What do the Stages of Starvation teach us of the decline of the West?

One of the ways of describing our longing for God is hunger. I suppose, in America and the affluent west most of us have never known real hunger. We may grumble when we miss a meal, or there is an occasional fast or diet. But we don’t know the real hunger. Imagine not actually knowing when or where your next meal would be. Most of us speak causally about “making room for dessert” and “not spoiling our meal.”

It is a great embarrassment to me that I struggle with weight while others wonder if they will eat at all tomorrow. I do not have simple solutions to this distribution problem. It would seem we have enough food for all the world, but getting it to all the places needed seems adversely effected by war, corruption and poor infrastructure. It galls me that our government pays farmers NOT to plant and some have seen fit to turn corn into fuel for cars. These are all complex issues, I know, but whatever the problem, it is a grief to me that some are hungry while I tip the scales. I can only strive to be more generous to the poor.

But one form of starvation that is quite a problem here in the affluent West is spiritual starvation. It is a strange starvation to be sure, for it is largely self-inflicted. Further, it seems to be at an advanced stage. I am told that, as starvation advances, there comes a time when a kind of lethargy sets in and, though one knows he is hungry, he lacks the mental acuity or focus to want to do much about it. This seems the stage of spiritual starvation at which many Westerners are. Most people know they are spiritually hungry and long for something. But through a kind of lethargy and mental boredom they seem little inclined to do much about it.

I’d like to take a look at some of the stages of physical starvation and speak of their spiritual equivalent. From several medical sites it would seem that starvation unto death has some of the following stages. I will list the physical stage, and them describe what I think is a spiritual component. Please understand when I use the shorthand “we” I am not necessarily talking about you. “We” here is a general term to indicate a large number in our culture, and perhaps a majority in our culture.

