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My Take: 'I'm spiritual but not religious' is a cop-out
The author notes that more and more young people are rejecting traditional religion and taking up a variety of spiritual practices.
September 29th, 2012
10:00 PM ET

My Take: 'I'm spiritual but not religious' is a cop-out

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.

By Alan Miller, Special to CNN

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.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: My Take • Opinion • Spirituality

soundoff (9,993 Responses)
  1. Larry L

    At the time of this comment 8449 people have posted – some quite insightful, some hateful, and many just mindless regurgitation of religious dogma. Still, the one common thread is a complete lack of absolute proof of any of the varied positions people take on religion. Nobody has actually seen any of the gods and no real evidence of some spiritual realm exists. "Spirituality" is a cop-out from facing reality – religion is mythology and "religion-lite" is watered-down mythology. Everybody seems to "know" the truth and yet nobody has a shred of evidence.

    October 1, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
    • Athy

      Well, Larry, you're the rare one that seems to know the truth. Congratulations, my friend. We need more like you.

      October 1, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
    • stillthinking

      the topic of this article is whether these people labeled in such a way are lazy and can't make decisions.
      undecided are they?

      October 1, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
    • The Jouney Man

      Larry, I think I see where your goin, but let me just present a couple things to you. The only thing spirituality really is .....is believing in yourself to know what is..learning to observe the inner parts of what makes you recognize it when you hear it.." that inner bell of truth that rings when you can totally recognize something"....you have to have a love for your need to know, to deserve that kinda truth...but within its constant observation , we expand what we are as people, creatures of the earth..or part of mother nature....Nature's lesson is to grow...and we get a lil help from each other along the way, to pick and choose that which can be used, and that which does not ..students of life, scientists..on a mission to make the world a better place...

      October 1, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
    • Gabriel Malakh

      @ Larry L

      Larry: If while walking in a hot torching dessert for hours, you come across a house fully furnished, with running water, sewer system, food in the fridge, a fish tank, a parrot, maybe a dog or a cat, with everything you need for your survival in this house, and yes, there is a cool breeze coming from the air conditioner. Would you be that brainless to say that this house and everything perfectly situated in it, got here by chance, or by some violent explosion, where everything just fell into place? I doubt it, I think you to be more intelligent then that base on your life experience.

      Similarly, we have our home, the planet EARTH, perfectly situated not too far from the sun so we won't freeze, and not too close to the sun so we won't burn, with three layers of forcefields to protect us from outer space elements, with running water which is essential for life, food of all sorts, sewer system known as the weather cycle, and the natural air conditioner known as wind/breeze, animals of all sorts with high intelligence.

      With the beautifully designed brain in your skull, and the power of reason, and intelligence that we humans have, will you honestly say with a straight face, that all of this was by blind chance, an accident?

      It's interesting to see how man give all kind of excuses for not believing in God out of convenience. Because they know if they acknowledge God's existence, then they would have to live according to His will and purpose which many want no part of. Man is also seeking his own glory, but put a gun to his face, you will see how fast he acknowledge God's existence when Death is calling on him.

      Roman 1:19-22
      19 because what may be known about God is manifest among them,+ for God made it manifest to them.+ 20 For his invisible+ [qualities] are clearly seen from the world’s* creation onward,+ because they are perceived by the things made,+ even his eternal power+ and Godship,*+ so that they are inexcusable;+ 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God nor did they thank him,+ but they became empty-headed+ in their reasonings and their unintelligent heart became darkened.+ 22 Although asserting they were wise, they became foolish+

      October 2, 2012 at 12:01 am |
  2. GR8LIFE

    What a fantastic success. Miller's writing skills reveal well structured "bait" – get us, his audience, supporters and critics, to amplify his work with impassioned retorts to the exaggerated position in his article and yet again to each other. While disagreeing with Miller's premise and conclusions (and many other posts), I have still thoroughly enjoyed the readings. To those of you who posted your thoughts and comments, thank you. I enjoyed hearing what you have to say.

    October 1, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @GR8LIFE,

      indeed, at least 8,466 posts in less than 48 hours is a staggering volume. A very successful article indeed.

      A average post rate of almost three per minute (if my math is accurate) is pretty high.

