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.
Follow the CNN Belief Blog on Twitter
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?
CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories
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.
Look at that hippy in the picture! It makes me want to stomp his guts out!
made in the image of god, were ya?
Very classy. And just what did that guy do to you to deserve that?
God? No such thing! I just hate hippies! You can't change the world by smoking pot all day. You can either change the world or smoke pot. if you try and do both, i'm going to tell you to get a haircut, a job and some self-respect, you "spiritual" twit!!!!!!!
Anyone think this guy is aware of how he speaks in pure hyperbole and stereotype?
I AM AWARE BECAUSE I AM NOT A STONED HIPPY!
Except that there's not one shred of a link to pot in this discussion, and you've made this all about pot? Whatever makes you feel good about yourself I guess...
Your statements show your ignorance. You do realize people are different. Just because you associate "hippy" with smoking weed and doing nothing only reflects your shortsightedness. You hurl insults and boast violence, but all I see is a scared little boy who probably got his ass beat or woman taken by a "hippy"
You are extremely judgmental. You know absolutely nothing about this person. You are prejudice towards him based solely on his appearance. How incredibly ignorant of you.
I just built a robot that is going to seek out hippies to terminate them. He will play Greatful Dead music and smell like Patchouli to attract them. He will dispatch them by smothering them with job applications.
Yes, there is only one real GOD and His one true RELIGION
that is revealed in an absolutely Matchless, most Powerful and Superb MATHEMATICAL LANGUAGE!
So it is time to be Spiritual, and yes, also rightfully Religious!
UNIVERSAL MAGNIFICENT MIRACLES
In a few hundred years we may find out that "math" is the wrong way to study the universe. We only know what we know.
You should see the movie "23." It'll blow your mind. It won't blow a normal person's mind, though, since normal people aren't obsessed with a single two-digit number.
Religion is not the solution to our problems, religion IS the problem.
Being SPIRITUAL is an individual endeavor.
Being RELIGIOUS is a pyramid scheme. They want you money and political votes!
Amen!! and Amen!
You got it exactly right Marley!
"God is the symbol of a recollection of that which is transcendent." It is a sound that comes out of our mouths that we use to describe things that are inexplicable (to the individual), or the sound that we use to trick others into believing we share the same ideals (politicians/priests). I'm not interested in someone else telling me what my relationship is to their narrow definition of transcendence. Only a frightened child would want such a thing.
Wow, what a horrible "article". Scepticism of some other person's version of "who God is and what He wants us to be/do" is not a cop-out. Fixing your moral compass and belief in God's message to a text written by people (strike that, by MALES) that thought the world was flat, the sun (and entire universe) revolved around the earth, that comets were angels, etc etc etc is a cop-out. Morality is pretty damned similar in most parts of the world, whether or not they have heard of Moses, or Jesus or Mohammad. Don't take other people's stuff, don't hurt them, be kind to everyone.
Except when you are killing them for not following your religion, in which case it's fine.
"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full." (Mat 6:5)
Seems the "spiritual but not religious" people that you are lambasting have it right after all.
That passage is in reference to the Jews. It's meant to draw people to organized Christianity, the opposite of what you seem to espouse.
Yes, it was to the Jews but it was because they were acting much like Christian leaders are acting today. If Jesus came back he'd be saying the same thing about the mega churches, televangelists, and the Vatican. As well as people like Alan Miller who shout down at others from the mountaintops instead of living by Jesus' example.
If Jesus actually did return, he'd be upset that you're putting words in his mouth.
Perhaps. But to the best of my knowledge and from my understanding of Jesus from reading the Bible (which may not be an accurate representation of his beliefs) I feel confident that he would have the same problem with modern Christian leaders as he did with the Pharisees.
I happen to agree with you there on the hypothetical. If the biblical Jesus returned, he'd probably be really upset with the state of the Christian church.
The thing you seem to be missing, though, is that all you have to go on as to what Jesus was all about is what's in the bible. You are drawing your own inferences about the son of God (and therefore God himself) based on your own worldview. You're discarding the most important social function of religion, which is the sociological binding based on millenia of theological reflection into a moral system.
