Counting the Cost

There was a pretty nasty wreck yesterday just before I left work, and it had the highway shut down for quite a while. Fortunately I managed to avoid most of the traffic. Apparently a semi changed lanes and hit a truck, then an SUV hit that. Three people were killed. A man lost his whole family.

I am not a Luddite or an environmentalist, and this is not about cars specifically. It’s about “progress” generally. But I think cars are a good example of how we need to seriously count the cost of things. (Medical technology is a great example too, but cars are so mundane that it’s easier to write about.)

I’m sure that in the thousands of years of human history predating the automobile, some people were killed while travelling. The occasional person probably fell off the wagon and got run over. But I’ve never heard of a thirty buggy pile up.

I appreciate the usefulness of cars. Because of cars, my children can go to a high quality zoo. We can visit relatives who live more than a couple of miles away. I do not have to live within walking distance of my work. We can go to church in the next town over. There are things like ambulances and fire engines. I appreciate the economy that automobiles enable.

But on the other hand, cars come with a cost. Between a car payment, insurance, and gasoline, a car will run you 300 – 400 per month. Cars kill lots of people. We talk about gun control and how many lives could theoretically be saved by banning guns, but that number is dwarfed by the amount of people killed in car accidents. Cars pollute the environment, make us dependent on oil, and introduce the curse of oil to oil-rich nations. Cars enable mobility, but the resulting society virtually _demands_ that we make use of that mobility. I do not have to live within a few miles of my workplace, but due to zoning rules I _cannot_ live that close either. I can go shop at Wal-Mart, but consequently there are almost no small grocery stores. I can easily go do stuff, but consequently we go do stuff, and many families don’t even consistently eat supper together. Automobiles and trains enable a magnificent economy, which just also manages to destroy many local industries and homogenize culture to the point that local culture is generally lost. I can go to Starbuck’s in any city and get the same coffee. And so there is only one small coffee shop in Sherman, and it is floundering. Automobiles enable an economy that makes me rich, so society basically demands that I _be_ rich. It’s extremely difficult to “opt out”.

Automobiles may well be a net good. I do not own a horse or a bicycle (although the latter would surely do me good). This very moment, my wife and kids are getting into our minivan to drive 50 miles or so to visit with family and do fun stuff. But what is the cost?

What is the economic cost? What is the environmental cost? The cost in human lives lost in accidents? The emotional and social cost of running and doing? The cost to communities?

The same thing could be said about lots of things. Computers. TV. The Internet. Blogs. Franchises. Industrialized society. Schools. Antibiotics and immunizations. Mass-produced goods and food. Newpapers. All-news channels. My PDA. Cell phones. Telephones.

I know that I am not nearly as critical as I ought to be about all the trappings of society. It may well be that I would carefully and critically think about these things and wind up embracing them. But I do not generally bother to think carefully about them. Unless there is a glaring problem (“Warning: Use of this product will cause you to explode!”) I just go ahead.

“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” (1 Thess 5:21) is primarily instruction for spiritual matters, but I don’t think it stops there. And many of these things I’ve mentioned are generally spiritual matters anyway, or have signficant spiritual ramifications. We know that discipleship is a day-to-day way of living your life. Most of the things I’ve mentioned directly impact how I live my day-to-day life, and are therefore generally spiritual matters.

Does staying up to the minute with breaking news help or hinder my sanctification? Am I better for reading Fox, CNN, Yahoo (AP, Reuters), and Drudge? Does it say something about me that I use an RSS aggregator to keep up with news sources and blogs? What impact does the fact that I am _always_ reachable by cell phone or pager have on me? How compatible is my way of life, with the Lordship of Jesus of Nazareth? The man who walked pretty much everywhere and by His own testimony had no place to lay His head, who preached only one recorded sermon of any appreciable length, wrote nothing, and spent most of His time with just a handful of guys? Can you really imagine Jesus with a cellphone? Is keeping on top of news from multiple sources compatible with my Lord who spent large amounts of time in solitude and prayer? Can I meditate on God’s law (Ps 1) with the interruptions and busyness that are the warp and woof of my life? Can I really train my children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Deut 6, Eph 6) with the life we live?

I’m not a very busy guy, not at all. I don’t go and do much. I am exaggerating a little bit in this post. But I *am* describing many people I know. And I am probably not nearly as close to leading a quiet life (1 Thes 4:11) as I like to think.

I don’t know what a quiet, simple life would look like. I don’t know how to get there. But I do feel pretty confident that we’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere along the way.

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One Response to Counting the Cost

  1. Rong says:

    Staying with your car perspective, my Dad has always blamed the car for the break up of the extended family in America. His perspective is from that of the post WWII explosion of the automobile to the average consumer. It allowed familys to move further apart because of the sense that you could hop in the car and go visit. But that’s not the same as my being able to walk up the street to Moms to help her out for 5 minutes.
    On a side note I look at many immigrant families and see the way that they have 2-3 generations in the same home and think to myself that they’ve got the right idea. Grandma gets to help Mom out with the kids. The husbands brother helps bring in the extra income needed to afford the nicer house so the wife(s) don’t have to work. Everyone pitches in to watch Grandpa so no one person is burdended with hospice care, etc. etc.
    Maybe the real problem is not with our technology but in the way that we allow it to change our lives.

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