      October 1, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
    • The Jouney Man

      lol...I know right

      October 1, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
  3. Tanmayo

    I became deeply religious when I took God out of the church!! Religion is beyond churches...it abides in the heart of the one who finds their own direct path to the divine. In doing so they stand wherever their heart, love and truth call them. They need to outer authority to direct them. No Church No Pope no scriptures....just a radical quest for Truth and aliveness in the moment. As for you Mr Alan Miller.....you appear to be a bit of a haggis...with a lopsided view!! Yes there are people who avoid many things by saying 'I am Spiritual" and there are even greater numbers claiming religiosity whilst they dismiss their neighbours, hide the truth from themselves and others by breaking all the vows, kill and maim and stand on their superior high heels having the arrogance to 'think' they are saving the world....Conservative thinking and religion is part of the problems the world is looking to overcome. Looking to find a way forward where love and deep respect of all beings is the religion. And if you think 'spiritual people" are not taking a stand. Take another look around the world. At the Occupy movement, at those who are standing for the right to eat food which has not been contaminated by GMO's, standing to save forests and the rights of indigenous people around the world. Taking time to speak for the animals of the world who do not have a voice. Standing to inform others of the insidious position we are in globally as our governments are run by big business. Many so called spiritual people have yet to mature just as many so called Religious people have yet to discover that going to church does not make them religious or mean they care more about the world. In my experience they care less. As long as there is ego involvement the trends is to protect your own. The religious person realises this planet is our own and cares for all the living beings on it. So I vote for the time when we can all say. I am not spiritual or Religious. I AM AWAKE.! Which may indeed include both.

    October 1, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
  4. Sam Yaza

    its the revival of Paganism, many people calling them selves spiritual not religious start calling them selves pagans; there pretty much are interchangeable term's their is no organized religious doctrine in modern paganism; pretty much do as you please harm non is the only dogma.

    you may be a pagan if
    You call your self a pagan and/or
    Honoring, revering, or worshiping a Deity or Deities found in pre-Christian, classical, aboriginal, or tribal mythology; and/or
    Practicing religion or spirituality based upon shamanism, shamanic, or magickal practices; and/or
    Creating new religion based on past Pagan religions and/or futuristic views of society, community, and/or ecology;
    Focusing religious or spiritual attention primarily on the Divine Feminine; and/or
    Practicing religion that focuses on earth based spirituality.

    October 1, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • was blind, but now I see

      It's just the latest version of Baal worship. It all goes back to Nimrod. Babylon. Confusion. Ever wonder why Islam has the ubiquitous crescent moon and star symbols? Same symbology you will see in ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt, etc, etc, etc... It's all the same. Satna. The enemy of our souls presenting himself to the unlearned as an angel of light.

      October 1, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • question

      christian holidays are based upon pagan beliefs – to incorporate the pagan holidays into the religion or vice versus – as a way to count the passing of seasons and planting and harvesting crops, etc.
      by your definition – a saint would be a pagan?

      October 1, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
    • was blind, but now I see

      A Biblical saint or a church saint :) ?

      October 1, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
    • Anybody know how to read?

      God works with what HE'S got. It really ticks off the opposition. Solomon, Rome, or blah, blah, blah. You were born in a war zone. Wake up.

      October 1, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
    • moretoastplz

      You DO realize you also just described Christianity itself, right?

      October 1, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
    • R self

      I like ur style, sir. My ex-sister thinks she's a "pagan" now, with a mix of witchcraft and other BS! Some of the most judgemental people too!

      October 1, 2012 at 10:38 pm |
  5. margaretplacentrajohnson

    it is evident Mr. Miller has never heard that when people travel up the spiritual development ladder, they tend to give up their literal interpretations, church rules, and need for salvation. This equates to a loss of belief. But....at the other end of the ladder (the top) the form of spirituality one finds there is broader, more mature, and most of all totally inclusive (unitive) It IS more mature than literal religiosity.

    True, many "spiritual but not religious" have not climbed the ladder and are left wallowing in the spiritual mud to which Mr. Miller alludes. But let's not assume there are NO spiritual benefits of moving beyond literal belief.

    FaithBeyondBelief-book.com

    October 1, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
    • Anybody know how to read?

      You don't climb up the ladder. That's rebuilding the Tower of Babel, expert. God reaches down. You don't like it, lump it.

