Are we in the middle of a spiritual famine?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.


Religious cemetery.
Photo courtesy of

Is there a Higher Power shortage?

Recently I have been struck by the number of people who sit down with me to talk about their mental and emotional problems who say they are spiritual but can’t describe themselves as a member of any particular religion.

These clients know that they need some spiritual help, they often have some sort of general idea of a God or higher power that they feel could be particularly helpful to them, but they find no way to connect that belief in a higher power with any particular religious practice.

We know that for recovering people having a strong support system a key ingredient in their recovery. I suspect that having that resource is helpful in keeping other people mentally healthy also. But repeatedly I hear that despite multiple tries these folk are not getting their spiritual needs met at any particular religious organization.

As a professional, I try to not take sides in any religious controversies. It is not my place to tell you what you should believe. I find that having that spiritual belief, so long as it is helpful to you and does not encourage you to harm yourself or others, can be of great benefit to most everyone.

One question on the assessment form we use asks about the client having a particular religious or spiritual connection. Most clients can’t answer this one.

One common saying in recovery is that if you hang out in a barbershop you will get a haircut. We know this also applies to bars and crack houses, not getting a haircut there, but drinking and using drugs. So it makes sense that attending some sort of religious institution should help connect you with other supportive people who are working on their relationship with their higher power.

In trying to help clients find that support system, I often ask what religious or spiritual group they might choose to affiliate with. The suggestion here is that attending a particular church, temple, mosque, coven or what have you, might connect them with other people with similar spiritual beliefs. I make these suggestions despite my sometimes having personal misgivings about the particular religious group they have been affiliated with in the past.

A very large percentage of these folks report that they have tried and are unable to find a religious group that meets their spiritual needs.

It is not just my clients that have this problem. This situation is not unique to those who are in recovery from mental or emotional problems. It is not a special issue for just those who use or abuse drugs and alcohol. Nationwide surveys indicate that the number of people who report being spiritual rather than religious has been rising and in some surveys, those who describe themselves as spiritual rather than religious exceed those who have a particular religious affiliation.

It has been suggested that this move away from God and organized religion is the result of secular materialism and our modern culture. I find that hard to believe. Most of my clients have tried that culture of things and drugs, found it wanting, and are searching for some spiritual values.

There is a spiritual hunger that is not getting fed. This hunger is approaching famine stage.

One reason for this spiritual hunger is that the food being offered in so many religious institutions has spoiled.

We do not need to pick on any particular religion to see the effects of this spiritual spoilage.

Christian groups splitter and hate each other. Wars occur because of doctrinal differences. The Protestants fight the Catholics and then they fight each other. The Muslims divide up into Sunni and Shiite and they then bomb and kill each other.

Clearly these religions Gods are grumpy cantankerous, constipated old men who hate anyone who does not wear the right clothing and join the correct political party.

Too many of my clients have been harmed by someone under the guise of being the servant of some particular God. When I suggest taking the family to church the client may confide in me about being sexually or physically abused by a religious leader. They are afraid to leave their child alone with a religious leader.

They may have been told repeatedly that they are worthless and will never be of any value if they do not do the work prescribed by their religious leader. Once convinced you will never be satisfactory in your god’s eyes, you eventually give up trying. We call this learned helplessness.

When someone says they are an alcoholic I give thanks, I know where to send them. They will find a spiritual tradition and people who will accept them at an A.A. meeting. Drug addicts have N. A. I feel sorry for those who are merely depressed or anxious. I am not sure where to send them.

I find it hard to make religious referrals. Most places of worship do not want my clients. They dress funny, they have used drugs and some of them are mentally ill. Not many religions want those people around.

Where am I to send Mary Ann or Mary Sue? Churches do not want prostitutes or psychotic people coming to services. I am not sure I could make a referral for Mary Magdalena or even Jesus these days.

I am even worried about Mohammed if he were to return. If I send him to the wrong mosque will he die again, this time in a bombing?

Despite a church, mosque, or other religious institution on almost every corner, the spiritual famine continues. My only hope is that God is not restricted to doing business in a particular building and that spirituality can work anywhere.

So if your higher power has let you down consider a new search for a spiritual power and a spiritual home that can help you find that happy life you deserve.

For more on this topic take a look at a previous post here on about how to hire a God that is up to the task you need him for.

Wishing you the best on your road to a happy life

David Joel Miller, LMFT, LPCC

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

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2 thoughts on “Are we in the middle of a spiritual famine?

  1. Pingback: Spiritual recovery tools- The religion, spirituality divorce | counselorssoapbox

  2. “Despite a church, mosque or other religious institution on most every corner, the spiritual famine continues. My only hope is that God is not restricted to doing business in a particular building and that spirituality can work anywhere.”

    Indeed, I agree with this.

    This also made me think of when I was recently reading the book Walden, by H.D Thoreau, and in it he writes that he dislikes how priests act as if they had a monopoly on God.


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