Materialism or Spirituality—Which Do We Need?
What has enabled materialism to get a grip on mankind? How can spirituality be strengthened?
THE choice is being pressed upon us, whether we like it or not. The pressure is on to make one select materialism as a way of life. “Our enormously productive economy,” said marketing consultant Victor Lebow in the Journal of Retailing, “demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, or ego satisfactions, in consumption. . . . We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever increasing rate.”
Whether we live in that part of the world where the local economy often depends on materialistic consumption or not, we will come face to face with this vital question: Materialism or spirituality? One’s mere neglect of spirituality places one on the side of materialism, for a materialist is not necessarily one who has many material possessions. He can be poor and still be a materialist by neglecting spirituality.
When people notice the admiration given to those who have the latest in luxury, the desire for equal attention often builds up so strong a craving that items once considered unimportant become, with the aid of skilled advertising, necessities. Realizing that their income will not allow for such, many persons soothe the pain of the price by the drug of long-term payments. By the time the payments are cleared up, it often happens that the item purchased is no longer in style, being obsolescent or obsolete, and the vicious cycle begins all over.
FAILURE TO MEET MAN’S NEEDS
How practical is the way of materialism? The answer can be seen in the ever-increasing amount of disease and nervous disorder, nearly 800 new varieties appearing in the last twenty-eight years. However, primitive Indian tribes of northern Brazil who have no “higher learning” or modern conveniences surprise us with the fact that among them diseases such as tuberculosis, cancer and heart trouble are virtually nonexistent. Dr. William Hall Holden, American explorer, attributes their health to simple diet, no overeating, no stress and strain, no worry about money and no ‘keeping up with the Joneses.’ The blood pressure of the oldest Indians in the tribes was about equal to that of a twenty-three-year-old man in the United States.
Material conveniences may draw admiration from others, but they can easily repel true spirituality. Wise King Solomon realized this and said: “There exists the one that is pretending to be rich and yet he has nothing at all.” (Prov. 13:7) Yes, the inspiring purpose in life, to gain recognition from God, is missing. Mutual trust and true friends are missing, for one’s very associates turn out to be one’s chief competitors. Most important of all, the peace and security that come from knowing one’s life is winning God’s approval is missing. “I have met many very rich men in my half century of journalism,” says Malcom W. Bingay, past editorial director of the Detroit Free Press, “and I have never known one of them whose millions brought him inner peace and happiness.”
When those whose way of life largely depends on material prosperity cry for more spirituality, the weight of the problem takes on added impact. New York city industrialist Admiral Ben Moreel said: “When we speak of higher standards of living, let us not limit ourselves to thoughts of common objects of convenience and comfort; for there is more to a standard of living than the material things. We need to plan for an ever-rising standard of spiritual living as well.”
The impact has hit hard at the very ones who are responsible for spiritual leadership. Cleric E. Rex Taylor of the First United Church in Ottawa, Canada, lamented: “What we need most is power, the kind of power which actuated the early church and made it a living, vital force.”
DELINQUENT SPIRITUAL LEADERS
Why is this vital force still missing, even in countries where interest in religion is popular? An answer is found in the Holy Bible at Jeremiah 2:13: “There are two bad things that my people have done: They have left even me, the source of living water, in order to hew out for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that cannot contain the water.” Instead of directing the people to the Word of God, many of today’s clergymen criticize the Bible as impractical and direct people to human organizations such as the United Nations. The clergy all too often blur the clear truth of the Bible with philosophies of evolution, modern psychiatry and man-made doctrines that are contrary to God’s Word and sound reason.
The fruits of their own philosophies expose them as delinquent spiritual leaders. J. Edgar Hoover, director of the F.B.I., reports: “In the United States criminals force us to spend each year more than four and two-thirds times as much on them as we spend on all forms of education, both public and private.” It is enlightening to note that 85 percent of these criminals profess to be members of Christian religions.
What are we to think of religious leaders who popularize religion to draw larger crowds and to bring better response to constant appeals for money? Well, what did God think of Israel’s shepherds who became spiritually delinquent? Declares God’s prophet: “Woe to the shepherds of Israel, who have become feeders of themselves! Is it not the flock that the shepherds ought to feed? The fat is what you eat, and with the wool you clothe your own selves. The plump animal is what you slaughter. The flock itself you do not feed. The sickened ones you have not strengthened, and the ailing one you have not healed, and the broken one you have not bandaged, and the dispersed one you have not brought back, and the lost one you have not sought to find, but with harshness you have had them in subjection, even with tyranny.”—Ezek. 34:2-4.
