Wednesday, April 22, 2015

spiritual life as luxury

An ex-Jesuit, shrink friend of mine once observed that the sense of loss and impoverishment felt by those who lacked worldly wealth was often mimicked among those with 5,000-square-foot homes graced by eight bathrooms and 14-car garages. When you have "nothing," it is much akin to when you have "everything" -- a hole in life's fabric, a quicksand in which to founder and flail, a vacancy and longing that begs to be mortared.

Since I was in the process of being therapized at the time my friend made his observation, there was no time to really go into the chapter and verse of how or why he felt there was such a similarity between the poorly- and the well-off. Nevertheless, the off-hand observation sticks with me and I tend to credit it because I tended to credit my shrink: He was not a feather-merchant or a white-wine critic: He thought things through as a rule, so ... same sense of unsatisfactory life, different circumstances.

And to the extent that this vaguely-defined observation holds water, I wonder what effect spiritual life has as an apparent life preserver. An old saw suggests that the poor have sex and religion for free. It's not entirely true, of course, but you get the drift: Fucking and the church are less expensive than another Rolls Royce and stand within reach of even the least wealthy. It doesn't 'cost' anything to be believe in whatever god is chosen and there is hope to spread on what may be hopeless circumstances. You don't have to prove it to reap its succor.

And after all the bathrooms and party drugs and successful board-room maneuverings and trophy spouses -- in a time when things start to get freighted and stale -- the wispy wonders of a 'wider reality' can be pretty enticing. It may not save your ass, but, on the other hand, maybe it'll save your ass.

Religion as a rich man's sport. A luxury item. That's what wonders me this morning. A poor man longs to be rich. A rich man longs to be rich in ways that, in their wispy wonder, are more credible and concrete than the goods his or her friends laud and admire.

A luxury item ... mostly a luxury item for white guys with time and money on their hands. A luxury item that relies on the poverty of those created by those cocooned in wealth. Naturally, there is a passing nod to the poor and the downtrodden, who may likewise be transfixed in the headlights of religion.

I can hear the philosophical instruments tuning up in this realm... "ah, yes, everyone suffers" etc. but what interests me is not so much what philosophical or religious Band-Aid might be applied but just the choice of what might be called an orange marmalade of possibility: It's delicious, of course, but as a meaningful diet, it pales.

Does it matter under what circumstances anyone digs into or merely sniffs the edges of spiritual life? I think not. Whether fad or life-saving fortress, it all depends on how deeply anyone chooses to dig in and find out. There is no criticizing the digging of others -- that would be a waste of energy. So if someone wants to get a religious tattoo or seek out some dank cave in the Himalayas ... OK.

But it's a rich man's sport, this spiritual stuff -- another pair of shoes in Imelda Marcos' closet of 3,000 pairs. Not better, not worse, no matter how beloved.


Go lightly.

Iconic or dime-store trinket -- never give up and go lightly.

And keep your eyes skinned.

1 comment:

  1. I know folks point to greed, but i've always thought that the acquisition of wealth was a measure of ones fear. Fear of living with ones neighbors that requires fenced acreage and security systems. And then there's the cost of living separated from the rest of the world. And one wonders, if big screen TV's can fill that social void.