Religion and its Role in Consumption

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For more information:

Bartolomeus, Arthur Hertzberg, and Fazlun Khalid. "Religion and Nature: The
Abrahamic Faiths' Concepts of Creation." Spirit of the Environment: Religion,
Valuse and Environmental Concern. Ed. David E. Cooper and Joy A. Palmer.
New York: Routledge, 1998. 30-41.

Gardner, Gary. Invoking the Spirit: Religion and Spirituality in the Quest for a
Sustainable World. Ed. Jane Peterson. Washington D.C.: Worldwatch Institute,
2002. 38-45

Handley, Paul. "What Would Jesus Drive?: Religious Campaign Targets Transportation
Choices." TheStar Phoenix 17 Dec. 2002: Lifestyle 3. LexisNexis Academic.
Keyword: "What Would Jesus Drive".

Levy, Sharon Joseph. "Judaism, Population, and the Environment." Population,
Consumption, and the Environment: Religious and Secular Responses. Ed.
Harold Coward. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995. 73-107.

Why Read the Articles?

The Gardner article set the stage for a discussion about ethical consumption, giving an overview of the world's major religions and their view on what constitutes ethical consumption.

The Bartolomeus, Hertzberg and Khalid article gave good information about what the Abrahamic religions, including Judaism and Christianity, believe about consumption and what they believe the role of humans to be on the earth. They also referenced many passages of the bible and the torah.

The Levy article concentrated on Judaism, its population growth pattern, and ties a lot of consumption and environmental issues back to the teachings of Judaism.

The Handley article concerned an application of the theory in the articles. The story concerned the "What Would Jesus Drive?" campaign, which is a regional effort to get people to think critically when making transportation choices. The yardstick that people were supposed to consider when making these decisions was the example Jesus set forth.

Comments Made During the Discussion (16 April 2003):

Amanda wanted to know how environmentalism should be defined, and Marissa wondered how there could be a reconciliation of between beliefs of stewardship and dominion.
With regards to the "What Would Jesus Drive?" campaign, Luned made the observation that people have this attitude that man is separate from nature, and that people who believe WWJD? would not be the ones driving SUVs in the first place and thus, religion would not affect their choices. Eliza pointed out that one of the articles said that forty percent of consumers were religious, leading faith-based initiatives. Nan made the point that WWJD? was very prevalent in her hometown, even though it is not very prevalent at Swarthmore. What Carr found interesting is the idea of examining the morality of our own lives with Jesus' morality as the yardstick interesting. Anteneh thought that the idea of trying to get consumers to buy fewer SUVs using Jesus was ridiculous and ineffective.
Amanda tied it all together by saying that perhaps we should redefine environmentalism not by saying how we should benefit nature, but how our moral obligations for fellow human beings should factor into our environmental decisions. Carr commented that this could be tied into the idea of deep ecology, as in do we save the forests for the forests' sake, or do we save the forest for its value for our neighbor? Marissa answered Carr, by saying that religion has been used to justify who got the better land, resources, etc. and that the same reasoning can be applied to the United States today, for example, inequality exists and our consumerist values and other secular principles are rooted in our predominantly Christian faith. Luned added to the discussion, saying that we have lived apart from and above nature for so long, we have messed it up so much, that we have no other choice than to be stewards of the earth.
The discussion then progressed because Carr made the observation that we could use religion as a tool for environmentalism, and he asked, "Why did God make nature and us and what is the relationship between the two?" and then he mentioned the Islamic ideal of sustainability. Eliza piped up, mentioning that religion is full of moral judgments, and we all got a little silly. Luned was being facetious when she said that it was morally wrong to take hour long showers, but J. Loeff went with it, wondering about the morality of eating too much, and Marissa added the idea of a twinkie tax on foods with little nutritional value to minimize consumption.
Amanda asked if it were possible to have sustainability without morals, if those two ideas can be divorced. Eliza answered that there are biological reasons for seeking sustainability, mainly so that our genes can propagate. Marissa asked if she meant if our genes tell us what to do. Amanda said that bacteria's genes tell it what to do, even if it means killing its host. It does not matter as long as its genes are being passed on. Luned pointed out that genes only seek to exist and that they have no standard of living. Eliza tied that back into the idea of survival of culture. Amanda agreed that religion has shaped the survival of culture, but that the connection is no longer there for many moral people. Nan said that danger was in things being taken out of the context of the bible. Amanda closed out the discussion by saying that religions have been determined by the communities which have evolved, and now there is much more of a focus on person interpretation.
Though this discussion did not have many counterpoints, I believe that it was useful in raising awareness of how a certain demographic reasons their involvement in the quest for a greener world. Before our discussion, few of my classmates had heard of the "What Would Jesus Drive?" campaign. Hopefully this discussion challenged my classmates to think about religion and how it interacts in people's everyday lives and how it can be used by environmentalists as a mobilizational tool for a positive change in consumption habits.

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last updated 05/09/03