An Augustinian Understanding of Love in an Ecological Context


In this paper, I show how Augustine’s analysis of fundamental human loves provides insight into some of the anthropological determinants of ecological degradation. This discussion is framed by Augustine’s distinction between caritas, as seeking one’s final end in God, and cupiditas, as seeking one’s final end in that which is other than God. I argue that different forms of cupiditas can be discerned in ecologically destructive consumption habits and in seeking to control the natural world.

In an especially rich passage, Augustine articulates the two fundamentally different loves whose analysis structures so much of his thought. Through an imagined interlocutor, Augustine poses the following problem. “The things which are in the world God made, that is, the sky and the earth, the sea, the sun, the moon, the stars, all adornments of the heavens. What are the adornments of the sea? All creeping things. What [are those] of the land? Animals, trees, flying creatures. These are in the world, God made them. Why should I not love what God has made?”[1] Augustine then replies,

Let the Spirit of God be in you so that you may see that all these things are good, but woe to you if you have loved the creatures and abandoned the Creator! ... [Let] Satan not stealthily creep up on you, saying what he usually says: 'Be happy in God's creatures. Why did he make these things except for you to be happy?' And they are intoxicated and perish and forget their Creator; while they use created things not temperately but wantonly, the Creator is despised. ... God does not forbid you to love these things, but not to devote your love [to them] for the attainment of happiness.[2]

There are two issues I want to highlight. First, in this passage, Augustine's central point is that we are not to seek our happiness, our final end, in things of this world. Properly ordered love seeks God as its final end; improperly ordered love seeks its rest in the world. These loves are mutually incompatible as they entail divergent final commitments. This is the essence of Augustine's distinction between caritas and cupiditas, love of God and improper love of the world. I will seek briefly to clarify this complex distinction in the next section of the paper. Second, Augustine maintains, almost in passing, that using “created things not temperately but wantonly” implies an improper love of the world, implies cupiditas. In the third section of the paper, I seek to show that cupiditas is an insightful way to understand one of the driving forces of ecological destruction.[3]

Caritas and Cupiditas

While Augustine emphasizes love as continuous movement, as desire, he does this in accord with his understanding of this life as a pilgrimage in which there is no final rest because our final good cannot be found in this world.[4] Still, love is not only manifest in the ceaseless search for the object of love, it is also rest in that object once attained. “Love, then, yearning to have what is loved, is desire; and having and enjoying it, is joy.”[5] As tending toward its end, love is desire. As resting in its end, love is joy. Joy or desire, then, are love as qualified by a particular relation to the object or end, either possessing it (joy) or seeking it (desire).[6]

Augustine's central concern is the articulation and defense of his understanding of the proper object of love, an object which we are to desire above all else and wherein is our final rest. Augustine insists that there are only two real, fundamental orientations, two possible final objects of love. “[C]aritas the motion of the soul toward the enjoyment of God for His own sake, and the enjoyment of one's self and of one's neighbor for the sake of God; but cupiditas is a motion of the soul toward the enjoyment of one's self, one's neighbor, or any corporeal thing for the sake of something other than God.”[7] Caritas is love seeking its proper object and resting in it once possessed; it is cleaving to God. Cupiditas is love seeking to rest in an improper object; it is cleaving to the world. In cupiditas, we become “conformed to this world by placing our final end in such [temporal] goods and in directing our desire for happiness towards them.”[8]

Caritas and cupiditas are not, however, to be simply distinguished as “love of God” versus “love of the world”; for caritas entails proper love of the world. Cupiditas is improper love of the world; it is seeking one's final happiness in the world rather than in God. Caritas is love of God, from which flows proper love of the world. This proper love of the world simply is love of use. The crucial distinction between uti and frui, love of use and love of enjoyment, allows Augustine to articulate a proper love of the world, instead of denying that any love for temporal things is permissible.

