General Question

wundayatta's avatar

Can spirituality substitute for materialism as a way to gain status? Would it matter?

Asked by wundayatta (58596points) August 17th, 2010

One common way of trying to gain status is the accumulation and display of stuff. The subtext of stuff says that the stuff owner is important and powerful—to the degree that their stuff supports.

Yet another way of trying to gain status is to raise social capital. Social capital arises from the number of and strength of connections with other people. It comes from the capabilities a person has as well as their ability to employ those capabilities to help a business or community. Education, networks, and other resources help build social capital because they all enhance a person’s ability to get stuff done.

Arguably, another form of social capital comes from being a “spiritual” leader or follower or practicer. People who reject materialism say they aren’t going to play by the rules any more. They are going to drop out of the rat race. They say they don’t care about status and materialism doesn’t mean anything. So they turn their lives to something else.

Or do they? Is spirituality just another way to raise social capital? Is it a way to gain status? Or is it somehow outside the system of human dynamics?

In either case, what is (or would be) the significance of pursuing spirituality instead of materialism? How would it affect an individual’s place in society?

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32 Answers

CMaz's avatar

Only to yourself.
And, that’s really all that matters.

“How would it affect an individual’s place in society?”

History has shown that forms of “spirituality” have been and continue to be a powerful tool for controlling the masses.

I don’t believe Egypt could have been built without it.

Blackberry's avatar

One of my teachers in highschool told me long ago: “You can’t make a living trying to find the meaning of life.”. In my opinion, you have to have a balance between working to get stuff, and making time to find yourself and positively affect others around you without looking for a reward. I am not going to toss out all my earthly possessions and go learn from wise monks in Tibet because I am still trying to work and get stuff, although if I reached a certain level of material comfort, I may toss the importance of it aside and do something ‘bigger than myself’.

Coloma's avatar

One can become attached to spiritual seeking as one can become attached to materialism.

Anything can be used to strengthen a false sense of self.

‘Oooh, I am soooo speeritual’....

I have always been a non-conformist of high integrity ( my ‘self’ description lol ) and lived my life my way, waay before I fell into my ‘spiritual’ journey many years ago now.

The true test is how this seeking journey plays out in the longterm.

One can experience awakenings, and still remain grounded in the middle path, not extremist, a natural and healthy process of growth, integration and a return to what is.

‘Before enlightenment, chop wood carry water, after enlightenment, chop wood carry water.’

Nothing really changes and yet everything changes.

If one has truly experienced the truth of themselves the seeking stops, as there is no-thing to seek, only a discovery of what has been there all along.

Grasping and clinging to anything to enhance a sense of self is the slippery slope of ego still seeking to enhance it’s sense of identity by attaching to an identity.

However, once one awakens to the truth of ‘self’ they do, naturally dis-identify with anything outside themselves as a source of bolstering the fictitious self.

It then becomes a play in the world of form, if you want the new car, the big house, whatever, you may choose to attain that thing, but you no longer identify with ‘stuff’ or status as a measurement of your ‘self.’

At this level of ‘spiritual’ development it becomes very easy to release lots of stuff that one has clung to as a part of who they are.

Want something you like in my house?

It’s yours! ;-)

wundayatta's avatar

Can I have the hot tub, please? Oh! And the view, too!

CMaz's avatar

“However, once one awakens to the truth of ‘self’ they do, naturally dis-identify with anything outside themselves as a source of bolstering the fictitious self.”

You get a GA for that line! :-)

josie's avatar

Human imagination is captivated by all sorts of things. There are almost limitless ways of earning social capital. Same principle as the market place. If one became a spiritualist, one would earn social capital from those yearning for the spiritual. Like Rasputin.

MeinTeil's avatar

This happens all the time.

It’s the origin of the expression “Holier than thou”.

Just as sad as materialism for it’s own sake.

Coloma's avatar

Well…I admit, I couldn’t give my goose away…hot tub yes, Marwyn, no.
Then again the two do kinda go together, I’d have to replace the tub for the sake of the goose guru who likes to float in a state of bliss like a little oragami boat. lol

There is always work to be done with attachments. haha

janbb's avatar

What—Holier than thou? Sounds like faux spirituality to me.

MeinTeil's avatar

Seems we’re assuming there’s any real spirituality.

Coloma's avatar


The word ‘spirituality’ was coined I think to denote the self realization process independent of fundamental religious dogma.

A word that allows space for discovering universal truths without having to associate with any particular religious or biblical interps.

