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Materialist vs. Spiritualist Worldviews--Whitney Conti

            Although Lexam’s proposed drilling is replete with grey areas, I encountered a drastic polarization over the issue. I attribute this binary of opinion to be a reflection of more deep-seated Western dichotomies of materialist and spiritualist worldviews, more so than a simple difference of attitude. This essay is a look into the long-fought struggle between materialism and spiritualism in Western ideology to better understand how this dichotomy is problematic for the Crestone drilling issue.           
            Western society has constructed materialism and spiritualism to be in opposition with one another to the point that they appear incompatible. This supposed incompatibility is directly connected to underlying value systems that prioritize differently; subsequently affecting how the individual understands Crestone’s drilling issue.
For the materialist, resource needs motivate human behavior. Thus, the material and tangible plane of existence commands understandings of society and human life. However, for the spiritualist, beliefs in multiple planes of existence value the intangible and metaphysical or supernatural as just as important, if not more so, than the material. This dichotomization of materialism and spiritualism is extremely apparent in the Crestone case, as those whom identify more with spiritualism seem more adamantly opposed to the drilling while materialists are in favor of the drilling. It is important to also note that one can be a spiritualist with materialist views, and visa versa, but due to the stringent dichotomy in Western polemics, these two sides seem irreconcilable.
Within the materialist perspective, drilling is unavoidable because oil is a necessary human resource. Furthermore, the impacts of drilling upon the cultural or spiritual ecology of Crestone are of lesser importance to potential material gains.
They are going to drill somewhere. If we chase them away from here they are going to go somewhere else. We are not going to stop them from drilling. (Joy Kells)

As Joy Kells, a Crestone volunteer firefighter and member of Cottonhood Sustainable Co-op points out in the above quote, there is a need for oil. Within dominant materialism, material needs take priority over the immaterial. However, for the spiritualists the material is often of less priority than the intangible,
A lot of people in the modern world wouldn’t believe that our primary purpose, in a sense, is prayer. We pray for the world. I think a lot of people, if they don’t have some deep rooting in some kind of spirituality, then they say ‘that’s a waste of time that doesn’t do any good you gotta get out there and do something. (Sister Connie)

            Sister Connie from the Nada Carmelite Hermitage in Crestone points out that her worldviews, which understand praying as the basis of life, are considered a ‘waste of time’ by larger society. She also says that it’s really only those without ‘some deep rooting in some kind of spirituality,’ whom consider praying fruitless. So again there is this sense that materialists and spiritualists are not only separate, but are in fact incommensurable. The existence of this dichotomy is mainly problematic because of the power roles conferred upon each side. Within Western society, materialism is not just dominant, but it is fundamental to legislature, neo-classical economics, and science, which have become the priority of the ‘modern’ Western world. Within this dichotomy then, spiritualism is seen as the less valid of the belief systems because it is not propagated and thus legitimated by dominant Western society. The materialist viewpoint has not always been the hegemony, however.
            Until the more materialist “Age of Reason” broke away from the more spiritualist theologies of government and law, Louis XIV, along with others, had established religious conformity as the governing definition of the self and the social. With Cartesian rationalism and the Copernican revolution, however, Western European society began to place the scientific method as the preferred and more legitimate way of addressing social problems and defining constitutions of knowledge. Within the scientific revolution, concepts of religion and spirituality began to be seen as separate from the legal principles of a rational and more tolerant society. This social order placed materialism and the tangible as the primary societal ideology over the intangibility of religion and spirituality (2005 Hunt). The materialist mentality of rationalism went on to survive the enlightenment, find affirmation in the Industrial Revolution, and become the socialized ideology of modernity.
            Thus, it is only because of this giant paradigmatic shift in Western consciousness that we have the spiritualist/materialist dichotomy today. If materialism wasn’t a direct reaction to theocratic ideologies of spiritualism, our hegemonic society might understand the relationship between planes of existence differently. However, because the material is more easily quantifiable and qualifiable within the scientific method, materialism is more broadly propagated as the foundation of Western reality, instead of just a facet. So if materialism is disseminated more extensively in Western hegemonic society, what place does spiritualism have?
Within this essay, I understand “Spiritualism” as a basic belief in the existence of spirits and/or planes beyond what the human can physically phenomenologically experience. Within this definition I am using spiritualism as a broader term that implicates the majority of religious and spiritual beliefs. Although the very definition of religion varies from rationalists like Lett (1997) to phenomenlogists like Klass (1995), within every understanding there is a belief in the supernatural, metaphysical, or at its most basic: something existing beyond the material. Within society, spiritualism is seen as an approved aspect of an individual’s well being, but it is not thought to have any place in federal affairs, scientific endeveours, or anything thought to be more fundamental, ‘objective,’ or ‘universal’ to Western culture. The commonality between those aginst the drilling in Crestone, which constrast greater U.S. society, was often that materialism was a lesser concern within their worldviews.
People don’t come here for the money. Money is far from the minds of the people here. The drilling is bringing forward people’s attitudes. (Julie Quinn, Crestone)