It is to this distinction that we now turn in order further to clarify the distinction between, and content of, caritas and cupiditas. “To enjoy something is to cling to it for its own sake. To use something, however, is to employ it in obtaining that which you love, provided that it is worthy of love. For an illicit use should be called rather a waste or an abuse.”[9] The love of use is, strictly speaking, only concerned with the properly ordered love. Indeed, it is this category of love (i.e., love of use) that makes it possible to speak of an order of love, since it make possible the notion of relative ends. This love of use does not exclude delight, but it passes through (and does not seek final rest in) this delight, and refers it to God. “When that which is loved is near, it necessarily brings with it delight also. If you pass through this delight and have referred it to that goal where you should remain, you are using it and may only improperly be said to enjoy it. But if you cling to that delight and remain in it, making it the end of your rejoicing, then you may truly be said to be enjoying it.”[10] We are now in a position to state the relation between the two sets of distinctions - caritas/cupiditas and uti/frui. Caritas is right enjoyment and right use; it is enjoyment of God and proper use of the world. In caritas, we do indeed love God's creatures, but we love them with a love that is referred to God. We do not love them as the final end, the source of value, but as relative ends who receive their value from God. If we were to love any creature, including another human, as a final end, as something to be enjoyed in itself, this would entail seeking our blessedness, our final happiness, in this creature. And clearly, this is idolatry for Augustine since God alone can be the source of blessedness.[11] God is the criterion of evaluation, the source of value, by which the value of all creatures is to be judged and it is by this judgment that we properly love.

In cupiditas, the created order or something in the created order becomes the criterion of evaluation; it becomes the source of value.[12] Cupiditas is wrong enjoyment and wrong use; it is illicit enjoyment of some temporal things, abuse or misuse of others in service of those which would be enjoyed. In sum, the caritas/cupiditas distinction, together with its coordinate uti/frui distinction, is a device by which Augustine can retain his powerful stance against idolatry while at the same time arguing that God's creation is the proper object of love. In caritas, love of use is the love for, and even transitory delight in, created things; it is the love of relative ends, which are good, but not the final good.[13]

§3: Cupiditas: Loving the world to death

Before turning directly to the relevance of Augustine's analysis for the current ecological crisis, it is important to purchase some clarity on the forces that drive this crisis.[14] For this, we will need to shift gears for a brief analysis of the current situation. It is widely agreed that the primary forces driving global ecological degradation are: (1) the population of human beings and the continuing high levels of population growth, (2) the consumption patterns of industrialized nations, and (3) dramatic inequities between rich and poor, both within and between nations.[15] These factors are powerfully interrelated and interdependent. For example, insofar as high income is correlated to low population growth, the inequities in income and resources may be a contributory cause of high population growth. Likewise, high consumption may require these inequities in order to sustain the necessary cheap supply of resources, thereby encouraging the penetration of the economic, political, and social systems which serve these interests.

In this paper, I will concentrate on the second of these three issues, the issue of consumption. I concentrate on this issue for a number of reasons. First, an argument can be made that consumption is causally implicated in the other two factors. Second, in industrialized countries, it is probably the most fundamental problem in terms of ecological degradation. Third, as developing nations emerge into fully industrialized nations, there is evidence that they tend to adopt the values and consumption patterns of Western nations.

Still, that the consumption patterns of individuals in industrialized nations is a major cause of ecological degradation is an empirical claim which, though intuitively appealing, must be supported by some sort of empirical evidence. There is considerable literature in this area, here I will try only to give a very brief account of this connection between consumption and ecological degradation by drawing on the work of Alan Durning of the Worldwatch Institute. Durning himself draws on several studies in arguing:

Our way of life depends on enormous and continuous inputs of the very commodities that are most damaging to the earth: energy, chemicals, metals, and paper. In the United States, those four industries are all in the top five of separate industry-by-industry rankings for energy intensity and toxic emissions, and similarly dominate the most-wanted lists for polluting the air with sulphur and nitrogen oxides, particulates, and volatile organic compounds. ... In particular, the fossil fuels that power the consumer society are its most ruinous input. Wresting coal, oil, and natural gas from the earth permanently disrupts countless habitats; burning them causes an overwhelming share of the world's air pollution; and refining them generates huge quantities of toxic waste.[16]

