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The Table Video

Cornel West

Affluence, Indifference, and Christian Spirituality - Cornel West on Spiritual Malnutrition

Professor of Philosophy and Christian Practice, Union Theological Seminary / Professor Emeritus, Princeton University
August 12, 2015

“Every nook and cranny shot through with money-making and profit-taking… but there’s less gas in our spiritual tanks.” Cornel West calls out the stark contrast between our rampant consumerism and equally rampant “spiritual malnutrition”—which he thinks of as an indifference to the suffering of others.

West urges, “anytime we talk about civility, I want to begin on a spiritual note and talk about piety… not blind acceptance, not uncritical deference to doctrine or dogma.” We live in a time where we have access to almost anything we want, and yet we do not have what we actually need.


Cornel West: We live in a moment, probably the most commodified, commercialized, marketized culture in the history of the world. Every nook and cranny shot through with obsession with money-making and profit-taking. Thirty years ago, it was not the case. We are still the same human beings with the same, ugly proclivities. But, there’s less gas in our spiritual tanks in the present moment. Spiritual malnutrition is much more pervasive, and by spiritual malnutrition, I’m not just talking about emptiness of soul, but, I am talking about an indifference to the suffering of others; the callousness of those who are catching hell. Great Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel used to say, “Indifference to evil is more insidious than evil itself.”

Audience: Yes.

Cornel West: William James, probably the greatest and most lovable and adorable of all public intellectuals in America the last two-hundred years, he say “Indifference is the one trait that makes the very angels weep.” This is the very opposite of what it is to follow the way of the cross, of the poles, to the dominant ways of the world. And, so, anytime we talk about civility, I want to begin on a spiritual note to talk about piety, and by piety, I am not talking about blind acceptance, I’m talking about uncritical deference to doctrine and dogma. I’m talking about a way of life in which you acknowledge those sources of good in your life, the wind at your back, so you remember, so you can revere something bigger than you, and you have the courage to resist in the name, of, for me, a kingdom of God, the beloved community. But, even if you’re not Christian, there’s some other good things to fight for.