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.
Hope this new surge of spirituality leads to more and more realization. West did not see a single origination of religion because of trying to create organized structure over it. How can religion speak about equality of all and have hierarchy in the name of religious organization ? everybody has right realized got and thats the right of humanity. this will bring people of entire world together but off course will bring danger to different Govt of different country who thrives on instigating fight among people and using religion as a tool. May god give everybody infinite bliss, infinite knowledge and consciousness.
I totally agree, you can definitely be spritual without being religious. Religion puts limits on you, keeping you from experiencing the fullness of God. God is here for everyone; the bad as well as the good. You don't need to be part of a church in order to talk or be close to God. He understand all of us. It's us who don't understand each other. God is a part of everyone. He's in all of our souls.
I find it interesting how many comments there are from the "spiritual not religious" folks and how few there are from the "Jesus died for our sins" crowd. The latter group appears to be laying low.
The number of Sonworshippers is in decline.
They had too much trouble understanding the article.
" They had too much trouble understanding the article. "
LOL ! :D
Reblogged this on Where the Indigos Are and commented:
Can someone please tell me what this person is getting at? I'm confused...
he is trying to explain the reality of this days, people dont want anything to do with sound doctrine because it is inconvenient, it wont let them sin and lead their dreadful sinful lives, lives away from god, away from the holy and godly. instead, they find it more convenient to believe that closeness to god comes from doing sun salutations, sipping kombucha and "connecting with oneself". one thing is for sure, they have been falling pray of satan, they are so deep in satan's grip that they will reject god at all cost. that is what the author is trying to explain. the danger of the new age belief system.
This is possibly one of the most ignorant articles I've ever read on CNN. A person's spiritual relationship with a higher power can be whatever that individual choses it to be, that's why it's more profound. The belief comes from oneself rather than from outside influences. This is essentially the basis of Hinduism. The writer doesn't have a clue.
The writer is a typical Christian who believes that only through absolute adherance to the idea that being 'religious' or 'spiritual' means that you have to attend church, that this is the only possibilty to make one's life complete. Or some such hoo-ha like that. Ridiculous!
Most fundies tend not to have a clue.
a very dangerous place to be, to think that meditation and your "connection with your inner self" is a connection with god, you are ignoring how sinful you can be by ignoring god, by ignoring his commands, like loving him above all things, loving your neighbor. yes, there are some christians that dont represent what christianity is about, nevertheless, i dont let this to keep me from my faith and my relationship with the one and only, tru living god, creator of heaven and earth. OPEN YOUR MIND PEOPLE, the whole idea of a big band and evolution is horribly narrow minded, deviating people from the one and only source of life, God the creator, the father of Jesus the christ.
"i dont let this to keep me from my faith and my relationship with the one and only, tru living god"
Which god would that be since there's been so many. Oops you've been worshiping the wrong one.
This guy who wrote this is a bit of a...tool. I am nearly 50 raised as a Christian, but if you asked me what church I go to I would have to then say it would depend upon who is getting married or buried. I have no desire to be a part of organized religion. For those that do that find comfort in going that is wonderful. I prefer to commune with our higher power differently. I do not feel I am a bad person, I try to do what I know is right and be good to others. Doesn't mean I don't fail sometimes as being humane we are bound to make mistakes. My point is just because I choose not to believe that every word in the bible is devine and I should follow without question. It was written and rewritten by men, and sometimes they add what they believe to be correct or in some cases controlling. We spiritualist are not contributed any tidings either to any particular church and I think that annoys them. LIke I need to pay dues to join the club...I think not. I truly believe that whatever is on the other side has got to have a good laugh now and again at how we perceive things over here. ~
Obviously the fact that there are multiple relgions is proof in itself that they are all man-made. That and the uncomfortable fact that people will "choose" the religion they were born into or which adults chose for them. This author is divisive and bullying, the tone of this piece alone is what is causing people to abandon organized religion.
Check your logic. The fact that there are many, often conflicting, religions is not proof that they are ALL man made. It's possible that one of them matches God's opinion and the rest are incorrect variations on a theme. Like a game of Telephone, we can start with a pure message from God that becomes corrupted over time through misunderstanding and interpretation.
Check your logic. The fact that there are many, often conflicting, religions is not proof that they are ALL man made. It's possible that one of them matches God's opinion and the rest are incorrect variations on a theme. Like a game of Telephone, we can start with a pure message from God that becomes corrupted over time through misunderstanding and inaccurate interpretation.
As many others have said, you can be spiritual and not be religious. Alan is free to have an opinion, as am I and everyone else on the site. I am spiritual, but not religious. I believe in a network of energy that flows through all of us. I do NOT NEED a set of principles read to me to understand what is right and wrong, as I am not a sociopath. I pray through meditation and do feel a connect. I do not need stories from those who have not the experience. I feel organized religion is unnecessary and foolish. I believe that God would not want us to go to these places and offer our monetary support to individuals that do little other than talk.
