Weeping for the Land


Thursday May 12, 2016
11148 – 84 avenue

10 AM (registration) to 4 PM

This will be an opportunity for the community to engage in cogent thought with informed speakers from different faiths on the most pressing issue facing us: the ecological difficulties, indeed crises, in the world today.

Pandit Pankaj Dixit (Hindu priest)
Rev. Dr. David Fekete (Christian)
Prem Kalia (Buddhist)
Paula Kirman (Jewish)
Dr. Mohyuddin Mirza (Muslim)
Michelle Nieviadomy (Indigenous)

Toward a Spiritual Eco-Justice:James A. Nash and the Virtue of Frugality
By Rev. David J. Fekete, Ph.D.

When we think about today’s environmental crisis, we tend to think in terms of science. We see global warming as the result of greenhouse gasses generated by fossil fuels. We talk about auto emissions or industrial waste. We seek to solve these problems, again, by the application of science such as alternative energy sources, cleaner emissions, hybrid or electrical automobiles, and recycling. But these efforts do not get at the underlying causes for our present ecological crisis. The underlying cause for our ecological problems is spiritual, not scientific. While technology and science can ameliorate the problems of the environment, they do not address the underlying spiritual cause.
Our present environmental crisis is the result of excessive consumer demand and unbridled production to feed that demand. Present day consumption and production is structured to fulfill human cravings for more, better, bigger, newer, more prestigious goods. In terms of classical Christianity craving goods in this manner would be considered sinful. Specifically, the sins called greed, gluttony, envy, and vanity or pride would be seen as driving western economics. In my Swedenborgian tradition, spirituality means renouncing sin and adopting good. This practice can be applied as a spiritual solution to today’s environmental crisis. The spiritual solution to the environmental crisis is by the individual and collective renunciation of greed, gluttony, envy, and vanity and the individual and collective adoption of the Christian virtues called frugality and charity. Frugality is the renunciation of greed and the practice of Christian charity by giving and caring for our wider social and natural environment.
Environmental problems can be seen as the product of a broken relationship between humanity and God on the one hand, and between humanity and nature on the other. Personally and collectively, a lifestyle of greed, gluttony, envy, and vanity interrupts relationship with God on the one hand, and relationship with nature on the other. Adopting an ethic of frugality and Christian love restores relationship with God and with the environment. Frugality works as a spiritual solution for a spiritual problem because the whole created order—humans and nature—is sacred.
The whole created order is sacred space. This includes nature and humanity. We need to recognize that humanity is part of God’s sacred created order. It is not as if there is nature and humans who stand apart from nature. Rather, humans stand within nature. In Genesis, God creates the water, the land, plants, the animals, and man and woman. When the whole created order is complete, then God looks upon it all, including humans, and says that it is very good. So humanity is part of the natural order and is in the sacred space of the world created by God.

Humanity and God.

Frugality means moderating our cravings for material goods. It is a virtue that stands opposite the cardinal sins of greed, gluttony, envy, vanity, and pride. The cardinal sins are considered vexations of the soul that cause spiritual unrest. They oppose contentment with God’s grace and provision, Christian love, generosity, and solidarity with one’s fellows. The vexing nature of the cardinal sins can be seen by the discontent characterizing a person who never has enough. A frugal person is content with moderate possessions and stands in solidarity with the whole created order—other humans and the natural world. Frugality involves moderation of human cravings, and as such it is a kind of self-denial.
But it needs to be said that frugality is not holy poverty, or asceticism. It is not extinction of desires, but moderation of desires. It is putting a limit on material acquisition, not a complete renunciation of material goods.
Frugality is not only a Christian virtue. It has origins in Classical philosophy. Plato taught a moderation of the passions. In his philosophy, the properly ordered soul is governed by reason. The insatiable appetites which crave sensual gratification and the exercise of ignoble emotions are subordinated to the governance of reason. In Aristotle, temperance is the golden mean between overindulgence on the one hand, and deficiency on the other. Happiness cannot be had in a deficiency of possessions nor in overindulgence in luxuries and sensual gratification. The golden mean is in moderation, or what James A. Nash would call frugality. Both Plato and Aristotle call for moderation of human cravings, but not asceticism or poverty. They would like the virtue frugality.
Frugality as an individual spiritual virtue challenges the advertizing propaganda that tells us we need to out-buy our neighbor. Greed disrupts Christian love and solidarity with one’s fellows, primarily by creating competition and hostilities among one’s fellow humans. I know of two friends, one of whom went out and bought a Maserati. His friend went out and bought a Ferrari the next day. Consumption has become a way of acquiring self-esteem and supposed superiority over one’s fellows. Not having generates envy and feelings of inadequacy for which the solution is spending. Shopping has also become a recreation. In the face of all this, frugality challenges competitive spending by replacing the greed, envy, and vanity of conspicuous consumption with solidarity with one’s fellows and moderate material possessions.
There is an element of Christian charity associated with frugality. The Puritan John Winthrop taught that we are to “abridge our selves of our superfluities for the supply of others necessities.” So frugality is not only moderation of one’s own appetites for the good of the soul, it is also an act of Christian charity in that we limit our luxuries to allow sufficient necessities for those without.
This idea can be generalized to world economics and ecology. Our current western economy is set up to feed an insatiable appetite for consumer goods by means of unbridled production. When our unmoderated appetites seek gratification through unbridled acquisition of material goods, then we exploit nature’s limited resources and create unmanageable waste. The belief behind this ecologically unsound economic system is that productivity must continually grow in order to sustain economic health. Present day consumption and production, which is structured to fulfill human cravings for more, better, bigger, newer, more prestigious goods, can be called an anthropocentric economy, or a human-centered economy. A new relationship between consumer demand and industrial production that is more sensitive to the natural ecosystem needs to be established. What is called for is an eco-centric economy. This is the subversive element of frugality. Frugality is subversive because it challenges the assumption that ever expanding markets are requisite for economic health.
Frugality can be generalized to a global ethic, as well. In order for frugality to solve our present ecological crisis, it needs to become a global system. As individuals moderate the acquisition of material luxuries in order for others to have necessities, so wealthy and powerful nations need to moderate their excessive demand for the world’s resources so that less wealthy nations may have basic necessities. Wealthy nations cannot engulf the limited resources of the planet while poorer nations possess little, often not even enough. Frugality in this sense can be thought of in the light of Christian love and charity. Frugality as a planetary ethic means that the whole world economy be considered. Even as charitable giving is practiced by individuals to establish just distribution of goods, so in the world economy, wealthy and powerful nations need to balance their luxurious wants for material goods against the needs of all nations, including nations of lesser power and wealth.

