Overconsumption = stealing?

Matthew 12:36, “But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.”

I’ve read that this quote means that on the day of judgment we will be accountable for every one of our actions/inactions. This makes me wonder about overconsumption, which is rampant in our American society. If I buy more than I need, am I guilty of stealing? I don’t think that we should all live in destitution, but shouldn’t we be worried if we are not living simply? If I have 6 pairs of jeans, and can get by with 2 or 3, is it the same as if I stole 3 pairs of jeans from needy people? I’ve been seriously studying the Gospels lately, and I’m starting to wonder if any American will get into Heaven!

What do you really need though? You can live off of next to nothing, so technically you wouldn’t need anything more than that, right? I think there is a difference between living an inappropriate and wasteful lifestyle and living comfortably. I can only think that living comfortably is not something that should be seen as a sin.

Not that I’m advocating the modern culture of consumerism, which I’m afraid I’m wrapped up in, but in what sense do you equate “over consumption” with theft? The resources we consume (consumer products here) are typically plentiful, there for it’s not like your consuming to the exclusion of others even.

Now one can say there’s call for us to become more concerned and aware about where our products are made, and how this happens. We don’t want to support sweat shops, we what to exhort all nations (and industries) to treat their workers with respect, and pay a (relitive to the local economy) fair living wage.

As Christians as good contience, we should do our best to support these efforts. Like try, more often, to buy fair traded goods.

Maybe it might help if instead of focusing on what we need to give up to avoid over-consumption, we can look at what we can give to others to practice and learn how to love freely and without expectations of return.

Overconsumption isn’t stealing because stealing is taking something that doesn’t belong to you. If you pay for something, no matter how unnecessary the purchase is, then it is by definition yours.

However, as consumers we make many choices and these choices affect other people. We should be charitable in our dealings with other people. We should consider who we are buying from. Are we patronizing a community business or padding the wallet of a huge corporation? Are the workers in the business being treated properly? We should consider the impact of our purchases on the environment. If we have more than we need, how can we use our surplus to improve the livs of others?

It might not be a sin to ignore these things, but it’s certainly a virtue to take our conscience with us when we go shopping.

I recommend reading over what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about the Seventh Commandment:

CCC 2401-2463

Overconsumption can be a sin. You might even say it’s a sin against the Seventh Commandment. But I don’t think you could say it is literally equivalent to theft.

This Lenten season, it’s good to take stock of these things, but we also need to avoid hyper-scrupulosity in that regard. If you’re spending money on tons of clothes that you don’t need at the expense of helping the poor, that could be a problem.

In any case, if this is a concern of yours, I would recommend sitting down with a priest to talk about it. Even better would be to have a regular spiritual director to discuss these issues with. These types of issues can be difficult to sort through on our own. It helps to have a “seasoned professional” guide us through it.

Over-consumption of consumer goods isn’t as much the sin of theft as the sin of idolatry and/or greed.

Over-consumption of finite resources like petroleum though, is in another category. That comes closer to stealing and here’s how: petroleum follows the laws of supply-and-demand. When we over-consume say, gasoline in a Hummer or by exceeding the speed limit, we are contributing to a rise in gas prices.

And that has a direct impact on other consumers of the resource. It probably doesn’t affect another Hummer user who is rich enough to afford it, but think of someone in a low-wage job that lives in an area with poor public transportation, and is dependent on a used car to get to work to feed his family; a $1 a gallon rise in the price of gas may not be a big impact on rich consumers, but it may prevent people with low incomes from properly providing the necessities of life to their families.

So in essence our wastefulness is taking money out of the other’s pocket, by taking a resource that technically is a shared resource, and taking more than our share is certainly IMHO sinful.

Let’s see if I can explain… There are finite resources in the world. God loves everyone and it is his desire that everyone’s needs be met. Thus, he made enough resources for everyone to have food to eat, clothes to wear, and be sheltered from the elements. Another way of saying this is that God made enough for everyone. In my mind I can see him allocating the goods of the universe to everyone. So if I have too much stuff, then I have taken someone else’s allocated portion of goods. This would mean that I have stolen from them, even though I don’t know who they are (specifically by name).

I know that in the legal/commercial sense, if I buy something, then I own it and I didn’t steal it. But as between me and God, isn’t it correct to say that I stole the unneeded goods from the people he intended the goods to go to?

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