Instead I give back. I volunteer at several places weekly, aside from doing my job that requires education for low wages in the field of social services and rehabilitation. I do not do this to be kind, I do not do this because I was told to, I do this because I feel pain and suffering for all living beings. As I am a Vegan and have been for 12 years, I have always known these feelings. The agony one can be put through. The reason I do what I do is not for me at all. It is because I know that if I were in the shoes of others I would be grateful to anyone willing to take me aside and treat me as an equal, to help me rather than push me, to understand me.
If you feel that you NEED to go to church, by all means do. But look down deep within yourself, are you attending service for the right reason? If you need to be told what to do and guided through good and evil, you should seek help. I did not have a good upbringing and chose to leave church at a young age, because I was able to see the flaws and holes within. I pressed on, through physical and emotional abuse, homelessness, depression, and found my way. The whole time, being spiritual and practicing it.
It is not the "spiritual" individuals who preach about their beliefs incessantly, it is those belonging to organized religion. Or at least that is what I see and hear often through immediate communication and media sources. Now that a larger "spiritual" following is feeling free enough to discuss their beliefs they are also willing to fight back.
The views in this editorial are not only disrespectful, they are bigotry. It is discrimination and I am appalled that CNN would allow such on their site.
They are fishing and you bit.
Thank you David! I too volunteer regularly and have been vegan for almost 7 years. I am surrounded by people who scoff when I tell them about the homeless people in my area with dogs whom I help on a regular basis and the amount of time I spend helping various animals. These same people like to criticize the fact I do not attend a church regularly. Somehow, I think Jesus himself was in the trenches, so to speak, and not so caught up with the church hierarchy and appearance of belonging and being a joiner. It is refreshing to read posts such as yours.
Jesus set up a very distinct hierarchy and structure with the 12 Apostles (set apart by the laying on of hands) along with the Seventy in order to carry on the work of the church after he was gone. Structure allows for pooling and organization of resources to help needy people in meaningful ways that one-off ministers can never achieve.
The analogy to the dangers of the religious smorgasbord is very appropriate. While we seem to think we're hyper-intelligent adults, we tend to act like clueless children more often than not. Increasingly, we fail to act in our own, long-term self-interest. What happens if you unleash kids on a buffet with no oversight? They'll go right for the dessert and will gorge themselves until they're sick. That's exactly what's happening when "grown-ups" reject the rigors and constraints of religion that produce enhanced will power and self-control. Instead, the "spiritual but not religious" crowd tends to consume only the sweets. As a result, civilization as a whole is getting morally and ethically sick.
In my experience, very few people apply any true, deep thought to their beliefs. I see lots of arguments above, but very few would actually hold up to rigorous logical analysis.
For example, this one cracks me up: “Nobody should tell others how to believe!” Talk about hypocritical! Just because someone tells you how to believe, it doesn't mean you have to comply. On the other hand, we—you—conform ALL THE TIME to belief and rule systems in order to attain goals. We're ok with marketers hammering us at all times and in all places with options for what we should believe about the path to happiness, but as soon as the product is spirituality, the unthinking audience feels tyrannically oppressed. Nobody forced you to join the football team. But the moment you do, you MUST play by the rules or suffer the consequences. Nobody forced you to dress that way. But you do because you think it looks good according to fashion trends being foisted on you by others, and looking good secures certain social benefits. Who made me join that religion and keep those commandments? Nobody forced me. I joined because I feel it's the most effective path to attain happiness. And if I’m deriving great happiness from the path I’m taking, as a caring member of society, I’m going to share that path with others and invite them to join me. Now that’s logical…and nice.
Wait so there's something wrong with wanting to "feel better"? Damn I better start being miserable. Hey Miller, your religion seems to be doing a good job with you since you took the time to write all the flaws in another groups beliefs, maybe I'll start following yours to start
Feuerbach was wrong.
The problem with article such as these, is christians fail to see there are other religions like Judiasm that is much older and western scociety has done the same thing with it. A wide spectrum of right vs left views and watered down version so the law of moses can be consumned by those that claim they have it right when clearly we as a people should get over our selves and just grow up and stop all this bickering. The all-mighty is the all-mighty and we just have to live with that!
"Mmmmm, my hands smell like lavender.... I love that handsoap they use in the public restrooms here."
I don't need another person's validation to my spirituality/religion.
"Spiritual, but not religious" to me means that I believe in some sort of higher being/existence/creator, but that I am also smart enough to realize that there is no way I could ever know the unknowable, so I won't throw out half-a**ed, fantasy-based theories on what the unknowable may be, and I will not financially support seedy organizations who claim to know and will judge me and others based on it.
