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.
Perhaps we are neo-Transendentalists. It sounds as if we ¨spiritual but not religious¨ folks are realizing what Emerson was point to when he said, ¨Make your own Bible. Select and collect all the words and sentences that in all your readings have been to you like the blast of a trumpet.¨
Just because I am not religious does not mean that I do not fully appreciate my Christian tradition, nor the Judeo and Pagan traditions that preceded it, or the Buddhist, Taoist, and other studies. I appreciate and honor all of them. But I also understand that they are merely the art of a people. As Alan Watts put it, they are fingers pointing to the moon, but not the moon itself.
I am not religious because I do not assume that my tradition, my religion, or my culture are the one right way. To do so seems arrogant, prideful, and stubborn.
As a spiritual aspirant, I am drawn to the essence behind the scriptures and beyond the practices, but I do not feel inclined to mire myself in an addiction to either of them in my search for a higher truth than the habit of religion. I feel inclined to be more than an ego clinging to something to argue about and kill for. I would rather simply experience the mystery of God in my breath and see Her blossom in the world around me.
Anyone who feels "spiritual" is mired in the same quicksand, you've simply shed the medieval version for a newer one. Why the need to ascribe any of it to a god or worship any part of it? Just enjoy the planet while being kind to it and other humans. There's no need to make anything more mystical out of it.
All religion is a fraud. If you suffer from a brand of this delusion, it is no less crazy than any other.
After reading well over 100 posts here, I'm starting to think that maybe the 'spiritual-but-not-religious' have claimed the hallowed middle ground, the elusive balance.
They have unshackled themselves from the blind adherence to religious doctrine.
They have transcended atheism, which is really just the religion of the five senses.
To the 'spiritual-but-not-religious,' I salute you all.
Not me. It's feminism. The wives don't understand the feelings of futility of a man in this world. 'Course they wouldn't offer any help. That requires faith. The Beast is the solution.Sue the hubby.
You think I'm putting down women? What about Tim. '2Ti 1:5 When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also.' Very, very very, sorry I just love them!
Leave it to the religious nutters to attempt to spread the word of their loving god by descending into hate. AnybodyRead, you are the worst kind of human.
End Religion, do the killers at SCOTUS agree? Too bad your type corrupted them. That's sum mighty big hate. OR just ol' fashioned greed?
Hebrew 10: 24,25 – And let us consider one another to incite to love and fine works, not forsaking the gathering of ourselves together, as some have the custom, but encouraging one another, and all the more so as YOU behold the day drawing near.
For those folks that consider themselves "spiritual but not religious" (please note, this question does NOT apply to Christians that feel spiritual, but dont like Church insti tutions).
This question is for those folks that consider themselves "spiritual but not religious", but do not have a spirituality targetted at a the God of Abraham.
HERE'S THE QUESTION: do you consider yourself an atheist (do you either deny, or disbelieve in the existence of a deity)?
no tricks, just trying to get a sense of what you consider yourself.
No, it's just obviously a bunch of dumb cavemen having separate revelations of the same god.
Thank you @Athy
@Stupid, do you mean "no" as in "no, you do not consider yourself an atheist?"
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I don't think that it is a cop out. I choose not to associate my self with any particular religion because I believe that all religions for the most part are all praying to the same god (many different names for it.) I also don't feel that just one religion can define the way I see my higher power, humanity and the world around me. I know that there is something more out there whether it be a him called by one name, many of them, or just an energy source. I also don't believe that this quote is true among those who are spiritual, "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." In my opinion I see that each individual chooses their own set of principals (even among those in organized religions) and they work to in force them with in their self while also trying to learn and understand the human being that they are, want to be, and those around them. Everyday we see those who follow an organized religion adhere to some of the principals of their religion and blatantly disregard others. Its all about becoming a better version of yourself, knowing your self brings you closer to knowing and understanding your higher power.
How can they all be praying to the same god when the claims of what each of their gods is, wants, stands for, and demands are not only so widely varied, but often directly contradictory?
They're not! They're all exactly the same! And it's the same person, the creator of the universe!
They're all praying to the same non-god!
I wonder if, after all, Alan Miller is jealous of the independent thought spiritual "indies" use that doesn't depend on received and regurgitated dogma. Indies think critically instead of passively following a book of rules.
Agreed. But nobody gets to collect any money from Indies.
This argument has a few basic flaws in it. I'm going to highlight just one or two of them, and hopefully I'll see something better researched in the future.
"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."
According to a quick trip to dictionary.com, spiritual is defined (in the least recursive manner I can find) as an adjective meaning "relating to the spirit or soul and not to physical nature or matter; intangible"; whereas religious is defined as "pertaining to or connected with a monastic or religious order". You can clearly be one, both, or the other; how claiming to be spiritual but refusing to throw everything in to one specific doctrine is a "cop-out" or implausible is beyond me. Copping out of what, precisely?
