By Alan Miller, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Alan Miller is Director of The New York Salon and Co-Founder of London's Old Truman Brewery. He is speaking at The Battle of Ideas at London's Barbican in October.
The increasingly common refrain that "I'm spiritual, but not religious," represents some of the most retrogressive aspects of contemporary society. The spiritual but not religious "movement" - an inappropriate term as that would suggest some collective, organizational aspect - highlights the implosion of belief that has struck at the heart of Western society.
Spiritual but not religious people are especially prevalent in the younger population in the United States, although a recent study has argued that it is not so much that people have stopped believing in God, but rather have drifted from formal institutions.
It seems that just being a part of a religious institution is nowadays associated negatively, with everything from the Religious Right to child abuse, back to the Crusades and of course with terrorism today.
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Those in the spiritual-but-not-religious camp are peddling the notion that by being independent - by choosing an "individual relationship" to some concept of "higher power", energy, oneness or something-or-other - they are in a deeper, more profound relationship than one that is coerced via a large institution like a church.
That attitude fits with the message we are receiving more and more that "feeling" something somehow is more pure and perhaps, more "true” than having to fit in with the doctrine, practices, rules and observations of a formal institution that are handed down to us.
The trouble is that “spiritual but not religious” offers no positive exposition or understanding or explanation of a body of belief or set of principles of any kind.
What is it, this "spiritual" identity as such? What is practiced? What is believed?
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The accusation is often leveled that such questions betray a rigidity of outlook, all a tad doctrinaire and rather old-fashioned.
But when the contemporary fashion is for an abundance of relativist "truths" and what appears to be in the ascendancy is how one "feels" and even governments aim to have a "happiness agenda," desperate to fill a gap at the heart of civic society, then being old-fashioned may not be such a terrible accusation.
It is within the context of today's anti-big, anti-discipline, anti-challenging climate - in combination with a therapeutic turn in which everything can be resolved through addressing my inner existential being - that the spiritual but not religious outlook has flourished.
The boom in megachurches merely reflect this sidelining of serious religious study for networking, drop-in centers and positive feelings.
Those that identify themselves, in our multi-cultural, hyphenated-American world often go for a smorgasbord of pick-and-mix choices.
A bit of Yoga here, a Zen idea there, a quote from Taoism and a Kabbalah class, a bit of Sufism and maybe some Feing Shui but not generally a reading and appreciation of The Bhagavad Gita, the Karma Sutra or the Qur'an, let alone The Old or New Testament.
So what, one may ask?
Christianity has been interwoven and seminal in Western history and culture. As Harold Bloom pointed out in his book on the King James Bible, everything from the visual arts, to Bach and our canon of literature generally would not be possible without this enormously important work.
Indeed, it was through the desire to know and read the Bible that reading became a reality for the masses - an entirely radical moment that had enormous consequences for humanity.
Moreover, the spiritual but not religious reflect the "me" generation of self-obsessed, truth-is-whatever-you-feel-it-to-be thinking, where big, historic, demanding institutions that have expectations about behavior, attitudes and observance and rules are jettisoned yet nothing positive is put in replacement.
The idea of sin has always been accompanied by the sense of what one could do to improve oneself and impact the world.
Yet the spiritual-but-not-religious outlook sees the human as one that simply wants to experience "nice things" and "feel better." There is little of transformation here and nothing that points to any kind of project that can inspire or transform us.
At the heart of the spiritual but not religious attitude is an unwillingness to take a real position. Influenced by the contribution of modern science, there is a reluctance to advocate a literalist translation of the world.
But these people will not abandon their affiliation to the sense that there is "something out there," so they do not go along with a rationalist and materialistic explanation of the world, in which humans are responsible to themselves and one another for their actions - and for the future.
Theirs is a world of fence-sitting, not-knowingess, but not-trying-ness either. Take a stand, I say. Which one is it? A belief in God and Scripture or a commitment to the Enlightenment ideal of human-based knowledge, reason and action? Being spiritual but not religious avoids having to think too hard about having to decide.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Alan Miller.
In other words, anything but Christian = terrible.
Did his guy even interview someone who is spiritual but not regilous? Because he has no idea what this truely means and appears to make some outrageous accusations with absolutely no basis in fact.
Maybe people are not ‘fence-sitting’, as you so inelegantly stated, but rather like myself have made a firm intelligent decision that religions are the cause of some of the most devastating periods in man’s brief history on this planet and hopefully one day we will get past the need to use religions as a crutch for a weak mind and instead select lifestyles such as Buddhism to evolve.
fact is...nothing ismore dangereous then religion. It truly is the root of all evil.
the dangers of following religion have been many–the Inquisition, Jim Jones massacer, Waco, witch trials, pediphile priests, Heavens Gate, etc.
That is why we are told to test the spirits to see whether they be of God.
If she weighs the same as a duck, she's made of wood and therefore a witch.
If you convince a bunch of depressed people (because that's 33% of America folks) that life is better on the other side and there are people who are not like you, who are different and don't believe what you believe, you're going to have problems.
Rules are simple. Do good, be good, live your best in now and you can handle anything tomorrow brings. Because we have as a people, always have and always will, persevere.
Repeated studies have shown that there is a greater incidence of child molestation and incest among southern white evangelical christians than in any other group that participated in the study. Living in cramped quarters (such as trailer parks) is one of the main causes of perverted behavior among christians. Those requiring further proof need only to take a casual drive south of the Mason-Dixon Line. The abundance of toothless christian cretins you will see are a direct result of generations of inbreeding. Historians have theorized that the south lost the civil war due to the number of mentally challenged soldiers in the Confederate army, a direct result of this inbreeding.
