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Of Hunger and Hallucinations – How the Stages of Starvation Describe the Decaying West

July 27, 2015

blog7-27 - HungerWe often think of physical hunger as a  serious problem. And so it is. We are obliged to assist the starving and malnourished.

But spiritual hunger is also a serious, problem, and far more widespread.  As is the case with physical hunger, the source of spiritual hunger is not God, who has given us abundant grace and truth; it is we who are the source. 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 physical starvation advances there comes a time when a kind of lethargy sets in and, though a person knows he is hungry, he lacks the mental acuity to want to do much about it. This seems to be the stage of spiritual starvation at which many Westerners find themselves today. Most people know they are spiritually hungry and long for something. But, through a kind of lethargy and mental boredom, they don’t seem inclined to do much about it.

I’d like to take a look at the progressive stages of physical starvation (gleaned from several medical sources) and then speak of their spiritual equivalents. Please understand that when I use the pronoun “we” I am not necessarily talking about you, but rather about a large number, perhaps even a majority, of people in our culture today.

  1. Weakness – In our time of spiritual starvation, a great moral weakness is evident. Self-control in the realm of sexuality and self-discipline in general seem increasingly lacking in our culture today. 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; addiction to alcohol, drugs, and pornography. In addition, we seem consumed by greed; we are obsessed with accumulating possessions, and the more we have the more we seem unable to live without them. Increasingly, people 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 out ordinary biblical morality, to have to suffer or endure the cross. All of these display weakness and a lack of courage, signaling the onset of spiritual starvation.
  2. Confusion – As spiritual starvation sets in, the mind gets cloudy; 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 (e.g., homosexual acts) is approved and what is destructive to the family (e.g., illicit heterosexual behavior) is widely accepted as well. Confusion is also deep about how to properly and effectively raise, train, discipline, and educate our children.
  3. Irritability – As spiritual starvation progresses, a great deal of anger is directed at the Church whenever she addresses the malaise of our times. In addition, there is growing resistance to lawful authority, and a loss of respect for elders and for 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 natural law, we have been reduced to shouting matches and power struggles. We no longer agree on the essentials that the “food” of God’s truth provides. Having refused this food, we have become irritable and strident.
  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 our sin-soaked culture. Things once thought to be indecent are now done openly and even celebrated. Many consider any suggested resistance to sin to be unreasonable, even impossible. Sexually transmitted diseases, teenage pregnancy, abortion, the consumption of internet pornography, divorce, and cohabitation are becoming rampant. Like disease, sin spreads because we are less capable of fighting it off.
  5. The body begins to feed on its own muscle tissue (after fat cells are depleted) – In our spiritual starvation, we start to feed on our very own. We kill our children in utero; we use embryos for research. We euthanize our elderly. Young people kill other young people in gang violence. 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 restraining our spending and re-examining our priorities, fight with one another over the scraps that are left and refuse to give up any of our own entitlements. Starving people can be desperate, and desperate people often turn on others. In the end, we as a body are consuming our very self.
  6. Internal organs begin to shut down – In the spiritually starving Western world, many of our institutions are becoming dysfunctional and shutting down. Our families are in the throes of a major crisis. Almost of half of all children today 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 on the list. 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; strident differences paralyze it, and scandals plague the public sector. Yes, as we go through the stages of starvation, important organs of our culture and our nation are shutting down.
  7. 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). As we in the West spiritually starve, our thinking becomes increasingly bizarre, distorted, fanciful, silly, vain, and often lacking in common sense. Since our soul is starving, 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 this is not just in the inner cities; Violence, shootings, and gangs are in the suburbs as well. Even non-violent children have short attention spans and are often difficult to control and discipline. Although ADHD may well be over-diagnosed, hyper-stimulated children with short attention spans are a real problem for us today. Adults, too, manifest a lot of convulsive and spasmodic behaviors, short attention spans, and mercurial temperaments. As we reach the advanced stages of spiritual starvation in our culture, convulsive and spasmodic behavior are an increasing problem.
  9. Irregular heartbeat – 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, yet still be coarse and insensitive at other times. We seem to have a concern for the poor, but abort our babies and advocate killing our sick elderly. Our starving culture’s heartbeat is irregular and inconsistent, another sign of spiritual starvation.
  10. Sleepy, comatose state – Our starving culture is sleepy and often unreflective. The progress of our terrible fall eludes many, who seem oblivious to the 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. Death – Spiritual death is the final result of starvation. We become dead in our sins. Pope Francis recently remarked that the lights going out in Europe. As Europe has forsaken its spiritual heritage and embarked upon a self-imposed spiritual starvation, its birthrates have declined steeply. It is quite possible that, in the lifetime 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 ourselves: death eventually comes. America’s fate at this time is less obvious. There are many on a spiritual starvation diet, but also many who still believe; there are signs of revival in the Church here. Pray God that 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 had encountered. That is because she saw things spiritually, not materially. Some years back, Cassidy Bugos, a student from Christendom College in Virginia, spent a few weeks working among the poor in Mexico with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. Recounting a conversation with one of the nuns there, Miss Bugos wrote,