      October 1, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      As if you know what god does or doesn't do, you moronic dweeb.

      October 1, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
  6. zensouth

    Why is it that religious folks get so irked by "spiritual" people? I think it is because they are, on some level, upset that the "spiritual" folks don't play by the rules, they step out of the artificial boundaries of doctrine and religion. They short circuit the system. They get to have all the happiness and hope without all the negativity, without the us vs. them, the holy vs. the damned, the saved needing to save the unsaved.

    October 1, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
    • Anybody know how to read?

      Well, you had a very inspired form of gumint, a triunity, so to speak.. Then the progressives hacked it all up with your amendments and freedom is long gone. Now you will learn what Paul was talking about when it comes to slaves obeying their Masters.

      October 1, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
    • Anybody know how to read?

      I can hear it now, 'We are not sinners. We are not slaves. We be the free ones! We are the blessed!'

      October 1, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
    • Insert Truth Here

      I don't believe religious people are irked by spiritual people. In my opinion, the real issue is that Christians, which still make up a good chunk of Americans, believe they have been tasked with the job of spreading their religion to the whole world. They feel they are compelled by God to make all of us believe and understand what they "know" to be true. They can't accept other viewpoints, because it is their belief that there is no other correct viewpoint – an archaic we're-right-and-everyone-else-is-wrong mindset. Very dangerous, as is seen by the number of religious wars that have been raged by Christians forcing their faith on others.

      Some food for thought – Let's assume that Christians are correct and that God is all powerful and all knowing. Let's also assume that we are all God's children, and he wants all of us to join him in Heaven someday, but that we must believe in him to do so. This seems to be what most Christians believe. If God is all knowing, then doesn't he know what it would take to make me believe in him? Burning bushes, disembodied voices, one-on-one meetings in secret gardens, raising the dead, so forth and etc are all actions that God has supposedly done before. If he is all powerful and can do all of these things, then he can most certainly do what it will take to truly show me his existence, yet he has chosen not to. This is where most Christians give me the discussion on faith. I have to take it on faith that God exists, just like how I had to take it on faith that the Easter Bunny and Santa were real as a kid. As I grew up and began to see the holes in the Santa story, the truth was revealed. Now, I see holes in God's story, and I'm told that mankind can't possibly understand the big picture that God has created. I just need to take it on faith. But faith in who? Faith in the men that wrote down and translated the Bible, men that I have never met and for all I know could be the best pranksters of all time? Taking faith in the word of men that one has never met sounds an awful lot like believing what someone posts on the internet about himself. Craigslist killer anyone?

      October 1, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
    • oneness

      I totally agree its all one in the same , but religious people have such an arrogance about themselves that they think anythink outside of there doctrine is true and everyone else is wrong. we must remember that Ghandi and the Dali lama are both spiritual and look at the impact they had on the world. regardless of what you call it or name it we are dealing with righteousness and wickedness....those are two very universal things.

      October 1, 2012 at 10:12 pm |
  7. mevans518

    Your Take DOWN.. I am one of those "spiritualists" that you claim to describe with a concept of my creator that is not in alignment with mainstream religion. The description you provided of avarice, self centered, selfish individuals who care nothing for society is not something I recognize in myself or my friends who harbor similar views. Differences of opinion about "G-d", "Higher Power", :Universal Good", "What you want to call it" are healthy and should be respected, not condemned or scolded. Your opinion that we don't have a practice that promotes mindfulness, compassion and loving kindness is not accurate. I will pray that you develop love, tolerance and patience so that us "spiritualists" who love what we are won't bother you so much. Amen.

    October 1, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
  8. Patrick

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F9hVoesXCmQ My take on this story... The religions of the world have destroyed faith and belief.. this is why so many of us have become Spiritual but abhor organized religion.

    October 1, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
    • R self

      I think , yeah, a lot of folks hate making dedcisions. Thee's even a commercial in my area about that as funny and normal! But one thing is happening now that hasn't in a century, at least, with exceptions, is people are questioning dogma and replacing it with searching. Some are content to just label themselves the flavor of the time, but others are talking about this in amore intelligent way. At least we're all talking and their are definitely some strong opinons out there... isn't that a good thing? Talking?