            In the above quote, Julie Quinn, a Crestone resident and member of the San Luis Valley Citizen’s alliance, notes the lack of economic drive in the Crestone community, something that is arguably unique from broader U.S. society, which is grounded in the pursuit of wealth. Julie Quinn is thus suggesting that many Crestone citizens are not just counter-hegemonic, but have a different worldview than broader U.S. society.
“If you started drilling here, you would completely disturb the energies at every single level, every single plane here. There are hidden levels to this place that should never ever be touched by outsiders. Drilling is a violation.” (Debra Floyd)

Here, Debra Floyd, the self-identified “village witch” of Crestone, understands the hidden levels and planes of existence as just as important as the visible planes. She goes onto construct the energies of Crestone almost as a resource necessary to the community. These unique energies seem to be just as valuable if not more so than the potential natural gas beneath the Valley floor for her. Furthermore, many Crestone citizens argued that the unique energy of Crestone can be a traditional economic resource, in addition to being a more metaphysical spiritual resource.
The concerns are definitely very legitimate concerns about noise in the mediations and retreats that we have around here that are very large part of our community and income. We have a lot of Tibetan Buddhist retreats, that are similar to tourists coming here, they come from California from all over to just be silent. (Lonnie Roth)

Just as Lonnie Roth, from Crestone Creative Trade Company, highlights, the intangible special qualities of Crestone are actual commodities to economic infrastructure. So the questions then remain: does everything of economic rational value in society have to be tangible? If elite special interests are predominantly materially focused, how does that shape our larger society’s value system? Do we want aspects of intangible life to be defined and constructed hegemonically, or become the special interests of the powerful? Does a desire for spiritualist acknowledgement in greater society necessarily equate to interests in regimented theocracy? Is the dichotomy between spiritualism and materialism even necessary or helpful? Essentially: what role do we want spiritualism to have in greater society, and how can it work with materialist polemics? (Especially within Crestone’s current drilling issue)
            To read more about the role of spirituality and religion in legislature and larger dominant belief systems, see Penelope Morgan’s Spiritualizing Politics, Vanessa Richardson’s Religion Muddying Legal Waters, and Rachel Yokum’s Economics: Ideas of Value.


Ayers, Edward.
            1978 Science and the Séance: Review of InSearch of White Crows: Spiritualism, Parapsychology, and American Culture. Reviews in American History. 6(3): 306-312.

Geertz, Clifford
            Religion as a Cultural System. In The Function of Religion in Human Society. Pp. 78-89.

Klass, Morton
            1995 At play in the Sacred Grove. In Ordered Universes: Approaches to the Anthropology of Religion. Pp 1-24.  Boulder: Westview. 

Klass, Morton
            1995 The Problem with the Supernatural. In Ordered Universes: Approaches to the Anthropology of Religion. Pp. 25-33. Boulder: Westview. 

Lawton, George
            1930 Spiritualism. A Contemporary American Religion. The Journal of Religion.10(1): 37-54.

Lett, James
            1997 Science, Religion, Anthropology. In Anthropology of Religion.: A Handbook. Ed. Stephen Glazier. Pp. 103-119. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press.

Moore, Laurence R.
            1972 Spiritualism and Science: Reflections on the First Decade of the Spirit Rappings. American Quarterly. 24 (4): 474-500.

Westen, Drew
            1984 Cultural Materialism: Food for Thought or Bum Steer? Current Anthropology. 25 (5): 639-653.

2005 Lynn, Hunt and Martin, Thomas The Making of the West: Peoples and Cultures.Bedford/St Martin’s: Boston.

(Luhrman1959: 57) This understanding that spiritualists place lower importance upon material planes comes directly from Luhrman’s characterization of Western Mysteries


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