There are many traditional religious vows taken by Christians who profess to what used to be called 'the religious life'. In their Benedictine form they were styled poverty, chastity and obedience...with a fourth condition..stability...which meant they were supposed to stay in one place.
The Franciscans often came to style 'poverty' as simplicity. This seems quite a reasonable thing to do, since anyone who has actually experienced real poverty would not want to inflict it on anyone. Poverty is not a good condition, it means inadequate shelter, poor healthcare, and bad diet.
The modern "simplicity" movement pops up all over the place.
It is a paradox in a real sense because while it urges people to live simply, such a goal requires commitment and sophistication of a high degree. Akin, indeed, to the commitment of a religious vow. Something which is all embracing and life embracing.
It speaks of:
- Material simplicity - a non-consumerist lifestyle based on becoming self-realised as persons, rather than having lots of things which some dictate who or what I am. It is significant that much of the history of the last few thousand years has promoted "having" as a key indicator of human success. It is also clear that much perceptive literature, both fictional and non-fictional, has exposed the vanity that is exposed when it is discovered that simply having a great pile of 'stuff' does not bring about true happiness or fulfilment.
- Human focus- a recognition that living and working environments should not be institutionally but humanly focused. Welfare service delivery, for example, and educational systems miss the mark when they service only clients and fail to meet individual need
- Self actualisation -a deliberate intention to empower the individual rather than to promote the complex institution. One might say in the words of the old morality tale...teaching people to fish rather than handing out food parcels... and there is of course
- Ecological awareness - a realisation that we live in an interconnected and interdependent world and that we must care for the whole as well as our small part.
- Personal growth - is a key feature. Perhaps it is the dynamic that weaves all this together and the key strategy which is worked out as we try to live simply.
Some of these thoughts draw upon Duane Elgin author of a Voluntary Simplicity Report published in 1977 (see a precis here)