The Devil Wears Prada and Drives a Hummer

The faithful join forces to fight reckless consumption

| October 19, 2006

'Buy, buy, buy. Sell, sell, sell,' goes the mantra of the capitalist. But our disposable lifestyle has gotten us into quite a mess, and if there's one thing all the talk about biofuels and wind power confirms, it's that we can't buy more space on the planet to fulfill our food and energy needs or sell our way out of the environmental damages we've already inflicted. Many on the left see the stereotypical conservative Christian consumer as the villain in this story -- Bush crystallized the image with his post-9/11 call for Americans to open their pocketbooks and ward off economic collapse. Giving the lie to that stereotype are the leagues of religious groups looking inward -- and to each other -- to find an escape from the consumerist trap responsible for the current state of planet Earth.

At its core, sustainability is about values, and values are impacted by religion, argues Gary Gardner, director of research with the environmental and social sustainability research group Worldwatch Institute. 'It's because I'm a religious person that I'm an environmentalist. For me there is no incompatibility there at all,' Gardner explains in an interview with David Roberts for Grist. The connection between faith and environmentalism is also clear to Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope, who writes in his column for Sierra that '[o]ur shortsighted global-trade rules affront the pious and environmentalist alike.' 'In every major trade negotiation to date,' he continues, 'both camps have suggested provisions to allow subsistence farmers to remain on their land, to get lifesaving drugs into the hands of poor people, and to protect the earth's ecosystems -- all elements of a sustainable system.'

The increasing involvement of religious groups in environmental activism is adding a new dimension of political clout to the movement. But its impact goes farther than that. Gardner and others argue that religion can get to the roots of reckless consumption in a way that environmentalist lecturing can't. In the recent book, A Greener Faith, Roger S. Gottleib -- according to a Discover review -- stresses that 'religious values offer an alternative to the gross consumerism that has fueled our despoliation of the planet.' For many, the consumerism Pope calls a 'fundamental spiritual crisis that challenges all the world's faiths,' is best countered by a renewed sense of spirituality that trumps unabated capitalism's empty promises of fulfillment.

Go there >> How Does Your Gardner Go?

Go there too >> Ways & Means: The Devil's in the Retail

Go there too >> A Greener Faith

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