Additionally, you make the presumption that being spiritual yet denying a specific pressed religious order, clearly a decision to take responsibility for oneself, is an effort to avoid decision. You have stated no evidence for this! Please refrain from name-calling. You've called these people effectively naïve, "self-obsessed", and believers in the monstrously hyphenated "truth-is-whatever-you-feel-it-to-be" philosophy (which is a new one to me). You've also taken a crack at the scientific method, which, suddenly, seems to have something to do with religious belief.
You know what that makes this little editorial?
It is broadband libel against an entire group of people, defined by nothing more than a differing belief. If there was something journalistic here, you would have cited a news source at least once. You should be ashamed of yourself.
Michael Oberlin, You live in a culture. God sets the boundaries of nations. Time keeps on slippin' into the future. You weren't listening like most of us. BTW, SBNR comes from a REACTION to feminism. Getting sloshed is not cause for divorce. No matter what your gubermint god says. No matter what your healthcare liars say. Get it? The default for man is a god, created or TRUE. Time to pay up.
@anybodyread: the default for man has been fear of the unknown which he chalked up to a god. We understand you need your binky and will throw a tantrum when we take it from you but It is time to grow up.
i agree it is broadband libel when it spews on the pages of cnn as an article backed by it's money, prestige, and intelligence and approval.
i do not agree that the film the Islams became upset about was not a hate crime – it was.
i do agree that the people who were manipulated to believe that these people were rioting because of this insult were being manipulated along with the people who were protesting ...
i do agree this article is part of that continued manipulation ...
and i do agree that i wish they would stop – and just let us think
without manipulating 'us' further
because it has turned deadly – and therefore
is a crime
In Zen tradition there is a beautiful example. One enlightened master was sitting. One monk who was the head of the old monastery, who is the inheritor of the oldest monastic tradition, a pontiff of an old monastery comes to this enlightened master. This master is sitting and drinking cup of tea; this pontiff comes and says “Do you know I am the pontiff of this monastery, oldest Buddhist monastery.”
Zen master did not speak, usually they don’t speak. He finished his cup of tea and poured the water, washed that cup and pored it in another one cup and emptied that cup, poured little more water in that cup, washed it and poured in another one cup and emptied that cup, poured little more water in that cup and washed it and poured in another one cup and gave it to this pontiff and said ‘please drink this tea’. Pontiff was shocked, and said “What do you mean?” Master said “An experienced person drinks original cup of tea”. Pontiff drinks the washed, washed, washed, washed, washed water! Truth – what is there, my ancestor’s predecessor’s predecessor’s predecessor had a cup of tea. What is there in that? Fool, you have the cup of tea.
Benevolence that's what my spirituality not my religious belief dictates. Why can't I take a little from each great wisdom tradition of this world. Most are founded on love which is a good solid foundation. I honestly could care less about what choice of great wisdom tradition you practice, I am more concerned with your ability to be a genuinely present global citizen.
Yup, need that one world gumit, the Tower of Babel. We all about LOVE.
And if you fail to comprehend, the consensuous consensus of the committee will soothe your mind.
I tend to follow the Gospel and treat Revelations as sacrilegeous demon-mouthed death-garbage.
I do believe that sometimes someone who says they are spiritual but not religious has not really spent enough time in their life trying to figure out exactly what it is that they believe in. However, I disagree that it is wrong to take aspects from many different religions. If you have studied what those aspects are and feel that they fit with who you are or want to be, then there is no reason that you should not accept them as your own.,
Fair enough, Datie. Same goes for some churchgoers and some atheists, right? We can spend a lifetime "trying to figure out exactly what to believe in." I like how a Christian friend described the process, "like polishing a window to see through it better and better."
The author can go phuhck himself.
Can't you spell fuck, dimwit?
Easily the biggest load of crap I've read all day... and I've read a lot of crap. You know what scares me more than dumb people? Guys like this that are JUST smart enough to almost sound intelligent, but too dumb to say anything of real significance. Why? because dumb people seem to latch onto drivel like this and run with it.
If people were more spiritual and less religious then we just might have a lot less problems in this world.
How about less of both?
very entertaining. Larry points out that there has not been any observable proof of a god or the spiritual realm. thanks for that, Larry. And what was that? Spirituality itself is the cop-out because it allows people to ignore reality. So let's get this straight: The reality is that there is no god. And you know this because you have not seen a god. So anything that we can not see or observe is not only unprovable, but strictly does not exist. Your proof is that the contrary remains unproven.
Wow! That is some great logic. It sort of reminds me of the kind of thinking that had people believing for years that the sun rotates around the earth. and yes i do realize that this faulty thinking was later corrected along with many other accepted scientific "facts" that were based of what could be observed.
your biggest error was this. you can't prove non-existence. i could tell you that unicorns exist and you could tell me you know they don't because nobody's ever seen one before. you haven't proved anything. all we can know is that nobody's ever provided evidence that they exist. I could tell there invisible, or just really bloody fast. study some logic by way of philosophy. You can't prove non-existence.
so, here's your lesson. things that you can prove in a laboratory are called scientific facts. there are also historical facts. other than that you have theories. you have, also, what most people call faith. attached to most faiths are some things can be backed up by facts, and other things which are theoretical.
the existence of god is faith issue – something people believe even though they can not see it or prove it. people like you who claim that reality can be explained entirely by science and who think that all their beliefs are factual are fooling themselves. You give a bad name to real scientists everywhere who actually know the difference between fact and theory, and left reason behind for ignorance in the guise of wisdom. and that's the biggest cop-out of all.
