“Ask a Priest: Are Muscle Cars Morally OK?”

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Q: I am a car enthusiast. I enjoy cars that are more fun, but harder on fuel, which means more emissions. Is this doing an evil for a good (that is, more emissions for the sake of fun)? Much of the fun we have causes more emissions, such as watching TV or playing video games, or playing hockey in an arena that has to be heated and lighted. These aren’t necessities but are for enjoyment. So where is the line? I own a V8 Mustang. And even if I had to sell this one for a car that was better on fuel, I’d still want to enjoy accelerating hard (when it’s reasonable to do so) and enjoy driving. But if it’s sinful and wrong, I want to know so I can stop. This is especially problematic because I want to become a mechanic, and if my passion for cars is immoral I would obviously no longer want to do that. — Patrick

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Your desire to harmonize your healthy hobbies and the even healthier wisdom of your faith is commendable and inspiring. The Lord is clearly at work in your heart.

There are no hard-and-fast rules about Mustangs or hockey rinks and pollution, etc. It is certainly not a sin to enjoy muscle cars or to own them. In our society the government regulates emissions in order to keep pollution at reasonable levels, and those regulations include muscle cars.

But it is possible, in particular cases, that an obsession with muscle cars — or hockey — could be damaging to a person’s pursuit of holiness. How do we discern this? We need to tap into the Church’s wisdom and learn to apply it to our concrete situation.

What the Church teaches is principles. One principle is that the world was created for our use, but we need to use it wisely and with moderation. We are called to be good stewards.

It might be worth quoting a few numbers from the Catechism:

I. The Universal Destination and the Private Ownership of Goods

2402. In the beginning God entrusted the earth and its resources to the common stewardship of mankind to take care of them, master them by labor, and enjoy their fruits. The goods of creation are destined for the whole human race. However, the earth is divided up among men to assure the security of their lives, endangered by poverty and threatened by violence. The appropriation of property is legitimate for guaranteeing the freedom and dignity of persons and for helping each of them to meet his basic needs and the needs of those in his charge. It should allow for a natural solidarity to develop between men.

2403. The right to private property, acquired or received in a just way, does not do away with the original gift of the earth to the whole of mankind. The universal destination of goods remains primordial, even if the promotion of the common good requires respect for the right to private property and its exercise.

2404. “In his use of things man should regard the external goods he legitimately owns not merely as exclusive to himself but common to others also, in the sense that they can benefit others as well as himself.” The ownership of any property makes its holder a steward of Providence, with the task of making it fruitful and communicating its benefits to others, first of all his family.

2405. Goods of production — material or immaterial — such as land, factories, practical or artistic skills, oblige their possessors to employ them in ways that will benefit the greatest number. Those who hold goods for use and consumption should use them with moderation, reserving the better part for guests, for the sick and the poor. [end quoted material]

So how should we interpret all this?

Here, it might step back and look at the big picture and ask a few questions:

How much am I spending on my pastimes? Is it a big chunk of my resources? It is affecting others in a negative way?

Am I spending an unreasonable amount of time on entertainment? Is there a better way to spend my time?

Do I remember the poor and share my resources with them? Do I support the Church with my resources?

Obviously, there are questions each person must answer himself. He has look at his personal situation and see how he is living in accord with the Gospel.

The fact that you are asking about the cars and pollution might be a sign that the Holy Spirit is inviting you to re-evaluate your priorities. This isn’t to say you must get rid of the Mustang. But you might ask yourself whether Christ is nudging you in a certain direction.

You might want to take all this to prayer and see where the Spirit is leading you.

For more reading, you might consider Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si. I hope some of this helps you choose the right road.

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