Every civilization has its own foundational myths. For modern, especially Western, society one of these myths is the belief in unending and sustainable growth. This is the belief that underlies our entire economic structure. We have to keep growing, producing, and buying, more stuff or everything will collapse. Unfortunately it is becoming clearer how impossible that may be.
The reality is that in order to keep producing more and more stuff we use up more and more of the world. Either we cut down more trees and dig more rock or we throw more junk into the air, the water, the ground. And this is where we find the problem. For us to continue believing in the myth of sustainable growth is for us to continue to move closer to an unliveable environment.
Unfortunately, it is very difficult to move beyond our foundational myths. To stop believing in the growth myth would require a whole rethinking of how our economy and way of life are structured. And that will only come at a great financial and personal cost. It would mean to stop building new plants and mills, possibly even closing existing ones. It would mean that jobs would be lost, maybe before new ones are created. When he first became President, George Bush pulled the US out of the Kyoto Accord because he understood the costs of trying to implement it (and few politicians are willing to be the ones who cause an economic downturn – no matter what greater good might lie behind it).
For people of faith dealing with the growth myth is mandatory. In the beginning of our faith story, in one of our foundational myths, we are told that humanity was given sovereignty over the Earth. We are not doing a great job of this right now. About ten years ago the United Church of Canada added a line into its faith statement. The line is “to live with respect in creation”. In this lies the challenge of dealing with the growth myth. To live with respect is to show good stewardship of the Earth, not to assume that sovereignty means it is ours to pillage as we please.
A choice lies before us. We can continue to follow the path we are one or we can seek out a new foundational myth. The new one I suggest is actually very old. It is the story of a God who offers humanity a world to live in and care for, a place where they can “be fruitful and multiply”. It is time for us to speak against unending, unsustainable growth before the world around us becomes irreparably poisoned. God calls us to live with respect in creation. How will we answer?