Humanity and Nature.

Finally, frugality is the realization that the whole created order is a sacred ecological system. Humans are part of God’s created universe, as are water, land and mineral resources, air, plants, and animals. What is called for is not only reverence for nature, but rather the recognition that humans are nature, too. The natural world isn’t sacred space set off from the world of human society. Rather, humans and the natural world are all part of the same sacred space.
Ecological problems happen when we forget our interdependence with nature. Ecological problems happen when we forget that humans share the sacred space created by God with the natural world. When we think that we stand apart from nature, then we view the natural world as something other than ourselves. Then we think that our relationship with nature is as subject and object. We are the subject and nature is an object to be exploited according to human avarice.
When humans and nature are one, then we will have health on the planet. This relationship of oneness with nature is captured in the Hebrew word shalom, which we usually translate as peace. But the Hebrew word for peace, shalom, means more than the cessation of war. It does include peace in the human realm. But it also includes wellbeing of the whole created world. It means rain falling in season, fecundity of crops, and health and fertility of livestock. Since humans, animals, plants, the land and its mineral resources, and water are all sacred creations of God, peace, shalom, means wellbeing for all of creation:
For you shall go out in joy,
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall break forth into singing,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands (Isaiah 55:2).
Perhaps the flourishing of the whole created order captured in the word shalom is even more clearly stated in Isaiah 32:15-18. That passage speaks of a time when,
the Spirit is poured upon us from on high,
and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field,
and the fruitful field is deemed a forest.
Then justice will dwell in the wilderness,
and righteousness abide in the fruitful field.
And the effect of righteousness will be peace,
and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust for ever.
My people will abide in a peaceful habitation,
in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.


To sum up, frugality is right relations between a person and God, between person and person, and between humanity and nature.
Frugality is a personal virtue that means right relations with God. Frugality establishes right relation with God by subduing and moderating greed, gluttony, envy, and vanity. These passions, called cardinal sins, are vexations of the soul. They cause discontent that disrupts peace and they break up solidarity with one’s fellows. Frugality combined with Christian charity brings peace and contentment with moderate possessions and establishes a caring and giving relationship with one’s fellows. Frugality means moderation of cravings for more, better, more prestigious, newer goods to assuage feelings of inadequacy and in struggles for imagined social superiority.
As a global economic ethic, frugality means the moderation of the excessive exploitation of limited natural resources by powerful and wealthy nations so that there are sufficient resources for the needs of less wealthy and powerful nations.
Finally, frugality is the reestablishment of a sacred integration of humans in the natural world. It is the recognition that humanity is part of God’s sacred creation, and that nature is not something other which can be exploited to fulfill wants of an anthropo-centered economics. Frugality establishes an eco-centered economics.
When frugality is a personal virtue, a global ethic, and a sacred relationship with nature, then the words of Isaiah will be fulfilled:
you shall go out in joy,
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall break forth into singing,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands (Isaiah 55:2).