Interesting discussion at the end of the ‘T0day Programme’ on Radio 4 this morning about how we might measure the progress and value added to members of society. You can listen to the clip here.
It describes how Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has been asked to report to French President Sarkozy- and has pointed in the direction of sustainability and well being (happiness.)
In the wake of the collapse of economic systems around the world, this is a common theme- old macro economic measures like Gross Domestic Product seem to have let us down. Measuring our prosperity and ability to acquire goods and services does not give us a reliable way to measure the worth of society- or the degree to which those of us within it live satisfied and fulfilled lives.
I think that we people of faith are called to be fully aware that this life we are given is precious, and to celebrate all that is good and beautiful within it. We Christians live as disciples of Jesus, whose had a whole different set of priorities…
We live in a time when something vital about the human experience has been somehow distanced from us by an empire whose culture (and very economic survival) is driven by a chasing after STUFF- ever more and more stuff to fill in the void.
We are none of us immune form the powers of the empire we live within. I just bought a new camera. It is a posh SLR that will take images that are much sharper, much richer. But I have a camera already that takes a lot of the photos on this blog. Cameras are TOOLS, and to have a better tool is no crime. But will it make me happier- or life deeper and more meaningful? Of course not. But the empire- this would try to convince me otherwise- and for a while, I even believe that it will too.
The radio 4 piece makes a point about happiness- which has been a theme on this blog before (See here for example.) My day job as a mental health manager brings me constantly into contact with issues of happiness and mental wellbeing. We are in the middle of planning a redesigned mental health service for Argyll, and one of the key government documents we relate to is this one- ‘Towards a mentally flourishing Scotland.‘ It makes interesting reading from a spiritual point of view- digging into how we might create opportunities for people to find satisfaction and build community as a prescription for health- both mental and physical.
I am just reading this book- Rob Bell’s ‘Jesus wants to save Christians.’
The book is a journey through the Bible, retelling the story of our human journey. Bell talks about the earliest stories from Genesis- the first family of Adam, Eve and their children Cain and Abel. And of how Cain and Abel argue over land and the acquisition of STUFF- marking the descent of humanity from simple subsistence towards more complex economic systems based around the possession of land, and the means to produce more than what is immediately needed in order to sell and barter for other goods.
You could say that this was the rise of humanity, and also potentially the seed of our destruction.
We moved from dependence and vulnerability- to independence and risk aversion.
We moved from community- to individualism and self reliance.
We moved from the need to follow the seasons and live within the natural environment- to the need for central heating, air conditioning, and ever more energy to sustain it.
We moved from a nomadic existence – to being anchored below the weight of what we own.
We moved from a need for God- to the need to manage God to make him fit the lives we now follow.
Could this be the prescription for fulfillment and happiness?
Connection to the earth that made us.
Living simply as pilgrims.
Living spiritually, in search of God.
What might society be like then?