Being "spiritual but not religious" is far more dangerous to your psyche than being a member of an organized religion. You lack a moral anchor that a priest or congregation can provide, meaning that you could use your religious beliefs to justify pretty much anything you do in the absence of wise guidance.
For the record, I'm a humanist. I fear those who are "spiritual but not religious" far more than I fear the Baptists, and I'm pretty frightened of the Baptists.
Religion divides and Spirituality unites.
Who says there is no faith involved in being Spiritual, it is the faith and surrender which guides in your spiritual development. Once you enter into spiritual realms you will see commonalities between all men and women regardless of their individual religion faith, color, caste or economic status.
With religion you try to change other and word, spiritualism allows you to change yourself and then help others who are in need.
It is not an organized religion program, one has to have inner quest to walk on spiritual path.
LMAO, yes your comment oozes with unity.
You've laid out a pretty steep divide, between what you regard as being on the spiritual path, and the religious path.
And that is the fundamental flaw in your logic.
All human beings are spiritual – it's not a choice, it's how they were made. We are all on a spiritual path – whether we see a benefit in organized religion – or don't.
Frankly most people today aren't even subtle about being hypocrites – congratulations, you got a little more subtle about it.
But, hypocrite, you still are – I'm allowed to judge and label, because I advocate for judging and labeling, but for a person who doesn't – you sure do a lot of it.
Repeat after me – there is no divide between religious and spiritual – we are all the same.
CaptainPants – You logic reads like a bad children's book. "ll human beings are spiritual – it's not a choice, it's how they were made" And that is the fundamental flaw in your logic. You assume that because you feel it it is fact. Not everyone is spiritual and not everyone is born that way. I see no hypocrisy in his statements. He is simply saying religion is more concerned with the organization and spiritualty is focused on individual enlightenment. Please tell me where the fallacy in that is, also tell where the hypocrisy is.
Following a doctrine laid out before oneself seems more like a lack of thinking than not aligning with one of the many supposedly correct churches to choose from. I don't consider myself religious or spiritual. I make my own, educated opinions and I strive to be a good person for the sake of being a good person. Not because the Bible, or the Bhagavad gita, or the Koran, or any other religious text tells me I should. I do it because it's the right thing to do. Church doctrines are often rigid and leave little room for tolerance. If "not taking a stand" means I'm willing to adapt and be open to the ever-changing world around me, then I will continue copping out and be spiritually lazy. Alan Miller should mind his own business and quit telling people what they believe is wrong.
Aren't you telling Alan Miller that what he believes is wrong? Then you have a doctrine, however casually constructed, that you believe is right and that he should follow, meaning you are doing what you are asking him to stop doing.
I get where you're going with that, but I'm not saying what he believes is wrong. I'm saying it's wrong for him to say that people not associated with an organized religion are "copping out". I spend a lot of time thinking about what I believe because it's always changing. I don't appreciate people telling me that's not good enough, either directly or indirectly. If his church says he should write articles on CNN about why the "spiritual but not religious" crowd doesn't know what they're talking about, I'd gladly retract my comment.
@Really – I think you need better reading comprehension skills. J-Wa was simply stating their perspective based on how they feel about the subject You know how they feel because they ARE SBNR. The difference is the author is NOT SBNR and trying to tell someone ELSE they are a copout for their beliefs. If you do not see the difference logic will do nothing to convince you more.
The hilarious part of all this along with the writer's stupidity is the sheer amount of comments in just around 24 hours.
I'm estimating more than 12,000 comments. That's pretty incredible for a minor article floating through the belief section.
I came to see what was wrote. I love when the sheep talk about the ones going down their own deduction path
The really scarey part is "these people" aren't putting money in the collection plate. IIf any one religion has it correct about God, then most of the world is wrong. The human mind compared to themind of God is like the point of a pencil compared to the sun. It is abosulte arrogance to presume you are the only true path.
In my experience most people who belong to a church belong to the one that their parents, family and friends have belonged to – the religion that they were brought up with. So I'm not exactly sure how "Being spiritual but not religious avoids having to think too hard about having to decide." is any less true for those who "decide". If you're simply doing what you're friends and family have done that doesn't really require much thought either.
The truth of it is that most people simply don't think about it much either way.
