Friday, August 10, 2018

TTT #21 Too Little Is Almost Always Better than Too Much

For some reason, the 21st chapter of Thirty True Things . . . (TTT), which can be accessed here, seems a bit dated—but it shouldn’t. True, it refers quite a lot to ideas, books, and movements of the 1970s, but the problems being confronted then are still problems now, so I have no hesitation in linking this article to Chapter 21 of TTT.
What is the Problem?
My children probably didn’t appreciate me mentioning it so much, but from time to time I would say to them, “Too little is almost always better than too much.” That saying was not in harmony with the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the age, in which we were living then—or are living now.
In the United States, as in most of the “developed world,” the winds of capitalism have blown over the land so strongly that, fanned by the ubiquitous commercials on television, radio, and newspapers, the desire of most people is for more and more material things.
Generally, people don’t like to think about or use the word greed, especially in referring to themselves, but upon careful analysis it is hard not to think that that word is applicable to much of the consumerism rampant in capitalist societies.
Of course, greed means the excessive desire to acquire more and more, especially more material possessions, than what one needs. But the question is always about what is enough and what is, truly, excessive.
Compared to the vast majority of the people in the world, most of us middle-class people in North America, Europe, and Japan possess much more than we really need.
And considering the sizeable portion of the world’s population who live in poverty, the middle class, to say nothing of the upper class, definitely have excessive possessions. (Of course, many of those middle-class people, especially in this country, have excessive debts as well.)
So it was thinking about the problem of economic imbalance in the world, about matters of justice and equality, that led me to say to my children that too little is almost always better than too much.
What seems like too little is usually enough; too much is usually wasteful and/or extravagant.
Responding to the Problem
In the 1970s there was considerable talk among some people about “simple living.” John V. Taylor, a prominent British missionary and theologian, published in 1975 a thoughtful book called Enough Is Enough.
Back then, “Live simply so that others may simply live” was a popular slogan in some circles. The idea behind that statement, of course, is that those who voluntarily choose to live simply will have more resources to share with those who don’t have enough to live on. 
The simple living movement has been seen more recently: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Simple Living was published in 2000.
Caring for the poor has a long history in the Christian church. The current Catechism of the Catholic Church makes the RCC’s position clear: the Church’s love for the poor “is a part of her constant tradition.”
The same Catechism clearly declares, “Love for the poor is incompatible with immoderate love of riches or their selfish use.” It then cites the stinging words of Archbishop John Chrysostom (c.349~407): “Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life.”
Over-consumption is one of the ways in the contemporary world that the rich steal from the poor. That is the reason one of the things important for everyone to know now is that, especially when it comes to middle-class peoples’ stance toward material things, too little is almost always better than too much.


  1. Nothing to argue with there, Leroy, that is, for those of us who already share both your religious point of view and your socio-economic status. So, one oblique response to the aphorism "too little is almost always better than too much," might be in the question: does one have to be religious (e.g., Xian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, or Buddhist, etc) to achieve the reduction of consumption you seem to be advocating? In fact, even though all of these traditions and their moral codes would advocate some form of selflessness that would apply to proper use and distribution of resources, are their worldviews even necessarily the best ways of accomplishing what is your final goal?

    1. Well, I am glad to know who you are (from the picture), "HPS." What is the meaning of those initials?

      Thanks for your comments and questions. No, I don't suppose one would "have to be religious" in order actively to seek to reduce consumption and to share more freely with others. At the same time, it seems that most of the examples of individuals, or groups/organizations, who have done that are those who have been or are religious.

      What would you see as "the best ways" to accomplish what I have written about, and do you have some good examples to share of people and or groups who have done that without any religious (or worldview) orientation?

  2. To add to your list of thinkers -- the phrase Small Is Beautiful was popularized by E. F. Schumacher with the book's title, and Buddhist economics had some cache in the 60s. Mies van der Rohe, the architect, popularized "Less is more." Another architect and thinker, Buckminster Fuller of the geodesic dome, used the slogan, "more for less." The writing of folks like Wendell Berry have also noted the problems with excess. And PostModernist Georges Bataille built a philosophy around the phenomenon of excess consumption.

    1. Thanks, Vern, for your erudite comments.

      Yes, "Small is Beautiful" (1973) is one of the books I read in the 1970s when I was first thinking the most about this topic.

      And while I know a little about Fuller, I didn't remember him using the slogan "more for less." And, yes, Wendell Berry is a good example of one who has noted the problems with excess.

      I was not familiar with Mies van der Rohe, who thank you for spurring me to learn a bit about him and his minimalist architecture. And I didn't know anything about Bataille either, so thanks for introducing him also. (I learn so much from you!)

      The slogans of Mies van der Rohe and Fuller reminded me of a cookbook, concerning which I found this on Wikipedia just now:

      "The More-with-Less Cookbook is a cookbook commissioned by Mennonite Central Committee in 1976 with the goal of 'helping Christians respond in a caring-sharing way in a world with limited food resources' and 'to challenge North Americans to consume less so others could eat enough.' The first edition of the book has received forty-seven printings, with over 847,000 copies sold worldwide."

