What is Joy in Enough (JiE) really all about? What in practice are we trying to do? And how do we differ from many other organisations, Christian and secular, with somewhat similar aims? These are questions we are frequently asked – and indeed that we ask ourselves in the thirty-strong JiE ‘College’ – the group of people who are offering us specialist help in developing this programme.
What is our ‘USP’ (unique selling point) – a question we very frequently raise amongst ourselves?
We also claim to be building a spirited movement. This claim got me thinking laterally…
Can we visualise the JiE programme as a building inspiring a spirited movement?
We are not another faith-inspired climate/environmental action group or network. Faith for the Climate and Operation Noah do that job as well as can be done. We try to complement their work by taking on a wider brief – presenting climate and related sustainability issues as an integral part of a wider more people-focused agenda, an agenda that tends to be more ‘centre stage’ in the churches. So often green issues are seen as ‘worthy’ but rather marginal to the churches’ mission.
Our thinking is largely based on Jackson’s Prosperity without growth, and on Enough is enough, the work of Dan O’Neill and colleagues in CASSE – the Centre for the Advancement of a Steady State Economy. Many of us were also influenced by How much is enough? Written by the Skidelsky father and son.
None of these are explicitly Christian publications – although I expect that at least one of the contributors to all three may be faith-inspired. All were written within the last decade. All highlight the growth of inequality over the last few decades and the consequent lack of economic and social justice.
But, more uniquely, all elaborate on a theme first developed by economist J.K. Galbraith in the 1950s: that the consumer is not King. That the allegedly dominant invisible hand of the market, whereby business responds to the real needs of consumers, has long given way to the sleight of hand of the marketing man. More and more so in recent times as the corporate consumer marketing departments have all the tools of modern information technology at their disposal in their market research, branding, advertising and product promotion, product placement, viral marketing etc, etc. I also include deliberate design for obsolescence as a component of marketing. Net result: not only is the modern economy grossly unequal and awesomely dangerous ecologically. It is also grossly inefficient in using precious resources to produce well-being and the common good. It is a stupid economy, even if run by brilliant people (which of course is part of the waste.)
“That environmental damage turned out to be the price we had to pay to improve human well-being would be unfortunate. That environmental damage is a side-effect from a failed attempt to improve human well-being is potentially tragic.”
from Laurie Michaelis and Tim Jackson (2003) ‘Policies for Sustainable Consumption’ a report to the Sustainable Development Commission (p21)
Different members of our specialist ‘College’ group may have different emphases, but I think the we are all trying to bring about an economy which emphasises and prioritises the well-being of humanity and all of God’s creation above all else: an economy which operates within the planetary boundaries identified by the Stockholm Resilience Centre.
We want to bring these ideas into the churches. We have written a vision document which gives this social scientific analysis a theological and scriptural perspective. We will present this in the morning at the Big Workshop on November 18th. This ten page or so document is intended for church leaders and educators, and for people who think seriously about these issues. We are also drafting shorter pieces – such as this attempt – for the benefit of people who are more time-challenged, as so many of us are.
As we develop our thinking and draft our documents we see it as very important to ensure our work is based on the best social scientific research and on some of the best theological thinking. We are determined not be seen as hobby horse riders or as amateurish re-inventors of wheels. For instance on the social scientific side we are trying to identify:
- The different alternative measures of progress to GDP (gross domestic product) that have been devised
- The most effective methods that have been proposed for ensuring an economy operates within the limits of global life-support systems
- The best methods for ensuring a radically more equal society, with as near to lower and upper limits to income and wealth as is administratively possible; including in this an equalisation of working hours
- How best to control advertising, and more generally limit artificial consumer demand creation.
Joy in Enough is developing a programme or learning guide that might be taken by, for instance by students on an ordinands’ programme, a sixth-form or university course; or (perhaps in abbreviated form) by a church Lenten course or house group.
The programme will consist of sessions based on such questions as –
- Would you like your life back? (Looking at the current work/life balance)
- What or who is making us consume this way?
- How do we account for the full cost of the products we buy?
- Is globalisation a force for good in a competitive environment?
- What would an alternative economic model look like and what are the barriers to achieving it?
Sub-text is: What role does faith, or other self-valuation forces have on buying attitudes?
At our Big Workshop in Sheffield on November 18th in the afternoon we will run a piloting trial on the second of these sessions: What makes us consume as we do in particular as many of us do in modern western society? This will be very much an interactive sessions, people working in small groups on tables around the hall, working through various cards with set questions and information sources, each group working with a facilitator – based on the ‘café conversations’ model.
So we see ourselves working in partnership with any ‘fellow travellers’ that we see working in the same direction. With Operation Noah, Faith for the Climate and other bodies working explicitly on climate change; with a range of organisations working for equality, for monetary system reform, etc.
We also realise that are many Christian organisations bring together climate and environmental justice, and economic and social justice: the Tearfund’s Restorative Economy project, for instance. We are saying something else in addition: that the root problem is not just the externalities arising from our global economic system – environmental degradation); not just the unequal distribution of the systems benefits, the gross inequality in our society. It’s the questionable nature of the benefits themselves.
So other close neighbours of ours include the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity, the research centre at Surrey University, led by Tim Jackson, and other secular organisations with similar aims.
We also argue that we can experience real joys as we go through the change processes. It is important that we give ourselves the time to share in the experience of joy and wonderment of the kids involved in the crib service on Christmas Eve, of the beauty of the walk in the park on a sunny but cool Spring day, of the first strawberries ripening in the garden, of that concert that your choir performed in. My favourite is the experience of a three generation football game that we had at Crystal Palace leisure centre a few weeks ago! All to be enjoyed on our doorstep, without troubling either your bank manager or the Celestial Manager of your carbon emission count. (More here)
Idealism inspired the early Christians. Was there ever more of a need to model real joy than now?
Our homes are buildings. They are the places that we feel safe and secure, feel encouraged and supported in our care for each other and for the greater common good. On Jesus’s departure the disciples went back to the upper room, then were visited by the Holy Spirit. In JiE we get to know each other in an atmosphere of mutual support and challenge – and I for one have often felt inspired by my colleagues in our four-monthly workshops in Birmingham.
Our task now is to further inspire others.
Please send us your comments on this article. And suggest any other rooms or features this building should have!
Joint Co-ordinator, Joy in Enough June 2017