Note: sometimes the stuff I write challenges and unsettles me as much as it may you, my reader. I don’t write pieces like this to sound glib, but rather to be pointedly honest. Please know that I am squirming uncomfortably alongside you all the way. I don’t know the way forward myself; I do know that we need to find one for our sake and for our children’s.
Christianity for a small planet
David R. Weiss, March 25, 2010
As I have listened over the past months to the way so many Christians have responded to the challenges of health care reform I am too often stunned into silence. Broaden that from months to years and widen the issue from health care to include global warming, war, torture, immigration, and free trade and my stunned silence moves toward anger.
My car sports a number of bumper stickers, among them this one: “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” I’d rather it said, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not Christian.”
We in the United States comprise a little for less than 5% of the world’s population (4.54% to be exact). So somehow we either need to get along, play nice—AND SHARE—with the other 95% … or we need to be ready to kill the greater part of them off. I’m not saying we have to kill them off. I’m just saying that if we’re honest, and we’re not willing to share the planet’s wealth with them, and they’re not content to languish in poverty, then we need to be ready to kill the greater part of them off.
There’s simply not enough on this small planet for everyone to live like us. So if Plan A (maintaining the status quo in which we take what we want and trust that the rest of the world will be content with what’s left over) fails, we need to be clear about Plan B. It will be open season on the poor (whether in our ghettos or in the developing world).
So far we’re not doing so good on the sharing. We presently hold more than 25% of the world’s wealth (that’s a bit over five times our fair share). And we consume about 33% of the world’s resources each year (that’s about seven times our fair share).
Yet I cannot count how many times I’ve heard Christian people mark their moral compasses, pick their political allegiances, and proclaim their personal commitments by the presumption that ABOVE ALL we must preserve our way of life for ourselves and our children. As though that’s the gospel truth.
I don’t think that was ever Jesus’ agenda, but it does seem to be ours. We are certainly getting ready for Plan B. Right now the United States accounts for almost half (48%) of global military spending. Think about that. We are less than 5% of the people and we have 48% of the guns. Doesn’t sound like sharing is a high priority. Indeed, our military spending is more than the military spending of the next 45 countries combined.
And we sell over 68% of all the weapons sold anywhere worldwide. If Plan B ever goes into effect, it will be one of those rare commodities that we can congratulate ourselves on being mostly “made in the USA.”
But I do have to ask, whether you’re part of the general US public (75% of whom claim to be Christian) or among my own Christian friends and family, how long will we maintain that it is possible to be Christian without making RADICAL changes in our lives?
Did I miss the place where Jesus says to let “the least of these” fend for themselves when it comes to health care (or immigration or economic justice or …)? Did I miss the part in the Sermon on the Mount about the importance of having more guns than anyone else?
No, actually, I didn’t. Whatever you believe about Christianity’s message for the next life, it is unequivocally about compassion and solidarity as an ethic in this life. It is about radically reorienting your personal self and your communal commitments in a way that promotes the flourishing of all. Period. Not just friends and family. Everybody. Period.
It isn’t about feeling sorry for the folks stuck working in sweatshops. It’s about eliminating sweatshops—and the cheap clothing that gets made there. It’s about eliminating slave wages for tomato pickers—and the hunger for cheap food that drives those wages.
But worse, it isn’t about making sure our children grow up to have as much or more as we do. On a small planet that desire is patently unchristian. And it’s time we say that out loud before Plan B gets put into action by this “Christian” nation.
Christianity for a small planet is a faith that compels us to help ourselves and our children enjoy life more by choosing to live with less. Much less.
I don’t for a minute imagine that most of us are excited about that. But in the interests of integrity, I’d like to ask that if we aren’t willing to commit ourselves vocally, practically, imaginatively, and passionately to live in ways that actually share the planet with the other 95% of the world, could we at least stop calling ourselves Christian?
David R. Weiss is the author of To the Tune of a Welcoming God: Lyrical reflections on sexuality, spirituality and the wideness of God’s welcome (2008, Langdon Street Press). A theologian, writer, poet and hymnist committed to doing “public theology” around issues of sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace, David lives in St. Paul, Minnesota and is a self-employed speaker and writer on the intersection of sexuality & spirituality. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and at https://tothetune.wordpress.com.