Theology of Enough

We have confused, as a society, wants and needs, and a lot of people have raised up their wants way above their needs and way above their abilities to support all those wants”  Millard Fuller       

The title of my post is an ode to a chapter in one of his books.  Fuller refered to it as the Theology of Enough. Its the  idea that there is a point where consumers possess everything they need  and buying more makes their lives worse rather than better. Like simple living,“enough-ism” emphasizes less spending and more restraint in the buying behaviour. Enoughism is an antonym to consumerism      

 What do you really need in your home or in your life? Its really a question that I want you all to answer.  What do you really NEED?I have been ruminating on this for the past few weeks, and because I have been struggling to answer this question for myself, I have not been able to actually write this blog post.  For the past two weeks I have been reading and meditating on the “Theology of Enough”.  We humans (especially those of of us from more developed countries have a hard time differentiating a need from a want.  We believe the commercials, the ads, the hype and honestly the bullshit.      

We consume  and consume and consume more stuff everyday. I want to say that the real issue is not consumption itself but its patterns and effects. Yet, I think that would be a lie. The real issue is consumption and what does it take for us as humans to feel full…satiated…satisfied….whole.    


That’s why I think of this post as the Theology of Enough..its about  filling up something deep within ourselves..some place in our soul that we think one more flat screen TV or 1,000 additional square feet will help fill.      

Who exactly ARE the Joneses and why have we decided to let them be the stick by which we measure ourselves.  Why are we letting them define us and mold us into bigger, better consumers  rather than  more compassionate, loving  people?     

Today’s consumption is undermining the environment. You all are smart folks, you know this.  That oil spill in the Gulf is happening because we as as society continue to want to  feel satiated by STUFF, PHOO-PHA  and THINGS.  It is exacerbating inequalities. And the dynamics of the consumption-poverty-inequality-environment nexus are out of control. Runaway growth in consumption is killing the earth, and killing us….Spiritually, physically and emotionally.      

Inequalities in consumption are stark. Globally, the 20% of the world’s people in the highest-income countries account for 86% of total private consumption expenditures — the poorest 20% a minuscule 1.3%. More specifically, the richest fifth:       

  • Consume 45% of all meat and fish, the poorest fifth 5%
  • Consume 58% of total energy, the poorest fifth less than 4%
  • Have 74% of all telephone lines, the poorest fifth 1.5%
  • Consume 84% of all paper, the poorest fifth 1.1%
  • Own 87% of the world’s vehicle fleet, the poorest fifth less than 1%

These numbers go beyond meeting basic needs.  They actually make me nauseous. The facts I just quoted come from an old UNDP report…so if anyone can point me to more  recent figures please do.     

If the trends continue without change — not redistributing from high-income to low-income consumers, not shifting from polluting to cleaner goods and production technologies, not promoting goods that empower poor producers, not shifting priority from consumption for conspicuous display to meeting basic needs — today’s problems of consumption and human development will worsen.     

We can tell our values by looking at our checkbook stubs. ~Gloria Steinem  Oh man do I dig Gloria. Seriously. Consider the following which shows  the world priorities ( i.e. OUR priorities):     

  • We spend $8 Billion a year in the US on cosmetics.
  • We spend $12 Billion a year in the US and Europe on perfume.
  • We spend $50 Billion a year in the US and Europe on cigarettes

And compare that to what was estimated as additional costs to achieve universal access to basic social services in all developing countries:     

  • Basic Education for all $6 Billion
  • Water and Sanitation for all  $9 Billion
  • Reproductive health  for all women  $12 Billion

(Source: The state of human development, United Nations Human Development Report 1998, Chapter 1, p.37)       

The Theology of Enough is about being filled up from the inside out. Its being satisfied with the  old television because you know its enough. It does its job  without problem or worry. It meets my needs.  Its Enough.    

 Others may expect that some one of your status, education level, or  income should own a new car, a large house  and  flat screen televisions. Its about understanding that the somewhere across the water a 15 year old girl has worked as a virtual slave in a blue jean factory in China  making less than 2$ a day so that I can buy ANOTHER pair of 10$ jeans from a big box store to fill my already overflowing closet .  Will I be judged by friends, family, colleagues and neighbors  for choosing to own  only one  pair of jeans or live in a smaller house or not have all of the  stuff that a person my age is supposed to have ? Probably, but I am OK with that because in my mind enough really is enough.  


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