In the East [India], the soul is different. It is stronger, as she put it, and solid. Whether a person is Christian, or Hindu, or Muslim, or Buddhist, he is a solid Christian, a solid Hindu, Muslim, or Buddhist. He will not lose faith because he is hungry, or because he is well-fed. And in India, if people are hungry, they are still happy. The poorest people on the streets, she said, are the happiest. If they have food today, they are happy; they do not wonder if they will have food tomorrow. Their joy, she insisted, is something unlike anything you see on any face in the West …

Here in the West, she said, it is different. Here most poor people have enough [materially], even though they don’t understand how little “enough” is. But they are unhappy, she said. … They are unhappy, because they have no God. That is the real poverty. The farther North you go in America, she added, the more wealth you see, and the less joy you find. Those people … the depressed, and the sad people “with no God and a great big house”, are the poorest of the poor. That’s what Mother Teresa meant. It is hard, she added with a sigh, to find Christ in them. … We must put Him there. …

More than that, she wanted us to understand whom we were serving, when we served anyone’s spiritual or material needs. We were serving Christ. When one of “the Grandmas,” blind and deaf, cried out from her wheelchair, “Agua, por favor,” on the wall over her head we were bound to see a crucifix and beside it the motto of the Missionaries of Charity, the two words, tengo sed. “I thirst.” [1]

Be well-fed spiritually! Spiritual starvation is an awful thing; it is the worst thing.

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Comments (10)

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  1. edraCRUZ says:

    Wish I could say that all it is well here in our US of A but I cannot for I think it is now in the state of post-church. What with these powerful people imposing their belief of less GOD and more materialism and personal power and the believers are silent and would not lift a finger against the faithless and bring them to light. For evil to flourish and triumph the faithful be silent and it becomes a statement of acquiescence. LORD come unto our aid and embolden us in this spiritual warfare. Let us in our words and action befit YOUR Glory. Allow us to be witnesses of YOUR Truth. Have mercy on us, YHWH ELOHIM.

    • Johnstack says:

      Maybe not exactly post church but trivialized church. No recognition of sin and spiritual hunger. I think social media is great way to reach, educate, and inspire people. Easy to compare this message with trash out there. People are Hungary and looking for help. Why do they pay so much attention to the pope if aren’t looking for something?

    • Sue Korlan says:

      There were a lot of demonstrations at noon today to defund Planned Parenthood. So please don’t say we’re not doing anything. It’s not true.

      • Ender's Shadow says:

        In campaigning against Planned Parenthood you are attacking one of the symptoms, and are in danger of failing to address the actual disease as a result. It is challenging to note that Paul tells us not to judge those outside the church (1 Cor 5:12) – yet that is what large parts of the church spend their time doing. DON’T hear this as defending Planned Parenthood; rather this is a call for us to make more effort in evangelisation, which is HARD. It’s relatively easy to be part of a big group campaigning against something that ‘everyone’ is against; it’s far harder to help your non-Christian friends to understand who Jesus is, and how they can come to find Him real in their lives.

        • Msgr. Charles Pope says:

          We are not “judging” those outside the Church. We are judging their actions. Big difference Ender.

