Christianity’s rejection of consumerist culture is not a negation of prosperous and comfortable life. “It is not wrong to want to live better; what is wrong is a style of life which is presumed to be better when it is directed towards «having» rather than «being», and which wants to have more, not in order to be more but in order to spend life in enjoyment as an end in itself” (John Paul II 1991, No. 36). Christian thought, therefore, points to the need to uphold the primacy of “being” over “having.” Satisfying one’s needs to “have” more should always entail a desire to “be” more. The possession of goods helps perfect man only if it contributes to the enrichment of his “being,” that is, to the realization of his human vocation by adopting an authentic hierarchy of values (John Paul II 1987, No. 28). This happens when the possession of material goods serves to meet man’s true needs, that is, enables him to develop harmoniously, holistically and integrally. True development is not about accumulating wealth and freely using goods and services, but about valuing the cultural and spiritual dimension of man (John Paul II 1987, No. 9). Moreover, the culture of moderation is associated with 1) a new model of progress, 2) culture of communion, and 3) new lifestyle.
2.1. The new model of progress
Building a culture of moderation entails the introduction of a new model of progress that will replace the old idea of progress focused on continuously increasing production and generating more and more profit. For progress reduced only to the economic dimension turns against those it was supposed to serve. A test for authentic progress is whether it is carried out according to human nature, whether it is not limited to the acquisition of material goods, and whether it protects cultural identity, personal, social and political rights (John Paul II 1987,Nos. 28, 32-33). The authentic development of our civilization should maintain a balance between the development of technology and the development of morality and ethics. Understood in such terms, it will help man become “truly better, that is to say more maturespiritually, more aware of the dignity of his humanity, more responsible, more open to others, especially the neediest and the weakest, and readier to give and to aid all” (John Paul II 1979, No. 15). Pope Francis stresses that such perspectives of authentic development are not specifically Christian, and that this issue is addressed in a similar way by other religious traditions which blame today’s utilitarian culture for disrupting man’s inner harmony (Francis 2015, No. 222). The Pope teaches that the model of progress must take into account the sphere of spiritual values and man’s call to salvation. As a consequence, the inter-generational responsibility, which goes beyond the immediate here and now, should be an important element of the new model of development (Francis 2015, No. 159, 162).
2.2. Culture of communion
Another important element in building a culture of moderation is promoting a culture of communion, which is an antidote to the throwaway culture. We must not consent to today’s widespread mentality of using and throwing things away, which more and more often now applies to people as well. Pope Francis points out that this phenomenon affects especially old people, the sick, children, people with disabilities, and the unborn. One of the main reasons for such an attitude seems to be the fear of the rich of their duty of solidarity with the poor and the excluded. This attitude is the result of selfishness, a consequence of the crisis of interpersonal relationships, and the postmodern mentality of individualism which focuses on instant gratification. A culture of communion is founded on the realization that all inhabitants of the Earth form one great community of life connected by the bonds of fraternity (Francis 2015, No. 162).
The Christian vision of the world includes all people as they are children of God, called into existence by their Creator. Moreover, as pointed out by Pope Francis, the culture of communion must not be limited to people, but should also include all living beings who, together with man, form one great community of life (Francis 2015, No. 11). Understood in such broad terms, the community may not be limited only to the present, either. The culture of communion should embrace everyone and apply at all times, for it may not exclude generations to come in a few decades or a few hundred years from now. Only such a community may become an antidote to the modern atomization witnessed in many societies, and man’s alienation from the natural world. A culture of communion also provides the impulse necessary to overcome attitudes of selfishness in favor of solidarity and relationships. It frees man from the perspective of looking for meaning in his possessions by experiencing the joy of being with others.
2.3. New lifestyle
An important component of a culture of sustainable consumption is a new style of life. The basis of a new lifestyle must be an attitude of openness towards all – both humans and non- human beings, those living today, and those who will join the community of life in the future. Pope Francis points out that a characteristic feature of the consumerist way of life is a “cult of superficiality,” which is a consequence of spiritual poverty on the one hand, and the ever-increasing demand for material goods on the other (Francis 2015, No. 204). A new lifestyle
must therefore be characterized by a deepening of man’s spiritual dimension. For this, we must abandon everyday haste and excessive activism, so that the noise and information overload that fills human life may be replaced by moments of silence and reflection (Francis 2015, No. 225).
It appears that Christian heritage has significant potential to shape the right model of a culture of consumption. By identifying consumerism as one of the greatest challenges to man’s integral development, Christianity makes the faithful sensitive to the danger of succumbing to the temptation of consumerism and encourages them to build a culture of sustainable consumption.
Religions do not have the tools to impose particular attitudes but refer to religious arguments instead. In this way, they transfer their followers’ decisions to adopt a particular attitude to the subtle level of human freedom, bringing the issue to the most local dimension – a person’s freedom of choice. The effect of this influence in each individual case varies, depending on many factors, such as the strength of one’s attachment to religion and its principles, the economic situation, political beliefs, aesthetic preferences and many other factors. A key element in the Christian way of promoting a culture of moderation is education. This is pointed out by John Paul II, who states explicitly: “Thus a great deal of educational and cultural work is urgently needed, including the education of consumers in the responsible use of their power of choice, the formation of a strong sense of responsibility among producers and among people in the mass media in particular, as well as the necessary intervention by public authorities” (John Paul 1991, No. 36). It should also rely on spiritual resources and refer to religious arguments in order to complement typical methods of environmental education. Christian education aimed at opposing the culture of consumerism and promoting a culture of sustainable consumption takes various forms, such as homilies given by clergy, catechesis, retreats, Bible study for groups and individuals. By referring to religious arguments, the Church influences not only consumers, but also representatives of large corporations, the mass media and parliamentarians who may contribute in their own way to the promotion of the right model of culture in the context of consuming material, cultural and spiritual goods. In conclusion, Christian thought is not only in line with, but is in fact conducive to the culture of sustainable consumption.
Francis (Pope). 2015. Encyclical letter: Laudato Si' of the Holy Father Francis on care of our common home. Rome: Vatican Press.
John Paul II. 1979. Encyclical letter: Redemptor hominis. Boston: Pauline Books & media.
John Paul II. 1987. Encyclical letter: Sollicitudo rei socialis. Washington, D.C.: United States
John Paul II. 1991. Encyclical letter: Centesimus annus. Detroit: Michigan Catholic.
Sadowski, Ryszard F. 2021. "The Role of Catholicism in Shaping a Culture of Sustainable
Consumption." Religions 12(8):598. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12080598.