This analysis is borne out by statistics showing that people in industrialized countries, while accounting for only 21% of the earth's population, consume 75% of its energy, 80% of its iron and steel, 81% of its paper, and 61% of its meat.[17] The impact of this consumption on the environment is tremendous. It causes acid rain, species extinction, human health concerns, pollution of water resources, potential global warming, ozone depletion, etc.[18]

Now back to Augustine. Drawing on the First Epistle of John, Augustine distinguishes the three ways in which cupiditas manifests itself: “the concupiscence of the flesh, and the concupiscence of the eyes, and the ambition of the world.”[19] Augustine makes it clear that these forms of concupiscence are often found in combination. For example, he states that “riches ... are sought for the purpose of providing for one or another of these three lusts, or for two of them, or for all or them.”[20]

Let us now turn to the first of the three forms of concupiscence. The concupiscence of the flesh is “the desire of those things that pertain to the flesh, as food and sexual intercourse and other things of this sort.”[21] This concupiscence is “present in delight in all the senses and in every pleasure.”[22] It includes, for example, “the pleasure of the fleshly eyes”[23] in which lovers of the world walk by the corporeal light which “seasons ... this world's life with an alluring and perilous sweetness.”[24] Though we may properly take pleasure in the things of the flesh, this pleasure ought never be one's final end.

In an instructive example of this lust overcome, Augustine tells of his experience with music. “The delights of the ear had more firmly entangled me and subdued me, but you broke them and set me free. I confess that when melodies that your words bring to life are sung by a sweet and well-trained voice, I now find therein a little rest, not such that I cling to them, but such that I may rise up when I wish.”[25] The problem, then, is not that one ought never find sensible delight in things of this world, but, as we saw earlier, such rest must always be transitory and never seek to be final. In another example, Augustine writes of the concupiscence of the fleshy eyes.

Beyond count are the things made by various arts and crafts in garments, shoes, utensils, and implements of every sort ... far exceeding all necessary and temperate use and devout purpose! Men have added all these to the allurements of the eyes, outwardly pursuing the things they make, but inwardly forsaking him by whom they themselves have been made, and destroying what they themselves have been made to be. ... [T]hey do not derive [from these things] a norm for use.[26]

These two illustrations serve to clarify the essential form of this concupiscence. This lust of the flesh carries one beyond the limits of her needs and blinds her to the proper norm of use, so that she does not find legitimate and proper rest in the things of the senses, but cleaves to these things and is unable to let go when she wishes; instead of passing through these things to God, she seeks to enjoy them. The senses lead the reason instead of reason the senses.[27] This lust is a losing of one's self in the means, a forgetfulness that worldly things refer beyond themselves. This lust is not fundamentally social in nature, but centers on the relation between one's senses and objects in the world.

This type of concupiscence can be manifest ecologically destructive patterns of behavior. If consumption is one of the primary drivers ecological degradation, as I argued above, then concupiscence of the flesh is ecologically destructive since it may lead one to seek worth, being, life, meaning through the pleasure afforded by consumption of material goods. Further, this concupiscence leads to ever-increasing consumption in the vain attempt to overcome the anxiety inherent in loving the world. (Such anxiety is inherent because the world can never secure the final worth of the individual.) Indeed, there is evidence both that individuals in our culture increasingly define themselves in terms of material possessions,[28] and that we tend to feel pleasure in ever-increasing consumption rather than simply a high-level of consumption.[29]