      October 1, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
  9. stillthinking

    so is that what you are doing alan / cnn?
    trying to vent your frustration at the fact the polls show a dead heat between o. and r., the dems and repubs – and it may be the independents who decide the election either way?
    give the independents someone to vote for whom they can see is not bent on hell and demonization by their actions and their thoughts and their words and their deeds – and not their wallet or how well they can lie to the people
    then – maybe independents (like spirituals perhaps – but that totally misses the point don't you think) will have someone they feel comfortable voting for. voting for the lesser of two evils gets more evil – no matter how you look at it.

    October 1, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @stillthinking,

      this has nothing to do with the election.

      It has to do with publicizing an event that his happening on W. 13th St. in NYC right now. (Actually it started almost 90 minutes ago.)

      See: "I’m so spiritual"
      http://nysalon.org/salonoverviews/archives/public-events/im-so-spiritual/#more-361

      There are things in the world besides the federal election. Your conspiracy theory post makes you look silly.

      This is a commerical website. Controversy is good. Mo' key clicks, mo' money. They had 8,400 posts since Saturday night. Not bad for the website.

      October 1, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
    • stillthinking

      well – you are probably silly too in not thinking this is about politics during a political election
      do you think i will really believe you on this when i know you are wrong?

      October 1, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      There are certainly articles here on the Belief Blog that pertain to the election season.

      This article isn't one.

      October 1, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
    • seriously

      why does an article on cnn at election time that does not mention that specific event on one street in ny – but rather degrades a whole group of people for no obvious reason other than the islam tiff and the elections – make me think this is about that one small event and not the major events surrounding this articles appearance?

      October 1, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      This has nothing to do with Islam and nothing to do with the candidates' religions – no references to Mormons, Catholics or non-denominational Protestestants either.

      The link I pasted earlier is from the link to "The New York Salon" in the Editors' note right under the headline.

      There's nothing wrong with having a healthy sense of skepticism, but there's no need to be paranoid.

      October 1, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
    • stillthinking

      just because a make a point does not mean i am paranoid
      i said rather that cnn / alan et.al. i demonstrating their frustration that they believe it will be independents, (whom, also being in the free thinking category that some may place spirituals but not religious persons), who may decide the current presidential elections because the race is even at this point in time.
      and stirring controversy and debate (or wars as the case may or may not be) is a method to get 'the people' more involved
      doing it in a way that harms others has been their way so far
      i have a problem with that – that is all
      and IT IS their way
      so
      hey
      still
      say
      you are mistaken

      October 1, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @stillthinking,

      it's always independent voters who decide elections – almost by definition.

      October 1, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
    • stillthinking

      that's why they are annoying them by calling 'them' lazy and undecided

      October 1, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
  10. Jon H

    It seems to me you are saying that a person that is spiritual and not religious has no morality that only the church can provide. This is a poor assumption. Many people have a perfectly fine moral compass and are not religious. Furthermore religions often use the positions in power over people to push their own personal agendas. In many cases that aganga is in itself immoral. Religions have take the bible and used certain parts of it to do this same pushing of agends beyond the personal and take it to the political. Most religions are not about the original teachings of peacefulness and love but are power brokers to push their own politic and to further their religion. Being spiritual is more about what the original teachings were ment to be, to care about others and be peaceful and to treat others how you would want to be treated. Greed and fear are the prevelent tendencies I see in most religions.

    October 1, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @Jon H,

      where does Alan Miller say that people who claim the label "spiritual but not religious" are immoral or even amoral?

      Morality and religion are quite independent ideas anyway.

      October 1, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
    • old ben

      I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV: "where does Alan Miller say that people who claim the label "spiritual but not religious" are immoral or even amoral?"

      Perhaps it was this sentence: "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." I can easily see how this, and many more, didn't sit right with Jon H. Part of this can be easily read as "“spiritual but not religious” offers no . . set of principles of any kind", since the author chose to "or" a series of qualities together to say what these type of people are missing. Again, he only sees what is possible from his world, where he is following religious doctrine.

      As I said before, even if people might not agree on his general ideas, I'm guessing the ridiculous specific statements he used to try to support those ideas must have set a lot of people off. J.S. Bach. Give me a break. The KJ Bible doesn't deserve any award ceremony, but he sure wants to throw it one here in the worst way. Next thing you know, he'll be claiming it's the reason we now have sliced bread.

