Growth is not the only evidence of life

Growth is not the only evidence of life

As a young person, I was inspired and motivated by a poster depicting lush green foliage and the caption, “Growth is the only evidence of life.” It is only on later reflection I have understood the limitations of this dangerous assumption. Out of control growth — in cancer cells for example — can be the very antithesis of healthy life.

The morning host on Radio National was interviewing someone recently about the Reserve Bank’s next interest rate move. As a prelude to one of her questions she said something like, “Of course we know that we have to maximise our economic growth, but …”

Why?

Why do we have to maximise our economic growth as if it were an immutable law? As infinite growth is not even possible, is it not time to give some thought to alternative strategies, especially in view of the estimate that we are currently consuming the earth’s resources at 140 per cent of their renewable capacity?

Is it not time for those who value other things beside a higher and higher standard of living to demand and promote a new paradigm that will sustain our environment and place higher value on that which gives more lasting satisfaction and reward — like family time?

The New South Wales State Government recently announced legislation to remove trading restrictions on Boxing Day, claiming this as a win for consumers and the economy. But a fully deregulated ACT is showing no increased economic benefits for its increased shopping hours. The big losers are those shop workers who will now have even less time to spend with family over Christmas and maybe none at all if they have to travel to join relatives and friends.

Yes, they can refuse such shifts, yet many of them know that to do so places them at risk of punitive reductions in their other shifts, a risk they can ill afford to take. As we sit back refreshed and watching the Boxing Day cricket test or the start of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race, do we care about them?

The deregulation of Boxing Day now only leaves such workers protected on Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Christmas Day and half of ANZAC Day.

Where is this “economic growth” obsession taking us? Countries which seem most committed to it have high youth unemployment — 18 per cent in the US (where 1 in 15 people are now considered “poor”), 20 per cent in Britain and much higher in Italy, Greece and Spain.

The Gospel invites us to make spiritual growth our priority. While Jesus cared for the needs of the whole person in his “Consider the lilies of the field” oration (Matthew 6:25-34) he also exhorted his followers to trust God’s gracious provision, while putting our energy into the seeking of kingdom values.

This time between Easter and Pentecost was a special time for Jesus’ followers to focus on their growth in Spirit, preparing them for the momentous days to come when they would need all their resources to take the Good News to the world. Luke says of them, “All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer” (Acts1:14).

Growth is evidence of life. So also is harmony with God and creation, where we value quality over quantity, and share the blessings on the basis of “Enough is enough.”

The Rev. Dr Brian Brown is the Moderator of the Synod of New South Wales and the ACT

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