Also, many of these christian misfits make their way north or west where they can be found working in gas stations and car washes. And yes, some do end up in Congress on the republican side of the aisle. And some end up in mainstream cinema, appearing in such classics as Deliverance and Smokey and The Bandit
Thank you for a great morning laugh.
Interesting opinion. LOL
Anyone who is religious or spiritual is an idiot.
Simple as that.
I think everyone needs some kind of "spiritual" experience, but I define that to include good music at a concert, being a sports fan, a surfer, a mountain climber, a hunter, or any of a hundred similar activities that touch people emotionally on some deep level.
Anyone who make's an argument against anyone or any idea by simply calling others idiot, is truly lacking any real ability to articulate logical reason for their opposition. It's an epic example of the pot calling the kettle black.
@Ron: Through my years I have found it impossible to have a logical argument with religious people, so now I just resort to name calling.
Ok, Allen, for you everything needs to be either black or white? And, of course, those who don't agree with you are wrong. I think you're just a dick.
Haha... I couldn't agree more!
Yes, an individual can live both a spiritual and an ethical life filled with virtue without the oversight of a church and/or men who really don't work nor have familes. The clergy along with their drones fear these people and they should.
Pastoring a church is the most difficult work I've ever done, having served in the military and worked in the private sector. And I do have a family.
There are a great many people who still believe in God but do not hate gay people. It is the church's stance on social issues that is turning the younger generation away. If the church actually focused on love instead of prejudice, which was what the entire religion was originally supposed to be about instead of being used as an excuse to be prejudiced, they would not be losing so many people. It is the church's stance on social issues that is causing younger people to not want to be associated with organized religion. Until the church changes its stance, they can be ensured that many young people will keep leaving in droves.
There seems to be no shortage of lemmings though. The term "Mega Church" is a modern pheonomeno of recent coinage.
Getting off the fence and assuming one is righteous in one believes is the bigger problem in this world. I'd think twice before criticizing those who refuse to hang a sign around their neck and decide to stand for real priciples and human values than for church dogma and religious doctrine. What a fool. But I would'nt expect much more from CNN.
Stupidest article I've ever read on CNN...and that's saying something.
You doesn't seem to be neither Religious nor spiritual. Had you practiced either of them even to a smaller degree you wouldn't be seeing so much of difference in your opinions and you wouldn't be writing such blog
Based on my experience Religion is more towards introduction to the ultimate source and Spirituality is the individual pursuit towards the ultimate and this is applicable to all civilizations and has nothing to do with Buddha or Jesus.
This is such a load of fatuous non-sense. "Spiritual but not religious" means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. And it's not "dangerous", nor a cop-out. Spirituality can be about the advancement of the human spirit and that in itself can mean personal growth, becoming more in touch with our surroundings, with the energy around us, with other people, being kind to others...etc etc. Religious doctrine has nothing to do with it. The fact that religious people would associate this with believing in a higher power just propaganda.
This article is shameful. Why must one take a position on the unknowable? Believing fervently in that which is unprovable just leads to conflict.
It does NOT lead to conflict, Erik. For example, I respectfully disagree with the doctrines of the Mormon church, but I see no need to argue with them.
It's not always about you, petey.
Who said it was? And the name is "Peter", not "Petey".
Loved the article. From many of the comments it looks like a lot of people got their "spiritual but not religious" panties in a wad and their "spiritual but not religious" feelings hurt. Truth hurts, huh?
I think I smell a disgruntled ex Evangelical Fortune Cookie Co. "writer".
I'll take my lessons on truth from someone who DOESN'T believe people who wear two different types of fabrics together should be stoned to death thank you very much.
Well, people are not machines, our existence is different, at the very least we are driven by emotion. At the same time, google and other search engines have made it easy to understand that the origins of the worlds major religions are based in human power and control. As people come to realize that the concept of 'God' is just an ancient human fabrication 'spiritual but not religious' seems to be a rational way to deal with this dichotomy. Alan seems to be insisting people take an untenable position.
Can a Christian please help me? I am having trouble distinguishing the third example of circular reasoning from the first two. Perhaps you can explain the difference.
“I believe Obama is a great man because his biography says so, and the reason I believe his biography is that it is about Obama, who is a great man.”
“I believe David Koresh was a wise and great prophet because the Branch Davidians wrote a book saying he is. I believe that book because it was inspired by David Koresh, a wise and great prophet.”
“I believe God exists because it says so in the Bible. I believe the Bible because it is the inspired word of God.”
Is this a real question, Colin? If it is, I'd be happy to help you.
really disappointed that this appears on CNN website. I would expect this sort of elitest drivel on how one can and can not be connected to the universe from Fox News but not CNN. Oh well, I guess CNN has just as much right to be absolutely ridiculous and absurd.
How does one practice "Spitual but not religious" a friend once asked. I hadn't tried to summarize in my mind until that pointed question. With out much thought I blurted out " I try to practice total forgiveness and non judgement delived with kindness" as if the answer came from my spirit with out my "ego mind" getting in the way. Everyone is right, based on the universe they come from. Just for 1 minute try to imagine if every soul choose this way to BE.....i don't think we, as a race would be on our own 10 yard line of Spirtual Evolution anymore.
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.