In a post from last week on The Eight Stages of the Rise and Fall of Civilizations we pondered some categories from the world of anthropology and sociology to try to gain perspective rapid on the current cultural collapse. Today’s post continues in that same vein and applies the stages of starvation to the current times. Ours is not a physical starvation; it is a spiritual one. But the stages of physical starvation comport eerily closely to the decline of our culture.
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.
Let’s take a look at the progressive stages of physical starvation (gleaned from several medical sources) and then consider 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
Be well-fed spiritually! Spiritual starvation is an awful thing; it is the worst thing. It is clear that we are well along the path of demise as a culture. But the Church will continue as long as she feeds on the banquet that Christ has prepared. There is no need to starve. Come to the banquet; come to the wedding feast of the Lamb and bring everyone you know!
Note: I am away this week preaching a retreat for the priests of Denver and while I will publish material on the blog each day, it will largely be drawn from posts I have written in the past.