Asceticism Is Good for the Environment

Re-post from 2009

Now, I’m pretty sure that most ascetic masters would say that the reason you engage in ascetic practices is to grow spiritually, to come closer to God, to overcome and be cleansed of your sins.  Be that as it may, there are other benefits to spiritual actions.

Furthermore, in this age when human beings are capable of so much environmental devastation so quickly and so easily, it is appropriate for all spiritual people to be concerned with the state of affairs in the natural creation on this fragile earth, our island home.

First of all, the modern ascetic will consume less food, especially packaged food and food with no nutritional benefits.  If we consider the amount of waste and destruction created by packaged and synthetic (ie. pop, candy, SPAM) food, the environment profits from moderate, healthy eating.  First, less packaging thrown in the garbage.  Second, less of the stuff produced in the first place — I doubt the production of Coca-cola is good for the environment; nor are farming practices that completely sap the soil of any nutritional benefits year after year.

Second, the modern ascetic will use less electricity.  This will be due to self-denial and the breaking of any television and internet addictions.  Ascetics, rather than spending spare time merely entertaining themselves, spend their spare time in prayer, service to the poor, and spiritual growth through the reading of books and godly conversation.  As well, the consumption of less food will mean less cooking and the use of fewer stoves, microwaves, etc, as well as the washing of fewer dishes, and therefore the use of less hot water.  Furthermore, I think that the ascetic will use fewer electric lights and sleep at more rational hours to begin with.

Since the modern ascetic washes fewer dishes, greater water conservation is also a result of the ascetic lifestyle.

Fourth, the modern ascetic will probably walk whenever possible.  Discipline of the body has always been a part of the ascetic regime.  I cannot see an ascetic driving two blocks to buy milk.  Besides this, the ascetic will possibly have fewer reasons to drive — fewer movie rentals, fewer nights at entertainment venues, more time in with friends and family, more time at prayer.  Less driving means fewer air pollutants from the car, fewer repairs and new parts on the car, and less gasoline being processed at the very heart of things.

Mind you, the modern ascetic may need to drive to get to church or social outreach activities.  However, I imagine that the city ascetic will be more inclined to take transit anyway, for there is a certain amount of self-denial in forcing yourself to operate by someone else’s schedule to get somewhere in time, and on transit you are out in the world with others.  Taking transit also helps reduce air pollution.

I can think of only these benefits that accrue from asceticism itself.  However, I think the modern ascetic will also choose to live more “greenly” anyway.  The ascetic will first of all reduce the amount of waste he or she produces.  This is basic to a simple lifestyle.  Use less paper, fewer paper towels, throw things out less frequently, wear older clothes, etc.  Buy less stuff.  The ascetic will choose to reuse things — this is also basic to a simple lifestyle wherein, rather than purchase new things all the time, old things are given new uses and new life.  The ascetic will recycle and compost as much as possible.

The modern ascetic will go through the discipline of avoiding cleaning products that are bad for the created order.  He/she will search for green options in food, clothing, energy as much as are within the ascetic’s budget and geographic region.

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