03/28/2008 02:48 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Step IX Of My Spiritual Journey: In Which I Talk Money

Last week's Scientology post got me thinking about money. And how I've always wanted lots of it. And also how, in New York specifically, you can never seem to have enough. And lastly, how I don't think that necessarily makes me a bad person.

(And also, I'm pretty sure that there are no two things more controversial than money and religion, unless you really want to stir things up and throw politics into the mix.)

So, let's talk money: money as in personal wealth, money as in charity, and money as in religion.

When you think of the most spiritual people in the world, like Sister Wendy or Ghandi, they're not wealthy. In fact, they're quite the opposite, but I wouldn't necessarily use the word "poor." Poor denotes a lack of wealth, and I don't think that the Sister Wendys or the Ghandis of the world want wealth. They have, instead, chosen to live simply.

And that is admirable. I get that. It's admirable because it's difficult. I can't even abstain from McDonald's; I'm not sure how long I'd last without my MTV, or my credit card, for that matter. Which brings me to my point. Are wealth and spirituality mutually exclusive? Or perhaps if we define wealth as pleasure (since wealth clearly allows for the finer things in life) - are pleasure and spirituality mutually exclusive? (I'm ignoring the "spirituality is pleasure" argument. Too easy.)

If I choose to believe in a higher power, or an inner-self, does that mean I have to forsake all the things (however frivolous) that I love in life? I don't think so. I think the point of spirituality is that it's different for everyone. I think that I can find inner peace, but still thoroughly enjoy the new season of The Real World / Road Rules Challenge. I can also enjoy an absurdly expensive steak from Peter Luger's, because spirituality, for me, does not involve vegetarianism. If I am happy with my level, should that not be enough? Doesn't "spirituality" differ from "religion" in that there are no set rules, no levels, no judgment?

And then there's charity, which I hope everyone can agree is a good thing. But is charity spirituality? What if you were a completely and utterly materialistic atheist, but you donated 90% of your money (assuming that the remaining 10% was still enough with which to be utterly materialistic) to charity? Are you therefore a spiritual person? Are you even a good person? What speaks more about someone's inner-self - what they do to save the world? Or what they're doing that doesn't save the world? I'm of the argument that good actions speak louder than most actions, but at what point does charity become a form of penance? If we assume that the inner-self is made up of checks and balances, then at exactly what point does it all balance out?

Penance brings me to religion, where I have to admit, I've always had a problem with donations that were religiously affiliated. I understand that religions are charitable entities, and that their funding (feeding the nuns, etc) has to come from somewhere, but when there is an undeniable lack of transparency, how do you know where your money is going?

And while it's obvious that there is a problem with a "church" (ahem, Scientology) that requires "donations" (cough, auditing fees, cough) in order to participate (considering the words "required" and "donation" more or less negate each other), what about when non-profit organizations are religiously affiliated, and therefore religiously distributed? Should charitable donations be limited to those following a specific religion? Personally, I'm still skeptical of World Vision, even though they are explicit that their help is non-denominational. (Commenters: feel free to confirm / deny.) When I donate, I want to know that my money is going to anyone and everyone in need. (And on that note, I also like to make sure my money isn't going towards some animal-themed umbrella, which I'll later receive in the mail as a "thank you" for my charitable donation to the Humane Society. But that's neither here nor there.)

And so, to end this post, and to answer my own questions, I know where I stand - and that's that while I'm not nearly spiritual or charitable enough, I'll get there. And when I do, I'm pretty damn sure I'll still be DVR-ing Rock Of Love with Bret Michaels, paying double-digits for dirty martinis, and enjoying every last bite of my Chicken Liver and Foie Gras Mousse at Balthazar. And I'm OK with that.

But where do you stand, oh loyal readers? Is there a right answer? Am I so wrong? My journey is nothing without followers, and so, I entreat you: Discuss.

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