  3. Here are comments from Thinking Friend Eric Dollard in Chicago:

    "Thanks, Leroy, for your wise comments, with which I fully agree.

    "Simplicity in living, humility, and compassion for the poor and those who are suffering are all closely linked. Too many of us try to impress others with our possessions; we should instead impress others with how simply one can live and still be happy, or even happier, without a basement full of stuff."

    1. Thanks, Eric. I wish more people agreed, in thought and in action, with what you posted.

    2. I have found that generally everyone needs compassion. Humility and meekness (not milk-toast) are needed. The wealthy just seem to have better facades. Having met several powerful and celebrities (men), I have found that the facade is not nearly as deep with their wives.

  4. I much appreciate Thinking Friend Anton Jacobs (who now lives in eastern Iowa) linking to this blog article (six hours ago) on his Facebook timeline with these words: "Read this profoundly important blog now!"

  5. I am going to have a somewhat different take on your Blog this time Leroy.
    I agree that we are basically a Greedy society, but I think much of it is driven by what you mentioned: we are continually bombarded with TV, Radio, Newspapers, magazines and Now even internet commercials promoting that we deserve and even need more things or stuff as I like to call them.
    This is leading up to why I have a little different take on this subject.
    My wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer`s about 10 years and I have been her sole CareGiver up until next Monday; when she will be admitted into a Memory care facility for Alzheimer`s patients. During our lifetime we acquired a lot more stuff than we needed and had some Good investments that allowed us a more than needed lifestyle. Growing up in the same county in Missouri as you and in a poor family, I had the desire to do Better.
    We had No children, so we have no one to help us in our time of need (Thank goodness we have our LORD) , so in our case we worked hard and acquired more than we needed.
    Now with putting my Dear wife of almost 58 years in a Memory care facility, I feel glad that I acquired more than we needed.
    Even though we have a nice estate, her illness may use All it took us a lifetime to acquire-so was it a Greedy and/or Sinful thing to do what we did; I don`t think so.
    I know I will probably receive a Spiritual rebuttal on this message, but all our life we have and will continue to Serve our LORD and Savior.
    I hesitated to send this reply, but I may receive some Good advice and understanding.
    Bless All,
    John (Tim) Carr

  6. Yesterday, I received, as part of a longer email, the following comments from Thinking Friend Truett Baker in Arizona:

    "Thanks for an outstanding blog--possibly your best or at least one of the best. This is a subject you hear little about from the pulpit. 'Self-love' is probably at the heart of sin. That is why Jesus said that following him began with 'denying yourself.' I believe the Marshall Plan following WWII was one of the best efforts our country has ever made to help others. We gained the respect of other nations that we have since lost. I'm not sure that our present foreign aid policy is as charitably motivated. We use our foreign aid for less laudable ideals."

    1. "At lunch today, June was reading me a bit from "TRU," the Truman Library Institute member magazine that we received this week. One article tells about the Marshall Plan, which President Truman signed on April 3, 1948. As you said, it was a marvelous thing our country did to help a devastated Europe."

  7. Dr. Kevin Payne, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Independence (Mo.), is a Thinking Friend I had not heard from for quite some time, so I was happy to receive the following comments from his this morning:

    I agree! Even as a pastor I constantly struggle with the lure of rampant consumerism. How much should I have? How much should I save? How much should I give away, and to whom? There are times I live with intense guilt over how much I possess (even though I am far from wealthy); at other times I struggle with an intense desire to purchase yet another toy/tractor/tool/etc.

    "Your adage, 'Too little is almost always better than too much,' is a good way of keeping things in proper perspective. Thanks!"

  8. Our capitalist world promotes "rugged individualism" and "self-reliance" rather than sharing. This means we all have to save up to be able to pay for ourselves and our families. This is a problem since many cannot save enough. On the other hand, some save way too much, since they have lost that "sharing" thing. If we have public healthcare, public schools, public transit and so forth, then we need far less saved for ourselves. Better organized communities could cut those needs even further. Why is it so hard to walk anyplace useful?

    Cutting our individual consumption is useful, often even individually beneficial, but much of our world consumption happens on an institutional scale. For instance, I saw recently a report that the US military is the world's largest user of fossil fuel. As we face global warming and over-population we need to improve on all levels, not just the personal. We need to encourage education, peace, freedom and community. We must transcend capitalism.

  9. Pastor Kevin gave me pause to consider this more. I have long admired him and his natural generosity and cheerful encouragement.

    Today I was reading chapter 7 of the Gospel of Mark. Christ says, "It is what comes from inside you that defiles you..." and gives and important list of the evil we find within ourselves. Greed is but one, but having spoken with Christian monks, I know those are not isolated we "sinners", for none is righteous, but each has a particular point of being tripped up - whether greed, sex, murder, pride, or foolishness.

    Last night I attended the ordination of a long-time friend and spiritual mentor dating back to college days (like Kevin). In preparation for communion, we once again confessed our sins generically and were granted absolution. Confession and absolution are my two favorite parts of the service. But confessing our sins (more specifically) to one another, whether presbyter or spiritual mentor, seems essential. Greed is but one, but it must be considered seriously.