healthy relationship with God, other people, or the world around us. Repenting and turning to doing the right thing is bound to make us happier in the long-term.

Sen. Richard Lugar has introduced a new energy bill (see US senator offers scaled-back climate bill). Sen. Lugar says that it is unrealistic to cut down significantly on carbon emissions in tough economic times. There’s that buried assumption again, that doing the right thing by cutting down on carbon emissions will make us miserable. In this case, the argument is that it would make us so miserable that we cannot possibly find the political will to do the right thing. The bill would cut carbon emissions by 20% by 2030; the Kerry-Lieberman bill would cut emission 17% by 2020 (from 2005 levels). The AFP story about the bill ends with the reminder that “the Kerry bill already falls well below the UN climate change panel's recommendation of cuts of 25 to 40 percent from 1990 levels if the world wants to avoid growing severe weather and the extinction of entire species.

Krista Tippet’s post ends with this alternative vision of what happens when we do the right thing:

The writer Frederich Buechner has said that vocation happens “when our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” I’m beginning to see the work of sustainability as an unfolding vocation — not merely a response to problems, but an invitation to possibility and a way to strengthen moral resources such as delight, dignity, elegance, and hope.

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