I'm agnostic, but I understand spiritual but no religious. It's not me oriented. It's the recognition that organized religion was created to gain power, not for prayer. Therefore, they can never truly be the most religious experience. Or people such as myself, who doubt a god, but believe in our connection to the cosmos, which gives us spirituality.
If you believe in a spiritual connection to the cosmos, you're not agnostic, technically. You may not be Christian, but you're not agnostic either.
Mr Miller – the fact you call being spiritual but not religious a "Cop-out" is evidence that you like most other brainwashed Christians or 'insert your favorite religion here' followers is that you cant get your heads around one simple thing – that someone believes in something different than you and that it may not be as complex or grand as you would have us all think it HAS to be. If I came to you and said I found this 500K year old book buried in the sand that said cats are the supreme beings of the earth and one must worship cats and blah blah blah and suddenly started toting it around and asking people to believe – you'd probably find it preposterous. Well that is EXACTLY what atheists, agnostics and non believers alike think about your religions. The only difference is we agnostics and other neutral /or non believers understand what it is like to shy away from what is widely accepted as fact or truth and have everyone look at you like you are nuts. We understand fully that some people think differently about things and they might see things another way.
To be sure – some will definitely use this as a cop-out as you refer to it. They will ultimately decide to use it as a means to not think about the matter and decide one way or another. You generalize this group down to the point where you assume no one has actually thought about the matter and decided that the bible is full of you know what and cannot be trusted or taken as truth. I mean there are things in the bible which are not true. The earth was not created in 7 days. It was formed over millions of years. And you cant put any spin on it you want (most devout Christians will tell you 'Oh but one year could have been millions of years..." How convenient. The problem is I can say a lot of things that COULD BE true but not necessarily have to be. I usually reply oh and well the Bible COULD be falsely written. It COULD be a lie too. To where the argument ends with the Christian saying no its all true and thus proving my point. It wasn't proven true any more than it was written but it WAS proven to be false. These kinds of inaccuracies would leave most sensible logical rational thinking creatures to DOUBT the written words credibility. What burns religious people the most is when you poke holes in their doctrines they still spout on as if they infallible.
Every TRUE atheist or agnostic will first admit and usually footnote science as the key player, that THEY COULD BE WRONG. Something religious people in my 21 years of being agnostic have found to NEVER BE TRUE. I've never heard one religious person ever say THEY COULD BE WRONG. Science demands that for us to evolve or come to the truth about things that we must first be able to doubt our findings and to be able to come to a conclusion that what we once thought was true is now false and here's why...
It is my opinion that people in general cannot fathom a world without a savior. Some glimmering hope that there is a God and a heaven and a hell where bad people go. It's understandable. People are afraid. They don't want to be lonely on a planet in the middle of nothing and are scared to death of death and non existence. Some of us do not share this fear. And even though we may not share the fear as others do, it doesn't mean that we do not operate with the moral compass we believe all possess at birth. If it is one thing we believe it is that hate and violence are LEARNED behaviours not inherent to our programming.
I believe that religion is a personal thing. What you believe in on the matter of a supreme being where you are going et all – is up to you and whomever you chose to believe. For some of us, that is simply ourselves. So it seems to me that people whom are spiritual and not religious are just people tired of the factual inaccuracies of the bible or perhaps the more enlightened of the believers who realized that the bible is a tool, built to keep people in check and their moral compass straight. A guideline whose end game is hell and damnation for those who lead astray. Some of us have our moral compass built in. Others have religion to rely on. It is not hard for Atheists and Agnostics to understand that someone could come to the conclusion that the bible is just a story book full of tales to help people find their way. To which I say spiritual and not religious people don't have to be "cop-outs" but maybe people who have thought the matter through and decided that bible is a work of fiction but perhaps a useful one. But the idea is so foreign and unfathomable to Christians and believers of other religions that they scoff at us and start "praying for our souls" as if we needed some sort of help in the first place, when it is the other way around.
We all have different opinions and ways of thinking and one of these days religious people will have to get that through their heads, that religion is not fact or truth for anyone but the person who chooses to believe it. It is all relative. The part that people have to get right is to be tolerant of others with differing views and beliefs. I myself spent over a year mulling over the switch from Christianity (forced upon by my mother) to Agnosticism. I decided what was right for me and what I truly believed in. I'm sure plenty of "spiritual but not religious" people have done the same.
