Category Archives: Ethics

When Does Sufficient Become Excessive?

As an American, nothing drives home the modern obsession with material luxury more than Christmas.  What was once a religious holiday is… still a religious holiday.  A celebration of the material consumption that is the religion of modern America.

I suspect that, ethically, I should give everything I have to those in need.  I should live only on what is necessary to survive. At the very least, I should use my abilities strictly to help others rather than using my abilities to help increase my own level of comfort.

But alas, I am a coward.  Perhaps that’s what Jesus meant in saying “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God”.  Material comfort is an opiate. Virtually every religious tradition warns against the seductiveness of material comfort.

However, I have a wife and children.  It is both an honor and my duty to provide for them, to care for them.  In addition to providing for their material needs, I think I should educate them as best I’m able, and should provide them with every opportunity to make a life for themselves.  I believe I should not impose my beliefs upon my children.  Rather, I should give them tools for evaluating truth, tools for developing character, and let them follow their own path through life.  I hope I leave them with very little that they must unlearn later in life.  It seems to me that enacting my own fairly unorthodox views would do a grave disservice to my children (and perhaps my wife as well).

So I am a coward with an excuse.

I can try to exercise personal restraint.  I expect any attempt at “asceticism” in modern America likely resembles the “garish opulence” of yesteryear.  But nevermind.  I know there are many others who harbor or exercise beliefs that extol simplicity.  I am only now waking up to this idea.  I have been drunk with materialism for so long that I am not sure what sobriety might look like.

When does sufficient become excessive?  Where is that line?  I am not sure.  But I do feel fairly certain that my American Christmas has well and truly cleared it.  And despite the assurances of American propaganda, I don’t think that’s a good thing.


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