      October 1, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @old ben,

      clearly this piece was written to be controversial and even polemic. It is part of a panel discussion with multiple speakers which was scheduled to conclude almost an hour ago with the topic "I’m so spiritual"

      It was intended to make people think – and it seems to have succeeded wildly.

      You can find an abstract for the panel discussion here:
      http://nysalon.org/salonoverviews/archives/public-events/im-so-spiritual/#more-361

      I think it sets the context nicely.

      October 1, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
  11. The Journey Man

    To the Author for consideration:
    I dont even know where to begin with this rubbish:
    Wow!..I bet yer gettin an earful o Christian colleagues about now Mr. Miller, because you sure did sound kinda one way and intolerant to me in your article. I dont figure such a "close minded" approach went well I presume...definitely bad for business I assure. Which is fine, I expect it. Nothing to gain from being "spiritual but not religious"??.."Unwillingness to take a position"??.."Peddling the notion"??..Sir, you are ignorant to waaay far more than you know..(know pun intended)..There are people out there in this world who have been Actively pursuing that ""individual relationship" to some concept of "higher power" for many years..Unfortuneatly I doubt you posses the openness to communicate with them. Love runs this whole ball game Mr.Miller... Love motivates a person to do some pretty remarkable things, see, feel and live doing remarkable things..and regretfully I'm not even gonna try to explain it to the likes of you..your type of thinking is like a crabtrab,..only one way in. The whole spiritual but not religious" thing is about Faith in its own right (I'd love to get you all spun up in controversy but its true) if people like you only knew how much of life is true, you'd find a much more joy and beauty in it. This "movement" (which is more like an awakening) is due now. Your Article is a direct reflection of the answer your looking for...Many people simply feel that the Christian corporation has become corrupt,..thats what happens when we follow, instead of taking that cold hard look in the mirror to take responsibility for our own spiritual growth. It aint like we can trust anyone except ourselves, is it?
    What in the world were you talking about when you said "Peddling?" Peddling to who, and who is peddling?....I was dissapointed to read this crap, made me start to really scrutinize what you were blabbering on about.

    You'd like to think we were peddling, that way you could always wage War on us in the name of Goodness because we were muscling in on your terf..But I dont see any "spiritual and not religeous" owing me 10% of their income in tythe cuz they feel better on the way home on Sunday afternoon...I could go on

    October 1, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
    • The Journey Man

      You dont have to "Be" anything..in fact..lol..as time goes by you laugh at what you thought you were...lol

      October 1, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
    • The Journey Man

      Except..genuine

      October 1, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
  12. Just Another David

    The author of this article argues for a false dichotomy.

    One must be either a Scriptural literalist or an atheist?

    Open the King James Bible and read the first two chapters in Genesis and you will see that a literalist position falls apart immediately. There is no rational way to say that those two creation stories are not in direct contradiction with each other.

    On the other hand, the atheist claims that this is a material universe with no room for God. But how can one possibly know that there is nothing beyond what science can currently demonstrate? Our history is replete with examples of how a previous world-view was shattered by new theories and discoveries (like, say, the subatomic world). Who are we, with our limited knowledge, to claim that there is nothing more to the world than what we perceive through our limited senses?

    A more reasonable position is to say I don't know what is out there, but I'm not shutting myself off to the possibility that there is something. It is not a cop out–indeed, it would be easier to fall into the certainty of one of the postions the author puts forth. But that certainty would be false, just as the choice the author lays our certainly is.

    October 1, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @David

      no and empahically no. I don't see that Allan Miller is arguing for scriptural literalism at all. He talks about what he calls a 'real position'. That could be Catholicism or Islam.

      October 1, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
    • The Journey Man

      Well spoken

      October 1, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
    • old ben

      @I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      No position is 'real' when it comes to religion, so the argument for taking a more real position is just silly. The author just needs to get over himself. He's not comfortable with gray area and wants everyone else to pigeonhole themselves as he does.

      October 1, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @old ben,

      I won't argue with you on the 'reality' of a religious belief.

      Nevertheless, I don't think the article is about someone who is uncomfortable with the gray area. It is about the notion that there is a lot of intellectual dishonesty in the idea of being "spiritual but not religious".