  1. Early signs of starvation include weakness– Surely in our time of spiritual starvation there is a great moral weakness that is evident. Simple manifestations of ordinary self control about sexuality, and general self discipline seem increasingly lacking in our culture. Many are too weak to keep the commitments they have made to marriage, religious life and the priesthood. Addiction is a significant issue as well and is manifest not only in alcohol and drugs but includes addition to pornography, and addiction to greed as we are obsessed about more and more possessions, and do not seem to be able to live without them. Many increasingly declare that they are not responsible for what they do and/or cannot help themselves. There is a general attitude that it is unreasonable to expect people to live ordinary biblical morality, that it is unreasonable to have to suffer, or endure the cross. All of this manifests a kind of weakness and a lack of courage and strength as spiritual starvation sets in.
  2. Confusion– As spiritual starvation sets in, the mind gets cloudy and thinking becomes murky and distorted. There is thus, lots of confusion today about even the most basic moral issues. How could we get so confused as to think that killing pre-born babies is OK? Sexual confusion is also rampant so that what is contrary to nature (homosexual acts) is approved and what is destructive of the family through illicit heterosexual behavior is widely approved as well. Confusion is also deep about how best to care for the poor, how to raise, properly train and discipline children, how to effectively educate children and so forth. Confusion is a second sign of spiritual starvation
  3. Irritability– As spiritual starvation progresses, a great deal of anger is directed at the Church whenever she addresses the malaise of our times. Beyond merely the Church, there is an anger and resistance to lawful authority and respect for elders and tradition. St. Paul describes well the general irritability of a culture that has suppressed the truth about God and is spiritually starving: They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. (Romans 1:29-31). Since we are starved spiritually of the common meal of God’s word and revealed truth and have rejected in the natural law, we have been reduced to shouting and power struggles. We no longer agree on the essentials that the “food” of God’s truth provides. We have refused this food and, starving, we have become irritable and strident in our culture.
  4. Immune deficiency– As our spiritual starvation grows we cannot ward off the increasing attacks of the disease of sin. We more easily give way to temptation. Deeper and deeper bondage is increasingly evident in a culture that is deeply mired in sin. Things once thought indecent are now done openly and even celebrated. Many easily give way to sin and consider any suggested resistance to it to be unreasonable and impossible. Sin spreads more widely. STDs have rapidly spread, AIDs, teenage pregnancy, abortion, Internet porn are all becoming rampant. Divorce and cohabitation have spread widely. Sin, like a disease, spreads because, spiritually starving, we are less capable of fighting off the effects of spiritual disease.
  5. The middle stages of starvation occur after all the fat cells have been depleted and the body starts to feed on it’s own muscle tissue – And we too, as we spiritually starve start to feed on our very own. We kill our children in utero and use embryos for research. We euthanize our elderly. In gang violence young people kill other young people. We see strife, power struggles and wars increase. In tight economic times we who have depleted the fat cells of public funds and amassed enormous debt, instead of reasonably restraining our spending and re-examining our priorities, we turn on one another for the scraps that are left and refuse to give an inch of our entitlements. Starving people can be desperate and often turn on others. But in the end, we as a body are consuming our self, A fifth symptom of spiritual starvation.
  6. After this point, your internal organs will shut down one at a time– In the spiritually starving west many of our institutions are becoming dysfunctional and shutting down. Our families are in a major crisis. Almost of half of children no longer live with both parents. Schools are in serious decline. Most public school systems have been a disgrace for years. America, once at the top of worldwide academic performance, is now way down the list at about 17 or 18. Churches and parochial schools also struggle as Mass attendance has dropped in the self-inflicted spiritual starvation of our times. Government too is becoming increasingly dysfunctional as strident differences paralyze and scandals plague the public sector. Yes, as we go through the stages of starvation, important organs of our culture and nation are shutting down and becoming dysfunctional.
  7. The final stages of starvation will include: hallucinations, – St Paul spoke of the spiritually starved Gentiles of his day and said, their thinking became futile and their senseless minds were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools….Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind (Romans 1:21-22,28). Hence as we in the West become increasingly starved, spiritually, our thinking becomes increasingly bizarre, distorted, fanciful, silly, vain, and often, just plain stupid and lacking in any common sense. Since our soul is starved we hallucinate.
  8. Convulsions and muscle spasms– Violence and turmoil run through our culture as basic social structures shut down and become dysfunctional. The breakdown of the family leads to many confused, incorrigible and violent children. And not just in the inner city. Violence, shootings and gangs have long been in the suburbs. Even non-violent children have short attention spans and are often difficult to control and discipline. ADHD may be over diagnosed but hyper stimulated children with short attention spans are a real problem for us. Adults too manifest a lot of convulsive and spasmatic behaviors, short attention spans and mercurial temperaments. As we reach advanced stages of starvation in our culture, convulsive and spasmatic behavior are an increasing problem.
  9. An irregular heart beat– In the spiritually starving west, It is not as though we lack all goodness. Our heart still beats but it is irregular and inconsistent. We can manifest great compassion when natural disasters strike, but still be coarse and insensitive at other times. We seem to have a concern to care for the poor, but abort our babies and advocate killing our sick elderly. Our starving culture’s heartbeat is irregular and inconsistent to say the least. Another sign of spiritual starvation
  10. A sleepy and comatose state– Our starving culture is sleepy and often unreflective. The state of our terrible fall eludes many who seem to barely notice the deep symptoms of our spiritual starvation. St Paul says, So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled (1 Thes 5:6). He also says, And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed (Rom 13:11). Jesus speaks of the starvation that leads to sleepiness in this way: Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap (Luke 21:34)
  11. And then Death– Spiritual death is the final result of starvation. We become dead in our sins. The Pope recently said that the lights are going out in Europe. As Europe has forsaken its spiritual heritage and embarked on a self-imposed spiritual starvation its birthrates have dipped steeply. It is quite possible that, in the life time of some of the younger readers of this post, Europe as we have known it will, quite literally, cease to exist. Western liberal democracies that have starved themselves to death will be replaced by Muslim Theocratic states. But this is what happens when we starve. Death eventually comes. America’s fate at this time is less obvious. We do have many on a spiritual starvation diet, but many here still believe and there are signs of revival in the Church here. Pray God the reversal will continue! Pray too that it is not too late for Europe.

Thus, while we know little of physical starvation in the affluent West, spiritual starvation and its symptoms are manifest. Mother Teresa once spoke of the West as the poorest part of the world she encountered.

Be well fed spiritually! Spiritual starvation is an awful thing. It is the worst thing. The Lord wants to feed us on his Body and Blood, and on a steady diet of his Word. Let the Lord feed you:

  1. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” “Sir,” they said, “from now on give us this bread.” Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty…. I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. (John 6:varia)
  2. Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” (Matt 4:4)
  3. When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty (Jer 15:16)
  4. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous.They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb (Psalm 19:11)

Now this post has been a bit heavy. So I hope you won’t mind a little humor in this video. The video, though humorous makes an important point: You’re not you when your hungry. Spiritual starvation can rob us of our identity as joyful children of God meant to be fully alive and fully functioning. Ultimately we are meant to be Christ, to become what we eat in Holy Communion. When we do not eat we are not “ourselves.” This video is trying sell snickers, but please understand I am talking about Jesus. And if you’re hungry, you’re not your self.

9 Replies to “What do the Stages of Starvation teach us of the decline of the West?”

  1. Isn’t it ironic that the federal government is telling us what our children can eat and what they can’t bring to school for lunch and yet they are denying any open prayer or use of Christian material on public school grounds. They are feeding our children right into spiritual starvation. What was that saying again about raising a child in the way they should go and when they are grown they will yada yada yada.