Let us now turn to the concupiscence of the eye which is not a concupiscence of the bodily senses but of the soul; it is not concerned with pleasure but with what Augustine terms “curiosity.” It is “a vain and curious desire cloaked over with the title of knowledge and science, not to take pleasure in the flesh, but to acquire new experience through the flesh ... [It] is rooted in the appetite for knowledge.”[30] This concupiscence is concerned not only with the eye because “seeing” here pertains to any of the senses when they are engaged in the acquisition of knowledge. Augustine gives several examples to illustrate this lust. “Because of this morbid curiosity, monstrous sights are exhibited in the show places. Because of it, men proceed to search out the secrets of nature, things beyond our end, to know which profits us nothing, and of which men desire nothing but the knowing. Such curiosity is also the motive when things are investigated by magic arts and with the same purpose of perverted science.”[31] Augustine goes on to complain of the many trivial and contemptible things by which our curiosity is tempted daily, such as a lizard catching flies or a dog chasing a rabbit. He worries about the inclination of his heart in turning attention to these things, which may draw him away from some important thought and leave him vacant-minded. He worries about his heart becoming a receptacle for such vain curiosities.

To our modern ears, and perhaps to Augustine's contemporaries, these worries themselves seem rather trivial and over-scrupulous. They seem to condemn all curiosity of the world by labeling it as vain. Surely, such condemnation cannot be right since presumably we are designed by God to look with curiosity and wonder at God's curious and wonderful creation. Be this as it may, there is an important point Augustine is making, a point not dependent on these triviality examples.

If we consider the nature of this concupiscence in Augustine's definition and in the examples of novel entertainment, the pursuit of knowledge, and the investigations of magic arts, we can gain insight into its essential form. It is a continual seeking of novel experience as an end in itself; one seeks to rest in, to enjoy, this pursuit itself. It is, for example, a lust continually pushing the boundaries of entertainment in search of nothing beyond the new, for the experience of the novel. This pushing of the boundaries is not in service to some larger end and finally in the service of God, but is an expression of the lust itself. The lust is the very pushing of the boundaries. It excludes any context, any constraint, any end, other than the pursuit itself. It is not in the service of anything other than the very pursuit.[32] In the pursuit of knowledge, for example, what is pursued is the knowledge itself, so that the object of study becomes, as it were, a means to this pursuit. If the object of study is, as Augustine says, the “secrets of nature,” these secrets are pursued with a kind of intensity and lack of proper restraint that belies the idolatrous character of the pursuit in which we seek “nothing but the knowing.” The concupiscence of the eyes centers on one's noetic faculties in their search for novelty in the world. With this understanding of Augustine's essential point, it is not the search for knowledge or entertainment that is condemned but the idolatrous desire to make that pursuit an end in itself.

I venture the suggestion that this concupiscence may be found in our culture in the intensity of the pursuit of enhanced technological power. The two sides of the pursuit, the search for the knowledge to make technological progress possible and the ready reception of the new technology by consumers, may reflect the distinction within this vain curiosity between the pursuit of knowledge and the pursuit of novel entertainment. These pursuits can never set their own limits since the pursuit itself is the end. This pursuit of knowledge to increase technological power for its own sake is ecologically relevant because this technological power is the primary means used to gain control of nature (whether the control sought is humble rational control or arrogant mastery). The continuous pursuit of the latest technology by consumers is ecologically relevant because it drives further consumption of the earth's resources.

Augustine argues that the final temptation of cupiditas is the ambition of this age or the ambition of the world. “The ambition of this age is pride. It wishes to boast of itself in honors: a man seems important to himself, whether from riches or some power.”[33] It is the “wish to be feared and loved by men”[34] not because of God but in place of God. It is the desire for praise and power.[35] The essential form of this concupiscence is not that we find transitory delight in praise or even in power (for praise, properly received, and power, properly wielded, might lead one to God), but that we find more delight in them than in truth.[36] Like all sin, the problem lies in the confusion of means with ends, of use with enjoyment. With this lust, the objects in which we seek happiness, the ends we pursue, are many, but the final end is to increase our status, our position, our rank, our stature in the eyes of others and thereby in our own eyes.[37] Unlike the concupiscence of flesh or of the eyes, the ambition of this world is primarily social in character. The increase we seek in our own stature is vis-a-vis objects which raise our stature in the eyes of others.[38]

This concupiscence can be manifest in numerous ways. In any activity which we do solely in order that we may receive praise, or gain power, the ambition of the world has triumphed. For example, the ecologically relevant consumption of resources that results from concupiscence of the flesh might also result from the desire for praise, prestige, or power. In our culture, where social standing and prestige are often based on the possession of material symbols of success or popularity, the lust for social approval may manifest itself in such consumption. Further, the pursuit of knowledge and technological power may not simply be ends in themselves, but might also be expressions of the inordinate desire for profits, prestige, or power, that is, of “the ambition of this age.” It is likely that these forms of concupiscence are often intermixed and can be finally separated only for analytic purposes.