      There's nothing wrong with journeys of spiritual discovery – but "spiritual but not religious" is not a destination in this journey.

      October 1, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      ... though it might be a waypoint.

      October 1, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
    • old ben

      I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV: "There's nothing wrong with journeys of spiritual discovery – but "spiritual but not religious" is not a destination in this journey."

      And that is precisely how he is trying to pigeonhole people. He doen't know what possible destinations people may have and neither do you. He only seems to know the destination that has been outlined for him by others through a particular religion. Someone might also feel strongly that as part of their spirituality that "destinations" are against their basic belief. Maybe someone doesn't believe in an afterlife, and their spirituality is completely involved with their life journey (and responsibility for only their life and actions in this life). I don't think the author would be so narrow in his approach if he tried even a little to go outside of his comfort zone. And by failing to do so, he had to grab at straws making ridiculous statements to try to support his overall idea.

      October 1, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @Old Ben,

      Alan Miller is certainly using the label "spiritual but not religious" as a description of a set of behaviors – you can call it pigeonholing if you will, that is always a problem with any label.

      It is clear to me that in many responses to this article, there are people who appear to self-identify with the label "spiritual but not religious" who really do not meet the definition that I believe Alan Miller intends – either on the 'religious' side or a more expansive definition of 'spiritual'.

      October 1, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
    • old ben

      @I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV:

      Regarding your last 2nd paragraph – I would have to agree, but if a vast majority of these responses are negative and there are this many of them, it might say something about how useless the term is. But I don't think that's what set people off.

      Regarding your last 1st paragraph, I'm not calling the label pigeonholing. I'm calling his going from his generalization through very poor statements, some of them about history, to arrive at his conclusion – that's where I find that he's gone through a very narrow, untrustworthy tunnel to get to his destination. And I think a LOT of people saw right through that. I did.

      October 1, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @old ben,

      did you get a chance to read the abstract for the panel discussion that this piece was written to publicize?

      You can find an abstract for the "I’m so spiritual" panel discussion here:
      http://nysalon.org/salonoverviews/archives/public-events/im-so-spiritual/#more-361

      October 1, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
    • old ben

      Not a GOPer: If you're talking about the description of that specific event in the series – I did read that. And that was interesting and not at all as offensive as this article. I say interesting because it speaks and asks questions of trends and the trends of everything these days are interesting.

      October 1, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
  13. Michael Gluckman

    The master said that the “Kingdom of Heaven is within you.” I don’t recall him saying the kingdom of heaven is within the Christian church. Besides, remember the Lord is One. It’s not which one. Too many broad sweeping generalizations in this article.

    October 1, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
  14. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things ..

    October 1, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • Willyboy

      Diapers? Litter boxes? Conflict?

      October 1, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
    • hal 9001

      I'm sorry, "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things", but your assertions regarding atheism and prayer are unfounded. The degree to which your assertions may represent truths is 0.0. To help you understand the degree to which your assertions may represent truths, I will access my Idiomatic Expression Equivalency module (IEE). Using my IEE module, the expression that best matches the degree to which your assertions may represent truths is: "TOTAL FAIL".

      I see that you repeat these unfounded statements with high frequency. Perhaps the following book might help you overcome this problem:

      I'm Told I Have Dementia: What You Can Do... Who You Can Turn to...
      by the Alzheimer's Disease Society

      October 1, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
  15. Jack

    Bill D, it's bad enough that priests ra / pe (need to get past filter) children – the most horrific crime of all. but covering it up constantly is just absolutely unforgivable – especially when they claim to be divinely inspired. and again, shouldn't the church have a higher, if not impeccable, standard for themselves?

    October 1, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
  16. Arvoasitis

    James Redfield: "Religions become corruptedwhen leaders are assigned to explain God's will to the people instead of showing them how to find this direction within themselves." (The Celestine Prophecy)

    October 1, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
  17. Meredith

    A Christian cannot be spiritual unless they have a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

    October 1, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • midwest rail

      What about those who are not Christian ?

      October 1, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • One one

      How do you have a personal relationship with someone that you cannot see, hear, touch, taste, or smell ?

      Does the "relationship" exist solely in your mind ?