  2. Dear Father, A frightening, but true comparison. You must be very blessed by Our Lord.

  3. Hello Father,

    Have you ever watched Mad Men? I don’t watch much television myself, and doubt you do either, but if you ever get a chance, it’s something of a real treat. People say the show is about a lot of things, and it does touch on a lot of issues (it begins in 1960 and actually illustrates the genesis of a number of our postmodern conceptions and alterations to previous reality; it shows the initial stages and effects of birth control and legal abortion for instance), but what the show is really about is nihilism (and the birth of our postmodern nihilistic attitude since 1960ish).

    The main characters on the show have everything, and they are miserable. Don, the protagonist, frequently espouses his Creed: always forward, never look back, be in it for yourself, this is all there is.. It’s a perfect media icon of the spiritual starvation that you mention here, and it shows the effects.

    Anyways I would mention some instances that are poignant, but I don’t want to spoil. I think one of the main writers must be a practicing Catholic, as there is too much subtlety, and religious reference, to be accidental. “I don’t know what scares me more Don, that you don’t have a picture of your wife and kids on your desk, or that you don’t have a Bible.” Says Conrad Hilton, who is mentioned as a Catholic. There is also a few episodes surrounding a priest in the second season (played by Tom Hanks son, does a great job). Anyways, not here to push the show, but it reminded me a lot of your post.

    I think there is one terrible difference between spiritual and corporeal hunger that fails to analogously hold: people universally wish to quench their corporeal hunger and thirst, and know what to consume to do just that. Spiritual hunger is far less obvious, and the sources of satisfaction are hidden (and often buried behind layers of prejudice that the culture builds up). It’s difficult to know to look for a cure if you don’t know you’re sick. And in a secular culture, if you are told you’re sick, you’re sent to an analyst or a social worker, which I think we would agree, more often than not, are useless for the malaise that surrounds our culture.

  4. Dear Msgr. Pope,
    A long sermon, but it can’t be said in fewer words. I have been pondering your above subject myself for quite a long time. Having lived in Europe during my childhood and early teens, and now visiting, I am devastated
    by what I see, and what I see in our future. I think it is all poor catechesis of our young. Starting with the
    parents who had a very poor catechesis themselves and cannot teach their offspring what they themselves do not know. You did a great job! Thank you!

  5. ” Adults too manifest a lot of convulsive and spasmatic behaviors, short attention spans and mercurial temperaments.”
    I believe that this is caused by spending too many hours every day on the internet. I found myself, after using the internet for a year or so, all of a sudden unable to sit still, always fidgeting and futzing about with my hands. I also noticed that I no longer had the patience to listen to someone who didn’t “get to the point” fast…and I do mean fast. I am working hard on conquering this. It is not easy. It is not like this is my only defect…so many vices…so little time!
    All that you have written, Monsignor, is 100% true.

  6. Reminds me of an anecdote/joke about a farmer who tried to “cure” his plowhorse of its costly hay eating habit. He began by carefully weighing the amount of hay given at each feeding. Every day he decreased the amount of hay at feeding time by the smallest amount that he could measure.
    He told his neighbours how the horse would never notice the decrease and how sure he was that he could cure the horse without hte animal even noticing.
    Some weeks later he came into town to get a henway from the hardware store and everyone there clustered around excitedly to ask how his experiment with weaning the horse was going.
    The farmer replied that he had managed to reduce the horse to eating only a few wisps of hay per day and that he was sure he could have cured it of its hay addiction except that the horse had up and died on him.
    In case anyone feels like asking, “what’s a henway?” It’s about 4 or 5 pounds. (1.818 to 2.27 kilograms)

  7. Msgr. Pope:

    I recently read a book titled “Ten Universal Principles A Brief Philosophy of the Life Issues”
    by Robert J. Spitzer, S.J., Ph.D. Father Spitzer writes in his book about the principle of non-maleficence and describes, “how the moment we condone harming others unnecessarily, the fabric of community and society would unravel in, theft, injury,violence, and even murder.” Father goes on to write, “normally we avoid people who say, “I really need to cause unnecessary harm to others in order to be fulfilled in my life”, because we are likely to be the victims of that harm. Now if everybody is avoiding everyone else, there would be no relationship, community, or society.”

    So in reference to your blog Monsignor, I know many Catholics are trying mightily to live a Christ centered life and take up our cross, persevering and asking God for the strength, patience, and humility, to carry the cross. It seems that a lot of people are asleep and our society is becoming strange and distant, more so if a person is trying to keep their eyes on Jesus and the Cross. Can you offer advice to those that by the grace of God can see clearly what those who seem asleep cannot. It is very strange to walk around in society and feel like most people do not see and understand the seriousness and truth of what you describe above. Scary, but I think we may be near “everyone is avoiding everyone else” as Father Spitzer describes in his book. We seem to be slowly creeping toward a dangerously fractured society. We can only pray that our neighbor wakes up.

    Thank you Monsignor for your clarity.

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