But, if anything, reassessing the religious traditions that you were brought up in, finding it wanting but not wanting to abandon the idea of spirtuality altogether would seem to require just a little more thought than mindlessly adopting the traditions you were brought up with.
I have often said that Religion was created by man to control man. More people have died because of Religion. More hatred has been spawned because of Religion. I was raised in a church. I was constantly told I could never be good enough...I was constantly in fear of going to Hell. I constantly judged everyone who did not believe as I was taught to believe. They were going to Hell. Even in my own belief there were schisims. In my Grandmothers women could not teach Sunday school, only one cup was used for communion and they did not believe in missionaries. In mine women could teach Sunday school, we had the those itty bitty cups for communion so we didn't share spit but we didn't have musical instruments (we weren't allowed to dance either), and yet another did have musical instrumets. So my Grandmother thought my mother was going to Hell and we thought using musical instruments in Church would send all those others to Hell. Now I am Free! I know I am a Spiritual Being. I am Spirit playing at being Human. It is only these bodies that give us the illusion of being seperate from one another. I still get caught up in the "Drama" of being human. As Spirit that's what I came to this planet to do. But when I'm done I will drop this body and go back to being WHO I REALLY AM! And until I do that I will constantly remind myself WHO YOU REALLY ARE!
There is without question a "higher power." If you start from that premise, which I do, the rest flows without need for criticism. Is the "higher power" you pray to in a Methodist Church (for example) better than the higher power that I pray to outside the church? If the answer is yes, you have a problem - for you claim that there is ONE God. If the answer is no, why criticize?
If we both worship the same God, and live according to His will for us, the distinction you make is purely a social one.
Do tell me the fault in this logic. I'm waiting.
There is no god is the flaw in your logic. A feeling is not a god, and that's all anyone has, a feeling. YoozYerBrain, there are less inherent contradictions in reality than in fantasy.
Actually, let me clarify that- there are less inherent contradictions in understanding reality than in trying to fit reality into a fantasy construct. 'Kay?
People have far more than feelings. People who know have reason to know.
So Spirited, are making the claim that you have a "knowing" that I don't have.
People create reality based on their feelings, but feelings are NOT reality. I know way more than you can imagine both about spirituality and about science through both study and experience so I don't throw stuff out that doesn't carry the weight of some kind of objectivity. I'm not going into how I came to be an atheist but I can tell you that I know a lot about the brain and brain chemistry and when your brain stops firing in certain ways, a lot changes. Just like where thunder comes from, now that we can explain where in the brain any given thought/feeling is located, and what bio-chemical processes are responsible for it, we don't need to postulate "god" to explain it. Do you still think the world is flat? To some christians using the computer is a sin, aren't you going to your Celestial North Korea hell since you are using the computer or do you pick and choose what "god" wants.
And by the way....STILL WAITING FOR SOMEONE TO DISPROVE ZEUS before I'll believe any other mumbo jumbo. And use science please, not quotes from the book of Adad/yahweh, the Sumerian god of thunder. Try research.
Apparently, I have had an experience you have not. I have no reason to convince you of anything. If you find it, I am happy for you. If not, well ... OK.
In the Field of Dreams, the brother-in-law says at the end of the movie "Where did all these ball players come from?" or something of the sort. I have seen and talked to MANY about their vital spiritual experiences, and they tend to be of the Field of Dreams variety. Once you have something happen to you that is impossible in your reality (whether of the burning bush variety, or more of a gradual experience), then your eyes are opened to the possibility of God. Once you start accepting that you may not have all the answers, all of a sudden you start seeing all kinds of things you never saw before.
I wish you well, my friend.
There is no God but Jesus Christ who sacrificed His Divine Blood to wash us of our sins. The only way into heaven is through Jesus. If you don't like it then tough. You'll just have to deal with the eternal consequences!
if god doesn't exist. who made jesus?
Your empty proxy threats are absurd.
Your god is a vindictive, petty punk
if god doesn't exist. who made jesus?
There was no jesus historically speaking, that's pretty definitive now, but if there was a jesus the same natural processes that made you made him.
