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41Y6cTMUryL__SY380_This post was originally posted in Ecclesio.com and reposted her with permission.  Please check out Ecclesio.com for other interesting articles and posts!

Excerpt adapted from Colonialism, Han and the Transformative Spirit (Palgrave, 2013)

The gap between the rich and the poor

One of the problems the Western world is facing today is how to live a life so that all of humanity can flourish and not just a select few wealthy people. With so many factors contributing to the deteriorating of the planet and the livelihood of people all around the globe, this question of conscientious living needs to be addressed if there is going to be any justice and equality in this world.

When one looks at the world today, an inescapable fact is the vastly unequal distribution of assets, wealth, affluence, and life prospects. We live in a world where a relatively small number of people, about one-sixth the world’s total population of approximately seven billion people, have a preponderant share of the planet’s wealth and resources, while a significant majority of the remaining six billion lead lives marked by insecurity, poverty, misery, disease, and death. One is reminded of the words of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, where he describes a world without just social contracts, where people are left to their own devices:

In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.[1]

Hobbes was writing about the kind of life one has in the absence of a well-ordered government. Similarly, Malthus argued that as shortages in poorer lands increase, the impetus to aggression to acquire fewer and fewer resources will increase, as well as disease and famine that would artificially compensate for Malthus’ geometric growth of population. All this while retrograde thinking encouraged increased population by objecting to birth control as they simultaneously objected to means to support that growing population.[2]

The human costs of such grotesque disparity—caused in part by a failure of human virtue as well as a failure to attend to a future dystopia—are almost unimaginable. Most of these disasters are engineered by human selfish desire for more economic growth at the cost of human frailty.[3] Today, as capitalism and consumerism drive the modern version of colonization known as globalism, the gap between the haves and have-nots widens beyond anything ever known in history. This unequal distribution of wealth is taking a toll on the fragile planet and ecosystems that we all belong to. What drives the rich to consume all the resources is understood to drive the economy, so many of the rich people’s practices are not challenged or even questioned. As the rich continue to indulge in the nineteenth-century lifestyle[4] of hoarding and taking from the earth, we are seeing numerous, previous unimaginable crises that challenge the peoples of planet earth. The pattern is perennial, but today the consequences are more dire.

Tied in with the evils of bandit style economics, globalization, and colonialism are consumerism and the deep sense of leisure as an entitlement.[5] As North Americans, we consume 40% of the world’s resources while representing only 6% of the world’s human population. Because we live in a world where the “have” nations treat the “have not” nations as a source of commodities—and labor is just another commodity, with a price—a globalized society which perpetuates this cycle of consumerism means a reexamination is due, particularly our propensity toward consumption. “Globalization impacts the whole world in terms of the broad availability and accessibility of natural resources, production and consumption.”[6]

Living Well

The real wealth of a nation is its people, and the purpose of development is to create an environment for people to enjoy long, healthy, and creative lives.  The good life is defined by the use of money to help people have decent, fulfilling lives. The good life is not having “more and more” but “enough”: “adequate food, clothing, shelter, education, medical care, creative and spiritual opportunities, fellowship, and leisure time and space”[7] so that people can live and flourish.

In Genesis 3, there is a tension between freedom and limits. As the tale begins, God has already given humanity freedom. “You may freely eat of every tree in the garden.” The characters know this freedom exists because they have one identified limit, namely the tree whose fruit they must not eat. It is hard to understand why freedom requires such a “tree.” If there were no such limit, all actions that were possible would also be permitted. Rather than enjoying all that God has permitted, humankind has suddenly become preoccupied with the limitation, a limitation that does not appear to benefit humanity. So the woman and man take charge as they have been empowered to do. Unfortunately they choose to act as bandits[8] instead of stewards in a way that leads to death rather than to life. This story is part of the ongoing story of the steward. Living responsibly in the tension between freedom and limits is at the very heart of stewardship.[9] We have a choice to make.

In God’s garden, most things are possible but not all things are beneficial. Nevertheless, we are genuinely free and can make our own choices. We can make choices which drain the farm soil of all its nutrients, to enslave certain people by economic oppression or military might, to care for only our own physical needs or emotional desires. We can even preach the gospel as benefiting and blessing us and condemning those not like us. But such things are not permitted for those entrusted with the stewardship of God’s world. Yet, like the man and the woman in the garden, we wonder whether the limits are really needed and beneficial for us and the planet. Often we decide to do what is not permitted—and we live with the results. It is not easy being God’s stewards, living in a garden where so much more is possible than is beneficial. The process of discerning what is most beneficial and to whom consumes our time and depletes our energy. The voice of nature has been silenced as trees fall to the bulldozer, prairies are tilled by the steel plow, oceans are mined by fishing and drilling platform, and mountains are conquered. Nature no longer can fight back the way it once did, except with catastrophic methods. The value of the nonhuman world has been disregarded and neglected.[10] Yet the other species are the canaries in the mineshaft. They are warning us of the devastation that lies ahead if we keep ignoring the warning signs.  We must examine and change our ways of being and living.  The consequences of continuing our ways of consumption and consumerism are too risky and damaging to ourselves, our community and the earth.

[1] Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. Michael Oakeshott (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, based on the edition of 1651), 82.

[2] Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population, 98.

[3] Krishna, Globalization and Postcolonialism: Hegemony and Resistance in the Twentieth-first Century, 19.

[4] See Thorsten Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class (Oxford World’s Classics, Oxford University Press). Any edition.

[5] “No class of society, not even the most abjectly poor, foregoes all customary conspicuous consumption. The last items of this category of consumption are not given up except under stress of the direst necessity. Very much of squalor and discomfort will be endured before the last trinket or the last pretense of pecuniary decency is put away.” Thorsten Veblen (2007–10–11) The Theory of the Leisure Class (Oxford University Press: Kindle Edition), 53.

[6] Grace Ji-Sun Kim, “Globalization and World Consumption: An Ethical Theological Discourse,” Forum on Public Policy, Vol. 6, No 3. (September 2010): 1.

[7] McFague, Life Abundant: Rethinking Theology and Economy for a Planet in Peril, 111.

[8] Consider the role of the bandits in Akira Kurosawa’s film The Seven Samurai, where the bandits leave just enough grain for the farmers to survive until the next harvest.

[9] Roop, Let the Rivers Run: Stewardship and the Biblical Story, 28, 29.

[10] Ibid., 30.

[read also: A Conversation & WATER Voices]


BN7A3104-MGrace Ji-Sun Kim is Visiting Researcher at Georgetown University.  She is the author of 4 books, Reimagining with Christian Doctrines co-edited with Jenny Daggers (Palgrave forthcoming), Colonialism, Han and the Transformative Spirit (Palgrave Pivot), The Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other: A Model of Global and Intercultural Pneumatology (Palgrave Macmillan) and The Grace of Sophia: A Korean North American Women’s Christology (Pilgrim Press).