In any event, the ways in which pride or the ambition of this world can be manifest are too plentiful to explore here. In concentrating on an ecological relevant form of this lust, I will briefly examine its manifestation as the desire for arrogant mastery over the natural world. In pursuing this task, I will be extending Augustine's explicit examples and elaborations of the ambition of this world, but still staying within his most general formulation which identifies this ambition with pride.

This arrogant desire for mastery over nature is rarely explicitly articulated, and perhaps rarely felt in just these terms. Instead, its articulation comes in a more subtle and recognizable guise which implies but never states this arrogance. This guise is found in economic theory and even some moral theory in which the final ends we seek are said to be mere matters of preference, constrained only by others having the same opportunities to pursue their ends. The economic system is to be put into the service of meeting the aggregate of these preferences. Viewed from the vantage point of Augustine's analysis of cupiditas and caritas, this can be viewed as a theoretical defense of cupiditas. The attempt of humans to define our own final end simply is cupiditas; God is given as our final end and our task is to turn to this end for which we are made.

In practical terms, this theoretical defense of cupiditas implies the desire for arrogant mastery over creation. Once our preferences are seen as the final end, they become the source of value and the natural world becomes the means by which the economic system seeks to fulfill them. And so nature is viewed as storehouse of resources for human exploitation. To exploit this storehouse most efficiently we must break open its deepest secrets and master its inner workings, only then will we finally be in control of our destinies and able to fulfill the ends of our choosing. This is the idolatry that works to authenticate and fulfill other idolatries we might have.[39]

Caution is in order here, however, because, on the one hand, control of nature may be properly humble and in the service of ends that are properly referred to the final end of God. On the other hand, such control of nature may be a reflection of the desire for arrogant mastery in the service of idolatrous final ends, which may include the explicit desire for mastery over nature but need not. Sorting these matters out is clearly not simply the task of evaluating the results of the investigations aimed at control, since the distinction between cupiditas and caritas is primarily a matter of the motivation for one's actions.[40] Nevertheless, the reasons for acting have implications for the type of action that is engaged in and I take it that (1) the explicit theoretical formulations implying that value is to be understood in terms of human preferences and (2) the predominant response to the ecological crisis of turning to further technological control rather than questioning ourselves and the ends to which we are devoted are at least indications that such a desire for mastery over nature exists, perhaps as a second-order desire that will enable the fulfillment of our more felt desires.

Seeking such mastery is not only idolatrous, but also finally ecologically destructive. For example, there is often massive and ecologically unstable simplification required for humans to master any segment of the natural world (needed as well as is a continual escalation of control in order to maintain a degree of stability) .[41] Furthermore, we are often unable to predict the full range of the consequences of our technological advances - the combustion engine and aerosol sprays are two salient examples. If the desire driving these actions is the desire for arrogant mastery rather than humble rational control, problems such as these will be minimized or ignored or simply not seen because this mastery is either in the service of our chosen final ends or is itself the final end - so it is in light of this mastery or the final ends it serves that all else is evaluated. Those problems or potential problems which threaten this mastery will be dealt with, if at all, by a program which seeks to disrupt as little as possible the end of mastery or the ends this mastery serves, which will usually mean that problems will be dealt with by attempted further mastery.


Technology and the modern economy have clearly produced goods and services that aid humans in living creatively, humanly. Technology has the potential to aid us in alleviating many important problems, including the problem of ecological degradation. My point in this paper is simply that an improper choice of ends (cupiditas) has caused consumption of resources to soar, technological growth to acquire its own momentum, and mastery of nature to become a dominant, if unspoken, theme in modern culture. When humans are not properly oriented to God, there is always deleterious empirical consequences - the consequence I have explored is that of ecological degradation.