Maybe I'm wrong and God will smite me for not believing in a book rather than empirical evidence, and maybe God will smack all the rest of you for blindly believing in a book written by men to be true when all of humanity is fallible. Maybe there is no God or maybe we are all just a science experiment in some space aliens marble bag. But the fact that I said "Maybe" to all these things is precisely where myself and all my Atheist or non believer counterparts would differ from you believers. We are capable of realizing that maybe we are right and maybe we are wrong. Like those who are spiritual but not religious – It's just another way of thinking.
Excellent post. I hope that it gets read in this blizzard of posts right now. Come back soon... and often.
Well said, sir! Well said.
'Ignorance is Bliss
Mr Miller – the fact you call being spiritual but not religious a "Cop-out" .......'Apparently he doesn't know what big business rehab is these days. In Mexico 12 steppers are sometimes slaughtered.
Bravo to the Ignorance is Bliss writer. Organized religion is the main reason for war and terrorism today. If you are Muslim, be Muslim, if you are Christian, be Christian, etc., however, do not tell me that my beliefs are a cop-out and based on ingnorance. Spirituality provides me with the peace I need to be who I am. Spirituality makes me kinder and more tolerant. I tried Catholisism and didn't believe any of it. We don't need radically religious peole in this world. We need spiritual, peaceful, tolerant people, no matter what religion you are.
Evolutionists needed the commies and the socies to break up the family before they even had a chance to spread their doctrines. Dad wouldn't put up with the c r a p from junior if he lipped off with ye olde tongue.
MAboston, that's what drugs are for, even the original downer, the liquid spirit type. It's big business, so you're safe.
Hey Anybody know how to read?
Anybody know how to form an intelligent sentence?
Remember, October is "Kick an Atheist Month". Yes, all month long.
It's battered woman month you fool. Now grab a broom and do something useful.
Wow - so many missing the point of the article. The point of the article is, indeed, in the last paragraph as noted by a previous response. The point of the article is not to argue for the existence of God or that one must be part of any particular faith.
What the author is trying to engage the upcoming generation(s) about is "step up and be committed." Religion, in this article, happens to be a convenient hot topic button to convey the underlying message. The author says to be committed to religion and God or be committed to enlightenment, reason, and knowledge.
The more society moves in the direction of everyone believing and doing what she or he "feels" is correct the more it may (please note the use of "may," that is possibility) move to greater chaos and decay. With no adherance to set rules or beliefs (whether religious, scientific, et al), there are fewer common bonds in society, thus weakening its structure. Also note, the author does not say everyone should hold the same beliefs, but they should hold to something that does not change each time the winds shift.
One only has to look around and truly see - the wonderful things of our society, but of its decline as well because of the lack of commitment.
If you actually read the entire article and not just the end, you can see the author is saying exactly the opposite of what you said. I can write a long paragraph about how you are the lowest form of human there is and at the end put a little line that says 'but really, maybe you aren't' yet it won't change your mind that the article bashes you.
Frank what you are forgetting is that things have changed over time for the better, we have become more moral through our laws and not your religion. Religious people used the bible to enslave 20 million people, people used the bible to treat women like second class citizens. You don't need religion to be moral and have true justice.
Robert, Can you provide a link to the text from any version of the Roman Catechism that says women should be treated as second class or that slavery is a preferred economic vehicle?
Bill doesn't understand the history of America, what an idiot.
Just as with morals, once again, religious fanatics think they are the inventors of "commitment" and that you don't possess it if you are not committed to a formal religion. That came through loud and clear from this article and it is just a ridiculous notion. You say "With no adherance to set rules or beliefs (whether religious, scientific, et al), there are fewer common bonds in society, thus weakening its structure." That's BS. And just a grandiose assumption. Many people are not scientists and many people do just fine without any religion whatsoever. Get over your silly assumptions.
I don't think this guy gets the point really. My problem is that religion is so negative in its lack of humility and the way it treats those of other faiths. By default, when every religion claims to be the truth, and the others false, they are all false. The ironic thing is, that they all aim for the same goal, and at the core also hold similar basic beliefs. It's very hard for me to "join up" with one, or accept that I was born into Catholicism, without being adequately convinced of the "why". Why am I a Catholic? Why am I right, and others wrong? Why does God want to punish someone for believing a different religion? Why are humans so lacking in humility that they can honestly believe they know enough to explain the existence of the world, but picking the "correct" religion of all the ones out there, even ones that predate your own? I think what this author forgets, is that people might be practicing more humble wisdom, than blind faith, when adequate explanations don't exist, and history has shown that with all the positive influence of religions and the printing of the bible, there is a long history of embarrassing injustice to humanity in the name of religion.
You act as if aetheist zealots are different than religous ones. They are just different sides to the same disease.
Right on! Well Said.
Silly1 - Not believing in one particular religion does not make us zealots. I'm not telling you what to believe or that your beliefs are wrong.
Does CNN actually pay you? If so I need a job and can do better than this . . .
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