Enjoying All Things in Common: Toward a Theology of Hoarding (2021)
Type of ContentJournal Article
PublisherUniversity of Canterbury
- Journal Articles 
AuthorsPhelps, Hollisshow all
We have probably all heard reports and seen video footage of people hoarding numerous essential and, in some cases, non-essential items during the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted the global economy and life in general beginning in early 2020. Although hoarding, as a particular socio-economic practice, may come across as frustrating but ultimately benign, in what follows, I draw on theological, philosophical, psychoanalytical, and socio-economic thought to outline an understanding of hoarding, broadly construed, as endemic to the myth of scarcity that drives capitalist economies. Like most myths, the idea that resourses are limited and must be gained via competition, is not so much descriptive but prescriptive of reality: it provides ideological cover for certain practices, in this case accumulation and the refusal to share basic goods with each other, that is, communally. The myth of scarcity drives hoarding, justifying it as perfectly rational, but there are other stories or myths that we can adopt that are not just less destructive but may, in fact, incite us to think otherwise about our relationship to things, differently than the myth of scarcity envisions. To make these claims, in the first part of this paper I briefly outline a different vision of social existence through a philosophical analysis of the so-called Christian communism of Acts 4 and its attempted negation by Ananais and Sapphira in Acts 5, who were struck dead for their failure to adhere to community guidelines with respect to their property. The relationship between these two episodes illustrates the point that, for the fledging Christian community, belonging entails the community-wide sharing of previously private wealth and resources. In the second part of this paper and using the work of José Porfirio Miranda and Todd McGowan in particular, I juxtapose these claims with a broader understanding of wealth, one that focuses on the “sin” of differential wealth and how it relates to the notions of scarcity and abundance, taken at both the individual level and the socio-economic level. In third part of this paper, I develop a concept of hoarding, both in light of COVID-19 but in general, as an extreme but indelibly capitalist practice.