I just discovered the name of the spiritual sickness I and many others suffer from: Spiritual Materialism.
Spiritual materialism is the practice of wanting to hold onto, or to seek out, spiritual experiences. You’re familiar with my bus story; what a wonderful experience that was! Instead of using that experience as a launching point into further realms of spiritual growth, however, I kept wanting to return to that past moment. For the last five years I’ve wanted to keep going back, back, back, back in my head…back to that moment, reliving it, asking God to repeat it, wondering if I should take psychedelic drugs to recreate the moment.
This kind of clinging to a past spiritual experience, or a similar desire to want to continually experience spiritual events, is spiritual materialism.
When you think about someone who is a “materialist” in the common understanding of the word, you probably think of someone who hoards possessions, money, cars, etc. A materialist is someone who values material possessions above all else. Similarly, a spiritual materialist is someone who values spiritual experiences above all else. Neither form of materialism is healthy because neither form acknowledges the object of (let’s be honest) obsession as only relatively real and important.
I see spiritual materialism rampant in my own life, and I also see it rampant in certain denominations of the Christian community. If you are a member of the following denominations you may be a spiritual materialist:
- Assemblies of God
- Church of God
- Catholic Charismatic Movement
- Non-Denominational churches emphasizing works of the Holy Spirit
A desire to experience Mystery is not uncommon or wrong. The constant desire for Mystery, however, may be unhealthy. If Mystery enters your life and you enjoy the experience: Mazel tov! That’s wonderful! Some people go through their whole lives and never have that kind of experience. But like anything (money, alcohol, sex, drugs) craving after a thing is not healthy.
Spiritual materialism, the craving after more and greater spiritual experiences, is not holy: It’s an addiction.
And it’s time for me to stop.