When the shepherds commercialize religion, how can they bring about true spirituality? Reflect on the actions of Jesus during Passover season, A.D. 33. Multitudes of Jews from surrounding districts of Judea came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Coming to the temple, they would pay the temple tax in local currency, along with sacrificing various animals and doves. Since this was part of their form of worship, the priests permitted stalls and booths to be set up in the Court of the Gentiles within the temple precincts where foreign money could be exchanged and sacrificial animals bought. Among such sanctified surroundings and with the sanction of dedicated priests, who would dare question the propriety of such activities? Not only was it convenient, but was it not all going for religious purposes? Outwardly it all appeared very reputable, but along came Jesus, who overturned their money tables, exposing their avarice and their form of worship as nothing more than a shallow, formalistic, outward show of self-righteousness.—Matt. 21:12.
Popular religion having failed to lay a solid foundation for true spirituality, youth today has turned to material pleasures. Speaking for teen-age groups in London, England, a nineteen-year-old youth said: “I suppose teen-agers haven’t got the staying power to go to church. Laziness, maybe. What’s it going to prove anyway? You turn to religion if you are lonely or lacking in something. Teen-agers don’t lack anything. . . . We do lead very materialistic lives. A teen-ager doesn’t need a God. He has his own.” But for both youth and adults, worship at the shrine of materialism has not brought the happiness they seek and has given them no certain hope for the future. Only true spirituality can do that.
OBTAINING TRUE SPIRITUALITY
True spirituality is the opposite of sensuality or worldliness. It is the sincere desire for God’s approval, the desire to do God’s will. To obtain true spirituality one must conquer the selfish desire for prestige and honor among men. Said Jesus to the Jews: “I do not accept glory from men, but I well know that you do not have the love of God in you. I have come in the name of my Father, but you do not receive me; if someone else arrived in his own name, you would receive that one. How can you believe, when you are accepting glory from one another and you are not seeking the glory that is from the only God?” (John 5:41-44) Seeking glory for ourselves is worldliness; seeking glory that is from the only true God shows spirituality.
True spirituality, then, is a dynamic force, based on an accurate knowledge of God’s Word, that transforms and gives an inspiring purpose to one’s life. It transforms one’s whole personality, just as the apostle Paul said: “Strip off the old personality with its practices, and clothe yourselves with the new personality which through accurate knowledge is being renewed.”—Col. 3:9, 10.
A demonstration of true spirituality on a world-wide scale can be seen among the ones who provided you with this magazine, namely, Jehovah’s witnesses. In the New World society of Jehovah’s witnesses there are no racial, national or religious divisions. The moral standards of the New World society are those that the Bible requires for all who will gain life in God’s new world. True spirituality, therefore, requires not only right beliefs but right action, conduct in harmony with the Word of God.
Jehovah’s witnesses do not deprive themselves of what material conveniences man needs. Emphasis, however, is put on the study and application of God’s Word in their daily lives. To maintain true spirituality they know they must be selective in what they read, for the reading matter of the world has become corrupted; instead of being an aid to spirituality, it tears down spirituality. Popular novels, for instance, feature sex or violence or both. “The literary quality that [book] reprint firms seek most,” says one authority, “is the sensual description of sex episodes.”
No, this world’s spiritually devitalizing reading matter is not for those who wish true spirituality. Those who wish spirituality use God’s Word as a guide as to what they put into their minds: “Whatever things are true, whatever things are of serious concern, whatever things are righteous, whatever things are chaste, whatever things are lovable, whatever things are well spoken of, whatever virtue there is and whatever praiseworthy thing there is, continue considering these things.”—Phil. 4:8.
HELPING OTHERS GAIN SPIRITUALITY
Helping others see the need for having true spirituality aids us, in turn, in being spiritually-minded. In this regard, Gerald Gdovin in the Catholic magazine Information issue of August, 1959, commented on the activities of Jehovah’s witnesses: “The Catholic laity can learn one important lesson from members of Jehovah’s Witnesses. That is to make their religion such an important element in their lives that they are willing to spend many more hours than they do now to deepen their knowledge of it; and to spread it—as if it were ‘a matter of life and death.”’
Last year Jehovah’s witnesses spent over 131 million hours enriching the lives of over half a million families in 179 nations by conducting home Bible studies and by telling others of the blessings of God’s kingdom. This activity is their answer to Jesus’ instruction to keep “seeking first the kingdom” and his prophecy that “this good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for the purpose of a witness to all the nations.”—Matt. 6:33; 24:14.
Jehovah’s witnesses are willing to help you gain true spirituality. They will be glad to discuss the Bible with you in your own home. Additionally, almost every Sunday spiritually strengthening talks are given on Bible subjects at their Kingdom Halls. You are invited to attend.
Pursue spirituality. Why sacrifice your life to the pursuit of temporary prestige? Seek the glory that comes from the true God. Which will it be: materialism or spirituality? Your life and happiness depend on the right choice.