Worldly and Spiritual Values: Humankind May Depend on Rediscovering a Natural Balance

How to reconcile secular worldly and selfless spiritual values.

Posted May 19, 2011

Worldly and spiritual values appear to pull people in different directions. Take a look at each in turn and this becomes clear. How may they be reconciled?

Worldly values primarily concern basic human needs to survive and flourish: food, clothing and shelter. This means not only making sure you can pay for what's required, but also having something extra for luxuries and for security. The more anxious you are about life's risks and vicissitudes, the more you are likely to want to acquire and accumulate.

It is a short step from this position to one fully embracing monetary values; giving them high, if not top, priority. Everyone would like to be rich.

It says, "In God We Trust". Why so?

In a materialist cultural environment, alongside wealth, power and celebrity are also given priority. The powerful need never go hungry. The famous need never go without. They have more than they require to survive and thrive. Those who are wealthy, powerful and famous can have more or less whatever they desire; and this is not always healthy.

Worldly values, driven by the profit motive and laws of supply and demand, come therefore to be essentially mercenary. They are divisive, result in the development of self-interest groups, and pit people into competition with each other. Some say this is a benefit, but it can be destructive. There are both unworthy winners and innocent losers.

Worldly values lead to shopping temptations.

Secular values are not themselves in any way reprehensible. They are good; but they easily decline towards being over-competitive, ego-driven and self-interested. Initially need-driven, they readily become greed-driven. The fear of threatened insufficiencies invests them with an urgency that ratchets up the pace of life, imbued with a kind of blindness for anything but the short-term goal.

Spiritual values, in contrast, have a calmer, eternal quality, arising from deep-seated inner connectedness to the divine or spiritual dimension of human experience. Spiritual awareness, when cultivated through regular prayer, meditation and other spiritual practices, keeps the true, spiritual self in touch and in tune with the source of spiritual values, characterised by mature and selfless love.

Notice seen on a psychiatric unit

To make a list, then spiritual values include:

Honesty... Trust... Kindness... Generosity... Tolerance... Patience... Perseverance... Discernment... Humility... Courage... Beauty... and Hope.

I am not sure if these are best thought of as values or the virtues on which they are based. Either way, it is worth going slowly through them, spending quality time reflecting on the true meaning and significance of each.

It is also worth reflecting on how these spiritual values may clash with, and be corrupted by, secular, materialist, worldly values. Complete honesty and unbounded generosity, for example, might well undermine the efforts of those interested in economic profit from the advertising and sale of goods.

People may argue that wealth creation benefits everyone, and this may be true when material benefits alone are considered. However, spiritual values are compromised whenever some are being exploited for the benefit of others. Think about low-paid workers in far-off places. Think too about consumers enticed into spending on what may not be essential for them, at the expense of more basic goods and services: not only food, clothing and shelter, but also healthcare and education.

There seems to be a dramatic clash, but it takes only a simple formula to reconcile worldly and spiritual values: give priority to the latter at all times.

Even in the pursuit of apparently secular, worldly goals, it is best that spiritual values predominate and prevail. This is the true antidote to anxiety and despair. Many of the problems besetting humanity - conflict, hardship, war and famine among them - arise when the opposite occurs, when worldly values override spiritual sensibilities. This can be corrected, as human beings - individually and eventually collectively - grow increasing compassionate, wise and mature.

Humanity can be said to be passing through a kind of extended adolescence, as we learn to take responsibility for the consequences of thoughts, words and actions governed by our personal and communal sets of values. This is the journey, the path and pilgrimage of spiritual development that we are each on, since birth and throughout life. It seems worth repeating that we are all on it together.

Copyright Larry Culliford

Larry's books include The Psychology of Spirituality, Love, Healing & Happiness and (as Patrick Whiteside) The Little Book of Happiness and Happiness: The 30 Day Guide.