How do we cure the disease called Apathy, Inertia or Acedia,“the lack of energy to begin new things? Zeal comes from an intense experience of the beauty of things.”

By Matthew Fox, Sept 3, 2019

27 years ago Lester Brown of the World Watch Institute delivered an address to the Shumacher Institute that ended with this statement: “The number one obstacle to an environmental revolution today is:  Human Inertia.” 

Has much changed in these past twenty-five years?  How is human inertia or apathy still today a key issue as we face (or refuse to face) Climate Change and a deadline of eleven years to turn things around?  How do we cure the disease called Apathy or Inertia?

Apathy is one of the seven “deadly” sins which our ancestors called acedia. Acedia is an very encompassing word, much bigger than “sloth” which is how the captains of industry preferred translating it during the industrial revolution.

Thomas Aquinas defines acedia as “the lack of energy to begin new things.”  Acedia includes apathy, boredom; depression; despair; passivity, inertia, uncaring.  Passivity, sitting on a couch (or at a computer screen?) eating potato chips, buying everything advertisers are selling us, and watching the world go by–Yes, even a world that is burning up because people are, well, apathetic and prefer the couch to action.

Is there a medicine for acedia?  Aquinas says there is.  “Zeal [the opposite of acedia] comes from an intense experience of the beauty of things.”  There we have it: The Via Positiva is the medicine for acedia, the Number One Obstacle to saving the environment.  Falling in love again with creation.  With the earth and her creatures.  With our own existence and the Earth’s.  Thus it is the basis of an “Extinction Rebellion.”

“Climate Justice March, Maastricht, Netherlands” 
Photo by Vincent M.A. Janssen from Pexels

Thus we see once again how important the Via Positiva is for carrying on the battles of the Via Transformativa. What we love matters.  In today’s America an entire political party that has committed itself to denying climate change.  A lot of powerful people and institutions have invested in acedia and it is no secret why.  Because their love is not for creation or the planet or its many beautiful but endangered species or even for our species and our great, great grandchildren: Their love is for the money they can make from their stock supporting fossil fuel corporations.  (Or, if they are politicians, the money they rake in from donations.)

See Matthew Fox, “Religion As If Creation Mattered,” in Fox, Wrestling with the Prophets, 31-51.

Matthew Fox, “Misdirected Love,” in Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society, 189-236.