Monday, February 28, 2011

The Vanity, Gluttony, and Greed of a Disposable World

We, as Catholic Christians (and any Christian for that matter), are called to be stewards, protectors of the planet. Yet, we live in a planet of disposables. There are disposable diapers, paper plates, cups, napkins, packaging, tissues, etc. And I'm only listing the single-use items, the kinds of things that we use once and then discard forever.

I recently read an article that was an "ah, ha" moment for me. The article is talking about how people are being more careful in this "post-recession" age. People are squeezing out the last of their toothpaste and are waiting until their cell phones break before buying a new one. Here is the quote that made the light bulb turn on:

“I’ve started upgrading for necessity, not vanity,” she said, adding that to do otherwise “just does feel wasteful.”

She said it, not me. To upgrade your cellphone to the newest model when your old one works just fine is vanity. The reasons why your doing it is either to 1) outdo the Jones' (vanity in other words) 2) because you can't help yourself (gluttony in other words).

Maybe I'm sounding closer to Judas than Jesus when I say this, but...couldn't that money go to the poor? But really what's happening is that cell phone is ending up in the dump (or being recycled unfortunately in China where some child is being exposed to heavy metals *sigh*). It's still, as the woman says it, "feels wasteful."

I know that in the modern world everything is so well...disposable, but I see Christians getting caught up in this spin all the time. "Hey, look at my new cellphone." This disposable mindset is bordering on at least two mortal sins depending on your motivations. I say bordering because I do realize things break to the point of not being repairable. That's a legitimate reason for upgrading.

What frustrates me is now people care enough to stop upgrading all the time. And the reasons behind it are another of the mortal sins: greed. Because of the recession, people aren't upgrading anymore. If people's motivations had been one of stewardship or to give to the needy, then those people deserve a high five. Unfortunately, I think it's only because they no longer have the money anymore.

I don't have to go far to see that people's overall giving to charities is down along with their spending habits. Would it be fair to say that if society started earning the same as before that they wouldn't give anymore than they did in the past? I would like to think that I'm wrong about this. I would like to think that the recession has taught people to be more thankful and aware of those in need, but I'm not so sure. The Great Depression happened during my grandparents time yet the affects of it did not manage to trickle down to my generation. In two generations, we went from caring for the poor and thus the environment to a disposable generation. Somewhere along our parents' generation of "peace, love, and happiness" we forgot the value of thriftiness and the virtue of temperance.

I suppose you could say I believe that this vicious cycle of thriftiness turned disposable will just continue. It doesn't help that are children are being targeted by advertisers both covertly (Disney characters on diapers) and overtly (commercials on Saturday mornings). Those companies would love for our beloved children to buy more and more stuff. This makes it harder for any Christian parent to raise their children with a sense of temperance and fortitude. I'm sure if your children don't then you know someone's who does whine about "needing" some new thing.

The article does close with a very good point:
She says there are other motivations too: “Personally, avoiding waste and using things until they’re used up seems like a common-sense way to live.”

I would also venture to say that it's the only virtuous and Christ-like way to live.

1 comment:

  1. about being disposable- I am about ready to start baking my own bread. I am so tired of the plastic! and sometimes bread comes in 2 bags- at least I reuse them, but still. It is so important to reduce the plastic we bring into the house, because even city recycling programs don't always do what they say they are doing- a lot of the recycling goes into landfills.
    If you live close to Trader Joe's- the clear hard 'plastic' boxes they use for produce is bio-degradable corn.

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