Can We Be too Spiritual?

Jacob Needleman, in his excellent book Money and the Meaning of Life, raises the question posed by the above title.  Can we be so focused on the hereafter that it is to our detriment?  Can we lust after spiritual things?  Avarice, one of the capital sins or vices, often cloaks itself as a virtue. [1]  Being spiritual is definitely a virtue but can we be so consumed by the spiritual that we ignore other aspects of God’s plan for our lives?

The aim of life is a better understanding of our self and God.  The material world was built to nourish and provide for us in our efforts to do that.  If this is the case, then, as Needleman states:  “The part of ourselves that must act and live in the material world needs to be embraced with the same attention that seeks contact with higher forces and ideals.” [2]

However, as Evgeny Barabanov points out, this is not how the church interacts with the world.

These two aspects of the Christian attitude to the world, active participation in its transformation and renunciation of its temptations, turned out to be extremely difficult to reconcile.  Heavenward aspirations often went hand in hand with execration [a detesting, loathing] of the earth.  Too often the ideal of salvation was built on a foundation of inflexible renunciation of this world.  Thus salvation itself was understood as an escape from the material world into a world of pure spirituality.  This gave rise to contempt for the flesh, the belittling of man’s creative nature. . .  [3]

Instead of working for the transformation of both our spiritual and material worlds, the Church has focused solely on the spiritual.  The result is that we have no point of contact with a world that sees only the material.

If we want to fulfill God’s purpose for our lives, we must recognize our material needs and aspirations are not evil merely secondary. [4]  God placed us in the material world for a reason and it is to be utilized to the fullest extent possible to aid us in our journey back to God.


[1]   Catholic Encyclopedia,

[2]   Jacob Needleman, Money and the Meaning of Life, New York:  Currency Doubleday, 1991, p. xi.

[3]   Evgeny Barabanov, “Schism Between the Church and World”, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, ed., From Under the Rubble (New York:  Bantam Books, 1975), pp. 180-186.

[4]   Needleman, p. 58

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