And TparTpatriot still doesn't seem to get the clear argument that I forwarded re; the historicity of the ot being derived from the Sumerian pantheon and therefore doesn't remotely mean what you all think it means. You think there was a jesus but he was a literary construct of a sociopath, and that point gets objectively clearer and clearer as the research continues and no proof is found for this person to have existed. It gets tiring though, because just read Colin's description of Hank/Karl and you got all the info you need. And TparTpatriot is UN american because the founding fathers would not only have repudiated all of the tpart's platform, they would have pointed to the TparT as one of the reasons they were founding a new country- to free humanity from the power of the priests preying on the ignorant. Learn Tpart and grow. YoozYerBrain, please...
"There is no God but Jesus Christ who sacrificed His Divine Blood to wash us of our sins."
Not sure that even a holy comma can redeem that mess of a sentence, but placing one after "Christ" *might* help.
"There is no God but Jesus Christ, who sacrificed His Divine Blood to wash us of our sins."
Disclaimer: This editor makes no claim as to the validity of that sentence. Comments are expressly in regard to the value of punctuation. :)
"The spiritual but not religious "movement" – an inappropriate term as that would suggest some collective, organizational aspect..."
So, Mr. Miller, it can only be a movement if it fits your definition? This is exactly what most spiritual people are rebelling against: someone – like YOU – deciding what proper worship is supposed to be, then using that supposition to impose your belief and prejudice on your congregation.
The use of your religious criteria is the central problem with all organized religions, ESPECIALLY evangelical fundamentalist – either Christian, Muslim, or Scientology (all banes to any society) – where some allegedly "religiously educated and therefore holy" person gets to command the suggestible faithful, usually to the direct benefit of the alleged "religiously educated " person.
The problem is that organized religion is as much political animal as any other human convention involving more than 2 people, and spiritual, thinking individuals are intelligent enough to know that churches/mosques/community reprogramming centers actually have very little to do with what one actually believes...
If you quite reasonably suspect that there is more to existence than what people like Dawkins peddle, but also quite reaqsonably suspect that the answers aren't in the canned doctrines of established religions, what SHOULD you do? And what are these dangers the author keeps mentioning but not enumerating and how do they compared to the dangers posed by organized religion and other organized philosophies like fascism and communism, "manifest destiny" and other philosophies that those oh so nobly "organized" people have "blessed" us with over the centuries? My religious view is that of agnostically tinged neo-animism. My politics I describe as more libertartian than not. I am no saint, but my lack of "organized" connections nicely limit how much damage my sins can do.
I could not disagree more. I have NOT found organized religion agreeable to my tastes. This does not mean I do not believe in God, it just means I don't want to waste my money and time on things I do not totally agree with. And I am not an 18 – 25 year old either! Thank GOD we have freedom of religion!!!
The god concept is the primary preoccupation or organized theology. By buying into it, you're still buying into organized religion whether you admit it or not.
The god concept is the primary preoccupation of organized theology. By buying into it, you're still buying into organized religion whether you admit it or not.
Sorry for the duplicate. Not sure what happened.
I can't believe this was published on your website. I've never read anything so short sided.
"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 does this even mean? Do you know what you are saying here? Christianity is better because it has "rules" and "beliefs" and "rituals"? Please, as soon as someone tells me absolutely what happens when you die I write them off. How could they possibly "know"? Their bible or priest or mommy told them?
"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." – What is wrong with this approach? You are ware that your Christian bible borrowed the virgin birth, the resurrection, the story of Noah and the ark, Jonah and the whale, Adam & Eve, and the creation story from other cultures that came long before Christianity, right?
No Eric, they aren't aware that there are precedents to the OT or NT because their ignorance and fear is a tool that the priest-perverts use to keep people cowed and repeating the absurdities they put forth. More education and more knowledge of history would help defeat this ignorance, that's for sure! That's why the religious right/islamic mullahs/ orthodox rabbis want to gut funding for education, ignorance swells THEIR ranks, where education swells the ranks of the anti-priest-perverts.
Religion is the true cop out. Take the time to figure out what you truly believe in and realize that organized religion demonizes millions of people. People that deserve our respect and compassion. If rejecting the narrow minded approach of organized religion is a hallmark of our generation – then I am proud to be a member of generation "me."
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.