MeinTeil's avatar

I recommend you go with science instead.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

Assuming you are referring to an internally motivated search for spiritual meaning for its own sake, I do not see it as a likely path to increased social status.

stardust's avatar

@Coloma I’d like to sit and have tea with you!

wundayatta's avatar

@MeinTeil How does science help with the self-realization process? Indeed, how can science help with any process that can’t be measured directly? Science can only deal with reports about spiritual experiences. Science might also be able to correlate electrical signals in the brain with certain reports—that remains to be seen.

However, meaning, it seems to me, can only be made by humans. Meaning is meaningless to science. The results of science can only be interpreted by scientists or other humans. We are the ones who make science meaningful. We are the ones who make meaning of our lives. Science can provide much information, but it can not make meaning.

zophu's avatar

Is standardized social hierarchy naturally required for human dynamics?; why would spirituality have to be outside of human dynamics completely if it is incompatible with that?

Is Economic materialism really incompatible with spirituality? I could fill my life with material wealth without being absurd, or overly selfish or indulgent. If that material wealth was truly useful to myself and those around me, why couldn’t it be spiritual? Many farmers have spiritual relationships with the land and that is materialistic, even in an economic sense.

Coloma's avatar


I have some authentic home grown Taiwanese tea from a friends tea plantation…come on over! ;-)

BarnacleBill's avatar

It’s a little more covert than out-and-out materialism. For example, the urban back-to-the-land movement is big in my community. Heaven forbid that you should be caught purchasing tomatoes at the grocery! What! Don’t have chickens in the backyard? No square-foot gardening beds? Your tomatoes aren’t heirloom? Not planning to can? You know you can compost that…

There’s also a “I have a more diverse friend base than you, and am therefore more tolerant of others” and the backyard world religions panorama—no prayer flags on the deck?

DarlingRhadamanthus's avatar

@BarnacleBill…... That was a great answer.

BarnacleBill's avatar

Yeah, one of the neighborhood uproars was over a “stolen” compost heap. It was later discovered that during the quarterly yard waste removal by the city, it was mistaken for yard waste, and hauled away.

I, for one, am getting a little tired of having to break for chickens crossing the road to get to the other side.

Coloma's avatar


Maybe they are running away to be free range chickens. lol

I wish I could keep chickens, but where I am the Coyotes nab ‘em every time you turn around. I miss my chickens.

Kraigmo's avatar

I think it can substitute, and the dead-end it leads to is nearly the same.

Flip through any big city New Age magazine. You’ll see classifieds in the back, and you’ll see pictures of a bunch of people trying to do just that.

stardust's avatar

@Coloma nice, can’t wait

MeinTeil's avatar

@wundayatta Science tell us that the only purpose in life is to propagate then die.

Animals as intelligent as humans can decide for themselves what their purpose is.

We can choose to use natural functions for pleasure instead by making them more sophisticated (sex, food, etc.)

You, as an individual have now determined for yourself what your life’s purpose is.

In other words, self gratification.

Coloma's avatar


And ‘spirituality’ tells us our only purpose is to wake up from the dream and to serve.

Ultimately our purpose is not self serving, it is to be OF service to others.

Far more rewarding and purposeful than to wallow in hedonistic sensual pleasure.

Self gratification is the cornerstone of all worldly woe.

Enlightened humans may still in-joy sensual pleasure, but their ultimate fulfillment comes from giving, not shallow consumption.

MeinTeil's avatar

I like deep consumption too.

Coloma's avatar


Nothing wrong with that as long as you give back as well, to others, to your community, to the world.

DarlingRhadamanthus's avatar

Having been involved in spiritual life for longer than I care to utter….I see this materiality all the time. There is a lot of spirituality based on phenomena….not on discipline or true love. You can see the neophytes…they will enter a room so excited to hear about the ring that some guru can materialize…but would never sit quietly and meditate or pray. It’s about “the cool stuff” not the work on the inner levels which is what spirituality is all about. It reminds me of the Little Red Hen story…where she harvests and grinds the grain and makes the bread and no one helps…but everyone wants to eat the bread.

An even better example would be Madonna and Kabbalah. Madonna found her spiritual path and for all intents and purposes she is very devoted to this path. She has been on it without wavering for a decade (at least). When she started wearing a red string bracelet…everyone wanted one. I remember being in a Kabbalah Center one day in London and two young women came in, huffing and puffing and breathless: “Can you tell us where the Madonna bracelet is?” they asked the assistant. The assistant helped them and then asked, “Do you know what this symbolizes.” And they laughed. “No.” They had no real interest…they just wanted to be “trendy”.

So, yes, of course spirituality can be used as social capital. It has been all throughout history. No doubt, Jesus had his groupies…and then he had true disciples.

Coloma's avatar


Very well said.

Yep, talkin’ the talk ain’t walkin’ the walk.

DarlingRhadamanthus's avatar

@Coloma…Thank you. And you said it well yourself.

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