The Care And Feeding Of Spiritual Hunger by Catherine Fahringer (Jan/Feb 1998)

Organized religion has been dinging on for years about the soul being the spiritual side of “man,” while the other side is the physical one which lusts, spends money on material things, and commits all sorts of sins and crimes. Obviously these sides can’t be literal sides because people don’t have just one visible, physical side. I’ve had to assume that this spiritual side is the soul, but I have never seen a soul, so I’m assuming it’s invisible and that all people are supposed to have one. But invisible or not, where does it hang out? We know the body is full of all sorts of organs and blood vessels and viscera, so that would be an icky place for the soul to abide. Where is it?
I think this invisible soul is the container of this other invisible thing referred to as “spirituality.” Spirit means breath, and while the lungs are actively involved in the breathing process, I don’t think that’s what people mean when they talk about spirituality. I certainly wish I did know. It is difficult to engage in meaningful discussion with anyone when the subject being discussed is so vague and undefined.

There are many things that we can’t see or touch. Personality is one of them. It’s not something one can grasp and hold up to the light to examine. But it is something that does exist and can be explored in depth and evaluated by psychological tests. But aside from that, the word has an overall, tacitly understood definition. When people are talking about personality, nobody is confused about the subject under discussion. On the other hand, soul and spirituality are akin to the subject of God. All three are invisible, and the person speaking about them is the only one who has some idea what s/he means. Two people talking about any one of these three “things” could be talking about his or her personal concept which might be very different from that of the other person.

I am reading a great deal about this “spiritual hunger” which seems to be afflicting so many people these days. The headline of an article in today’s paper read: “Apparitions of the Holy Virgin increasing as observers see spiritual hunger on the rise.” Is the writer trying to tell me that seeing a Virgin Mary in a tortilla or in an oil stain on a garage floor is spiritual fulfillment?! It has always been my opinion that what people hunger for are their own minds! An inactive one would surely result in a shallow person who, unable to be awed by the majesty of this planet and the universe in which it turns, pines for some supernatural vision or happening which he assumes will bring “meaning” into his life. Poor clod. Give him a microscope or a telescope and let him activate his brain as he observes true marvels. Or give him a book on something besides religion and Jesus. These “empty” people are empty because they are looking for someone or something supernatural. Any freethinker can tell them that all the fun stuff is right between their ears, much of it delivered there by the five physical senses. Christians are taught to denigrate anything physical, so they zombie along, taking in no natural marvels to stimulate their minds.

Although they speak of it endlessly, religious leaders have a real tough time with this spirituality thing because of the fact that they themselves do not subsist on it. Just the other day some poor schnook wrote Billy Graham saying he and his wife were so poor that just staying alive demanded all their efforts. Did Dr. Graham think that it would be a sin if he and his wife invested one of their hard-earned dollars in a lottery ticket. You can pretty well guess what Billy’s answer was. He advocated they turn the situation and their lives over to Christ. This advice covers everything from ingrown toenail to brain tumor. But in addition to this counsel, Billy went on the say that they needed to focus on their spirituality and be grateful they had each other and a love for the Lord. They shouldn’t spend so much time lusting after material things which do not bring true happiness. (They had a greater chance of winning the lottery than having Christ solve their problems.)

Now we all know that Billy Graham does not live in a hovel, that he fraternizes with the rich and famous, and has spent much time in the Lincoln bedroom at the White House. But these poor pitiful people who wanted to buy one lottery ticket for a dream out of poverty were not to spend so much time “lusting” after material things.

Christians buy second-hand thoughts.

This attitude is not uncommon amongst the more affluent clergy who are forever telling people that money does not buy happiness. Common sense tells me that money can buy a certain amount of comfort and security. It can buy a good health plan, a snug home with indoor plumbing, a comfortable bed in which to sleep, clothes to wear and a myriad of little things that a physical body needs to keep it groomed and healthy. It can buy food and medicine. It can buy an occasional frill such as a ticket for a symphony, ballet, play or movie. Only when a body is nourished with necessities can it begin to appreciate the uplifting, which I am assuming is at least part of what this spiritual thing is about. It can’t mean just talking endlessly about Jesus, going to Bible study classes and praying loudly in public places with their eyes shut and their arms reaching upwards, can it? I was thinking more in terms of the uplifting feelings in response to beautiful music or art, the connection we feel with our fellow humans, the joy of reunions with loved ones, and the awe we feel in response to Nature’s wondrous variety.

Perhaps some people mean living according to the bible which speaks of the lilies of the field which neither toil nor spin, but are clad more gorgeously than Solomon in all his glory. That would appear to mean that living spiritually is sitting on your chilly duff doing nothing but waiting for God to clothe you. Or, there’s the Lord’s prayer which says, “Give us this day our daily bread,” which, in this case, would translate to sitting around hungry waiting, for God to feed us. These things don’t strike me as “spiritual,” just lazy, naked and hungry.

If you will notice, very little spiritual living is done by organized religions and their clergy. The Catholic religion never misses a chance to raise money. While thundering about the evils of gambling, the churches run bingo games. There are fees for everything, and the church is forever getting its hand in Uncle Sam’s pocket. Catholic schools have managed to supply their students with textbooks and transportation, courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer. Not satisfied with that, they are pushing extremely hard for school vouchers.

From the Protestant clergy comes a mixed message aimed at the sheep, promising them an autographed book, a crystal bell, a Christmas ornament, etc., ad nauseum if they will send money so that the ministry can carry on God’s work. (Why does the ministry have to do “God’s work?” I thought God was busily baking loaves of bread and stitching up fancy clothes for those naked hungry people sitting around praying and begging.) Sometimes donations are referred to as “seed money” which seems to mean that God will reward those who give to Him (through Oral Roberts or some other trusted spokesperson for God). This encourages those who are really hard up to give their last dollar (which would have been better spent on a lottery ticket). There isn’t a single parasitic televangelist who doesn’t spend a great deal of time pitching for his pockets to be filled for “God.” They’re always on the point of losing their TV programs because of lack of funds. Before or after the big pitch comes the repetitious reassurance that money doesn’t buy happiness. The widow and her mite story is recounted as a shining example of true giving, true love of God. Of course as soon as the widow has given all that she has, she is never mentioned again, and we can presume that she starved to death. Some elderly poor have been conned by preachers to this very point.

Marianne Williamson came close to saying that spirituality is the mind when she said, defending herself against recent criticism in Time magazine, that leaders such as she helped open people’s awareness to human problems and needs. (That sounds like Humanism to me.) So let’s pretend that I am a spiritually hungry Christian looking for some “meaning.” I read about this fabulous Marianne Williamson and how much happier people are since they have heard her speak and have read her books. Well, I’m sorry, I just can’t even pretend to be a hungry Christian; I’m a freethought overeater! All I would do by paying to hear Marianne is make her richer and feed her ego. That’s what Christians are doing, buying second-hand thoughts so they don’t have to do any of their own brain-work!

From a Freethought perspective, the Christian idea of humans having two “sides” is insane. As for money not buying happiness, hogwash! I’m not talking about diamonds and yachts; I’m talking about houses and beds and food and clothes, and all the things it takes to nurture a physical being. As for Christians, the poor things cannot get by on spirituality alone by any definition of the word. And, after thinking it through, it seems to me that “spirituality” certainly can be purchased. There are plenty of people peddling it!

The Christian vocabulary is great sheep’s clothing for the wolverine natures of opportunists. A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but avarice masquerading as spirituality just plain smells.

Catherine Fahringer is a Foundation officer from Texas.

Freedom From Religion Foundation