This strikingly apt phrase comes from Al Kresta’s book titled Dangers To The Faith: Recognizing Catholicism’s 21st-Century Opponents. While adherence to what’s termed mainline or institutional religion declines in our country ‘spiritual hoboism’ is on the rise. One reads that the fastest growing denomination, especially among the young, are the “nones”. I wonder if the second fastest spreading group are those who say they are not religious but they are spiritual.
Are we becoming a nation of spiritual hobos? Other than man made laws – ultimately as changeable as popular opinion – do we no longer acknowledge that immutable natural law guides us. Are we letting fade into desuetude the religiously inspired culture and its traditions that have provided the social cohesion underpinning our ability to be civilized?
When each of us ‘goes his own way’, ‘does his own thing’, responds to his own ‘spirituality’ we are beholden to nothing or to no one. We neither revere nor recognize the universal Truth which engenders our common humanity. Obstinately blind to the shared imago dei that yearns to shine in each of us, we lose sight of the reality that unites and supports us. We eschew the rigorous demands of reason and succumb to the easy lure of vagabondage.
If we are a nation of vagabonds, we are not e pluribus unum. No values or beliefs unite us. Nothing fortifies us in the face of adversity. To quote the quip attributed to Benjamin Franklin, we will have a republic if we can keep it. But, how can we keep it if we do not together respect the “laws of Nature and Nature’s God” and each individual determines what is right or wrong – if indeed he even credits the existence of right and wrong?
Spiritual hoboism is a cop-out. It is an escape into solipsism and an abandonment of community. Commitment to another, as in marriage, or to the Other, as in religion, is avoided. No wonder the family, the basic unit of our society, is in such disarray.
But we dare to hope. Just as with an individual, when a society exhausts itself in pursuits unmoored from natural law, from culture and tradition, it begins to consider that there must be more to life than the vitiating distractions of spiritual hoboism and its cousin, secularism. By the grace of God some event or condition will reawaken it and rekindle within it the flame of humanity.
Our family lore has it that when as a youngster he was asked what he wanted to be when he “grew up” my grandfather declared his intention to be a “happy bum”. It was the untimely death of his father and the grief on his mother’s face that changed the trajectory of this sixteen-year-old and propelled him into very productive and committed adulthood.
The happiest hobos are the ones who come to realize that while the Kingdom itself advances the freight cars on which they ‘bum’ rides do not.