[1]   Augustine, Tactates on the First Epistle of John, trans. John W. Rettig (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1988), Tractate 2.11.

[2]   Ibid.

[3]   This may sound counterintuitive. Given that cupiditas is love of the world as one's final end, one might think that such love would never destroy that which it loves. Yet, properly understood, this is what I will be arguing.

[4]   See, e.g., Tractates on the First Epistle of John, 4.6.2 and 7.1.

[5]   Augustine, City of God, trans. Marcus Dods (New York: The Modern Library, 1950), Book 14.7.

[6]   I think it fair to say that these are the two primary ways love is manifest for Augustine. Love is fear or sorrow only in a derivative sense. That is, one must first have desire for or joy in an object before one fears to lose it or sorrows over obstacles preventing one's attainment of it.

[7]   Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, trans. D.W. Robertson, Jr. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1958), Book 3.10. See also Tractates on the First Epistle, 2.8.2.

[8]   Augustine, The Trinity, trans. Stephen McKenna (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1963), Book 13.21.

[9]   On Christian Doctrine, 1.4.

[10] Ibid., 1.33.

[11] See, e.g., On Christian Doctrine, 1.33.

[12]  Inevitably this primary confusion of orientation leads to a further confusion of breaking the harmony of the created order by using the higher for the sake of the lower.

[13] The choice (to use the term loosely) between caritas and cupiditas is of fundamental importance because we become conformed to the objects of our love. In caritas, the soul is affected with eternity; we become true images of God. In cupiditas, the soul is affected with temporality; we become like the world. In turning to the world one turns to that which literally has less Being, and “being turned toward himself, his being [becomes] more contracted than it was when he clave to Him who supremely is.” (City of God, 14.3)

[14] This there is a global ecological crisis is at least indicated by following. If today is a typical day on our planet, human beings will destroy 160 square miles of tropical rainforest, create 72 square miles of desert, add 78 million tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, erode 71 million tons of topsoil, eliminate between 40 and 100 species, and increase our population by 255,000. (Orr 1992, World Resources 1994-95) We are doing this today; we did this yesterday; we will do it tomorrow. By year's end the numbers will be mind-numbing: between 26 and 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere, a total population increase of 93 million, an area of tropical rainforest the size of Michigan lost.

[15] See, e.g., Arthur Reitze, “Environmental Policy - It is Time for a New Beginning,” Columbia Journal of Environmental Law, 1989, 14 (1), 111-156, and, Holmes Rolston, Conserving Natural Value (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994).

[16] Alan Durning, How Much is Enough?: The Consumer Society and the Future of the Earth (New York: WW Norton & Company, 1992), p. 52.

[17] See A Matter of Fact (Ann Arbor, MI: Pierian Press), p. 156.

[18] Food production is also an area with intense ecological consequences. For example, beef is a favored food in affluent countries, with its consumption growing in proportion to economic development. Currently, cattle graze on nearly 29% of the landmass of the United States and, together with other livestock, consume about 70% of the American grain harvest. (Jeremy Rifkin, Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture [New York: Penguin Books, 1993], pp. 153 and 160.)  The raising of cattle, primarily for the diet of the affluent, has tremendous consequences for the natural environment. Rifkin offers a list of its global consequences: “Domesticated cattle are responsible for much soil erosion in the temperate regions of the world. Cattle grazing is a primary cause of the spreading desertification process... Cattle ranching is responsible for the destruction of much of the earth's remaining tropical rain forests... Cattle are a chief source of organic pollution... Growing herds of cattle are exerting unprecedented pressure on the carrying capacity of natural ecosystems, edging entire species of wildlife to the brink of extinction. [The methane from cattle waste is] a growing source of global warming” (Beyond Beef, pp. 185-86). Cattle are very inefficient in converting feed to beef, with only about 11% of the feed going to produce the beef itself. When one considers that it takes 16 calories of energy for the average American farmer to produce 1 calorie of food crop (versus 1 calorie of energy to produce 85 calories of food crop for an average Chinese wet farmer), one begins to get a picture of the tremendous use of energy, with all of its attendant ecological consequences, that is involved in beef production, and, to a lesser extent, in meat production generally.

