The United Nations is persistently pursuing “sustainable development,” a goal with which some in the Church hierarchy, even the pope, seem to be onboard. This is troubling in a time when many see U.N. global initiatives as thinly-veiled Marxist ploys. Still, no matter what the subject, it seems such a reasonable question when someone chimes, “But, is it sustainable?” Sustainability is a good thing; who can argue with that? If recent times have taught us anything, it is that any good thing can be hijacked toward an evil end.

It starts when we are children. Do something disproportionate, like helping yourself to half of the available desserts at dinner, and a parent is bound, at the very least, to ask, “What if everybody did that?” It’s a legitimate question. By this we are taught the nature of fairness and responsible action. Unsurprisingly, social justice questions are, more often than not, framed with what appear to be legitimate questions of sustainability: What if everybody did that? But it is very easy, and diabolically useful, to conflate sustainability with conformity, and the what-if-everybody-did-that question is the gateway.

Let’s look at some examples:

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