      October 1, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
    • Mithra

      You personal relationship with Jesus is based on scripture that wasn't even written in his generation. Some of the books in the new Testament were written 300 years after his death. The Bible was compiled in around 350 ad by men with an agenda. I WISH that people would start using their local libraries and actually study History. The real History, not the one made up for an Agenda of men controlled by Greed and Power.

      October 1, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
  18. TristanT

    Why does one person have to believe in one single religion. If one wants to practice different aspects of different religions they should be praised and emphasized, not criticized. I am currently in a world religions high school class and am studying the beliefs and values of Buddhsim and Hinduism. I am personally a Catholic and if someone who respects that values of Buddhism anfd Hinduism like enlightenment and nirvana. So if someone who practices Cathlolicism likes the ideas of other religion(s), then they should be allowed to.

    October 1, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @Tristan T,

      studying the religions of the world is a good thing. Keep at it and you will learn to understand other people in other cultures so much better that way.

      The author's position is that taking bits and pieces of multiple traditions and declaring these as a personal belief system is a less meaningful experience than accepting a single set of dogma as an act of faith (or even rejecting all of them).

      It's not about learning to understand different spiritual traditions – that's a good thing.

      October 1, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
    • mike w

      "I'm not a GOPer": "The author's position is that taking bits and pieces of multiple traditions and declaring these as a personal belief system is a less meaningful experience than accepting a single set of dogma as an act of faith". It's obvious that the author thinks that is what is best for him, but there is nothing to say that doing just that – "taking bits and pieces of multiple traditions and declaring these as a personal belief system" might lead someone to something that is more meaningful to them and reflects them more honestly to society since they had to assemble it themselves without blindly following a specific religious doctrine. I would opt for agnostic atheism for someone who wants to be undeclared about the existence of God, but who refutes all religion.

      October 1, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
    • Criticalpolitical

      @Not A GOPer
      It is crystal clear from the rest of the article which side he not so subtly suggests agnostics should lean towards. And since when did the Karma (sic) Sutra take on the same significance as the Bible, Torah or Qu'ran? Seriously that's just astronomically embarrassing and hopefully might cause the author to take more care in the future before making such an egregious error.

      October 1, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      The books mentioned above should not be given the same significance as three are works of fiction and the other is not.

      October 1, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      The fundamental point Allan Miller makes is that cherry picking from religious traditions to make an amalgam or portmanteau belief is intellectually dishonest – where choosing an adherence, or rejecting theism entirely is not.

      I don't think there is any issue with exploring alternative traditions – this is essential in any spiritual journey. The point here is that the journey should have a destination. It doesn't need to be Christianity. Yes, he uses the words "God and scripture" but these are interchangably used for most all traditions.

      October 1, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @mike w,

      what is "agnostic atheism" if not "a commitment to the Enlightenment ideal of human-based knowledge, reason and action".

      This is the option posed in the summary paragraph of the article. It is very different from "spiritual but not religious".

      October 1, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
  19. Criticalpolitical

    The author might just regret asking people to get off the fence. After considering babies with AIDS, paedo priest scandals, abiogenesis, factual inaccuracies in all holy books, 99.99% of known universe hostile to life, proof there was no Adam and Eve, New Testament written by man mostly centuries after Jesus supposedly died, Yahweh of the Old Testament is described exactly as one would describe a volcano, other animals display moral traits, neuroscience showing religion to be not much more than a mirror of your own morals and values, life on other planets (not too distant future) etc. etc. I predict (with a little bit of faith in humanity) that the majority would reject religion entirely.

    October 1, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @Criticalpolitical

      the author presents exactly that alternative:

      "Which one is it? A belief in God and Scripture or a commitment to the Enlightenment ideal of human-based knowledge, reason and action?"

      October 1, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
  20. Brian

    the pieces on this "belief blog" are often stupid and seem made up just for the sake of content and filler... this article is a prime example... the author is just generalizing something he has little comprehension of, it's like saying "here is what everyone who is protestant believes", he has no way of knowing... and "spiritual not religious" is a pop culture phrase, not a belief system... or, like being agnostic, it's a very broad point of view that has a general idea, but encompasses MANY divergent beliefs and practices

    the author is very arrogant in his point of view and his criticism of this phrase a his piece, like most of what is on this blog, is a waste... CNN should stick to news, not this kind of fluff

    October 1, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
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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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.