  2. a catholic psychologist says:

    An outstanding description of spiritual starvation! I would suggest adding one more element. Delusion. It is a form of confusion about what is real and unreal; “reality testing” collapses in a delusion, but often not so completely that the person needs to go to a hospital. Perhaps it makes sense to say that most sin is a form of spiritual delusion. Delusions are more profound than hallucinations or simple confusion, which are about what we sense, or how we reason, because psychologists can train persons to recognize hallucinations by using their reason, or help mere confusion by reducing anger or anxiety. But when a delusion settles in, it’s really hard to shake because it goes deep into the mind, and develops a logic of its own. Paranoia is an example. Where morals become involved can be seen with the merging of clinical and moral delusion, for example, in transsexuals. They are profoundly disturbed individuals who become alienated from their own body. Delusions must always be challenged by the psychologist if the patient is to get better, but it is difficult to do without scaring the patient away.

  3. C Beltz says:

    Are we starving because we do not eat or because we eat the wrong things? As I look around, I see what you see. People are hungry, spiritually starving. I was recently told of a woman who is quitting her job that she never needed (her husband is apparently a wealthy doctor), so she can travel around the world. By herself. Yes, her husband travels much in his practice, so she is quite literally feeding on herself. She has no children. She cares so little for the people at her job who counted on her that she could just dump them for a big “dream” vacation.

    This woman is selfish. She is starving on self. In her traveling, she is probably looking for what she lacks – Jesus.

    In our rather well to do Metro-DC area, we have no want of churches, there are so many. Even if you have to drive a little ways, you are relatively assured of getting at least regular Sunday mass, and sometimes even multiple daily masses. This is not so in rural areas. I have heard stories of parishes who have to share a priest with another parish, and masses are infrequent because of it. That means confession is also infrequent. Our poor are starving for God, while our rich have so much.

    I love having a parish where I can go to mass every day, and confession twice a week (in regular times), more often around major holidays, and pretty much any time by appointment. I am greatful for this gift from our Lord. Unfortunately, with our enormously large parish, lines for confession are still often too short, and many of the parishoners going up to communion look bored and distracted. Special events are sparsely attended. Is it because these people are beginning to feed too much on self?

    Though I would hate for it to happen, I think this area should have fewer priests. There are so many without access to the sacraments, so many that would love to come to church, who are in great need of confession. There are areas in our own country that could use those extra priests, that need them desperately.

    We too, in our excess, need to learn the humility that blooms in want. We are fat on self and incredibly spiritually unhealthy. We pride ourselves on being Catholic, but then support a President who supports murdering children. We say our President is a social justice reformer, yet our social ills remain. People in our cities and rural areas are still starving, uneducated, desperate. Our constitution has become decoration. And in our gluttony, we applaud ourselves for this great society we have built.

  4. Spiritual Ronin says:

    This is a very interesting analogy; on the other hand, the current situation can be explained by the magickal theory of the change of the aeons favored by Aleister Crowley and his followers. I am not saying that the Crowleyan magick is preferable to Christianity but its analysis of the present period in human history is uncannily accurate. This fragment comes from “The Book of Babalon” by Jack Parsons, a rocket scientist and a direct disciple of Crowley:

    “The present age is under the influence of the force called, in magical terminology, Horus… Its manifestations may be noted in the destruction of old institutions and ideas, the discovery and liberation of new energies, and the trend towards power governments, war, homosexuality, infantilism, and schizophrenia. This force is completely blind, depending upon men and women in whom it manifests and who guide it. Obviously, its guidance now tends toward catastrophy.”

    This was written in 1946 when any mention of homosexuality as a force of social change would be met with outrage, disbelief and ridicule.

  5. Nate says:

    Msgr.,

    Very enlightening analogy. I have just one point of disagreement (or maybe we don’t disagree and it is just beyond the scope of your post). It isn’t just the West that is having this problem. Latin America, the Pacific Rim, and lots of other places are facing the same problems. As you’ve discussed in previous posts, the philosophies behind modernity are a serious problem and, as the rest of the world imitates and catches up to the West, they are encountering the same problems you describe above. The only force challenging modernity is radical Islam and Pope Benedict identified this problem at Regensberg: only the Church combines Truth in the proper combination of Faith and Reason but the world today has abandoned Truth and is dividing into two camps with one missing Faith and the other Reason.