[19] 1 John 2:16. See, e.g., Confessions, 10.30 or Tractates on the First Epistle of John, 2.12.Again, “[t]hese are the three things, and you find nothing whereby human cupidity may be tempted except either by the desire of the flesh or the desire of the eyes or the ambition of this age.” (Tractates on the First Epistle of John, 2.13)

[20] Confessions, 10.37.60.

[21] Tractates on the First Epistle of John, 2.12.

[22] Confessions, 10.35.54.

[23] Ibid.,10.34.51.

[24] Ibid., 10.34.52.

[25] Ibid., 10. 33.49.

[26] Ibid., 10.34.53. It is also possible to err on the side of severity in seeking to overcome this lust and so abstain altogether from the delights of the senses. This, for Augustine, is a mistake since it forgoes the benefits these things may have in bringing one closer to God.

[27] Ibid., 10.33.49.

[28] See, e.g., Russell Belk, “Cultural and Historical Differences in Concepts of Self and Their Effects on Attitudes Toward Having and Giving,” Advances in Consumer Research, 1984, 11: 753-760.This has occurred in tandem with an economy that has become dependent on ever-increasing consumption and alternative (and perhaps idolatrous) sources of meaning, such as community, religion, and extended family, have decreased in significance.

[29] See, e.g., Robert Frank, Choosing the Right Pond: Human Behavior and the Quest for Status (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985).

[30] Augustine, Confessions (New York: Doubleday, 1960), Book 10.35.54.

[31] Ibid., 10.35.55.

[32] For Augustine, of course, if one's pursuit of knowledge is truly an end in itself and not in service, even in some attenuated fashion, to the final end of God, it is vanity, and, in the last analysis, idolatry.

[33] Tractates on the First Epistle of John, 2.13.

[34] Confessions, 10.36.59.

[35] Though it might also be displayed in the conceit and self-praise in which a person grows complacent in themselves and makes no effort to please others.

[36] Confessions, 10.37.61.

[37] In sum, the final end is to increase our very selves by choosing something in the world as the object of our love, rather than choosing God as our final end.

[38] Though it is also possible that in self-conceit we concern ourselves exclusively with our stature in our own eyes.

[39] In this sense, it underlies the concupiscence of the flesh and of the eyes and even some forms, such as those given above, of the ambition of this world. In another sense, it lies between the concupiscence of the flesh and the concupiscence of the eyes because while it seeks to fulfil the concupiscence of the flesh, it relies on the concupiscence of the eyes for the knowledge that will supply the power to master nature, though this knowledge might also be gained by those seeking profit, prestige, and power.

[40] We would need to make further distinctions between the motivation and the result, between the result and the uses it is put to, and between the uses it is put to and the motivation for putting it to these uses, etc.

[41] Such simplification may be manifest, for example, in the massive simplification of life as development destroys the habitat of untold numbers of species, or in genetically engineered mono-culture crops which are all vulnerable to the same disease and so require the massive spraying of pesticides and the resultant poison of the environment, or in intensive farming techniques which result in massive erosion, or in the potential for cloning mammals which would result in problems analogous to those of mono-culture, etc. I am not making the strong claims that any individual engaged in these practices in idolatrous, indeed, as they see it, they may have no choice if they are to feed their families. But perhaps that is just the point; there does seem to be something a bit awry in a system which seems to require ecologically destructive practices and, by implication, mastery over the natural world.

Emerging Church Economics

There are too many errors in this book for unsophisticated readers. McLaren’s book has value only to readers who recognize the mistakes but are willing to learn about a position that springs from ideology and a theological framework. For me, the emerging church movement is enough to consider by itself without flawed economics intertwined

Mordecai Kaplan: Rethinking Judaism for the New World

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