This article is stupid. Loud-mouthed, stupid nonsense for loud-mouthed, stupid, thou ghtless morons. I want to leave this stupid planet before you idiots completely destroy it . Immature, half-educated retards! I really, honestly hate this. Stupid, stupid, stupid . SORRY I learned to read. I'll know better for next time. STUPID.
Hey, you haven't ever actually thought about any of this or read one entire book, you're totally closed-minded and simple, lowcountry dumb and armed and full blown arrogant and loud mouthed? And you dont want to share or understand any other point of view even a little? Great, just great. So no matter how educated i get, you'll hold religion hostage for retardeds-only use? Screw this.
Is there another field where the people with the least education make all the decisions? Get to declare wars and write laws on behalf of people who didn't drop out after the 8th grade?
Energy can neither be created or destroyed it only changes from one state to another, we are of the Universe and to the Universe we return, we came from the stars, we are made of the same stuff the stars are made of just in a different form, and some day we will again be part of the stars or some other from of energy in this Universe, this fits Scripture, reincarnation and science.
Spirituality is DOING the work on earth VS Religiosity having read and sometimes memorized certain books or followed specific rules.
People of all belief systems can be "spiritual ", but the word is misused to mean agnostic or some other things in the same manner the word religious does not always mean good or well intentioned. IMHO.
You obviously never read the Bible nor do you know what true Christianity is about based on your answers. Being a true Christian is about "doing" what God calls us to do after receiving Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. Its about as Spiritual as a human being can get while still living in this earth. The Bible is our guide to living life to the fullest while God lives in us through His Holy Spirit. I can't imagine why people would follow these spiritual gurus in false religions and think they are safe and doing well. Its demons that live in those realms of spirituality and you need to be careful with that they are pretenders and liars. There is nothing safe about them.
Proof Every Christian Goes to Hell by End Religion
1) The only irredeemable sin against your Lord thy God is denying him, the Holy Spirit
2) To deny is to refuse to admit truth of or to refuse to give that which is requested
3) Any sin is to deny god of his commandments
4) Therefore, even one sin results in a soul that cannot be forgiven. Sin once, and you're going to hell whether you repent or not. Since Christians are "born into sin" they're automagically damned to hell and cannot be forgiven.
Christianity is family. All the rest is gubermint, ye olde Prom King and Queen, which is funny because Jesus is KING. Pick your King wisely.
Pick your nose wisely, you dolt.
" All the rest is gubermint... " Either deliberate trolling, or arrogant, delusional hogwash. Take your pick.
Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son, You never heard of the sons of God? ANYBODY can be a servant. Only sons get the inheritance.
Pick your nose some more, honey. I think there's still some crud up there close to that thing you call a brain.
Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son, your cortex is split. That makes for instability. Even science proves that. 'Jam 1:8 A double minded man [is] unstable in all his ways.' It would be foolish for me to ask you if you wanted healing. So I won't.
"Christianity is family. All the rest is gubermint, ye olde Prom King and Queen, which is funny because Jesus is KING. Pick your King wisely."
Looks like it's our favorite disgruntled ex Evangelical Fortune Cooke Co. "writer". lol. ("Anybody know how to read?")
@akh: "Christianity is family. All the rest is gubermint, ye olde Prom King and Queen, which is funny because Jesus is KING. Pick your King wisely."
Christianity is a manmade club like any other, with rules and perks to make the club feel special from other clubs. The club gets together periodically and reinforces the delusions of members. Many branches of this club have dues.
You've chosen a club that aligns with your own fantasies. You and others in the club are afraid so you've made up a god that makes decisions for you, helps you feel less alone in the universe, and promises you you'll live forever. Club gods offer other various perks to induce membership such as seeing dead relatives, virginal sex partners, planets to rule or even one's own god status.
Jesus never existed, was and is king of nothing. Ask yourself why you feel the need to be ruled. Ask hard enough and you'll likely find it is due to fear.
You don't have to be afraid. You do not need religion. Deal with the idea of no afterlife by celebrating life and family in the here and now. Be responsible for your own decisions or "go with the flow" and let life determine the course if you really don't want to decide. Either way, you don't need a god or a club for any of that.
End Religion, go with the flow? You are a little worm that loves commies, socies, femmies, Churches, athenaites, and blah, blah, blah. Throw another child on the fire. Christianity is about family. Very righteous God, whose name is Jealous! And the bride's name is Israel, not by flesh, but by SPIRIT! Run along and buy a Dodge spirit. Bbbbwwwwaaahahahahaha, Strike that, I shouldn't pick on Dodge. Some very close and wonderful relatives work for that corp. It's not their fault you put the Beast in charge of EVERYTHING.
AnybodyRead, you are a better advertisement against religion than I could ever be. Thanks for the help!
If anyone has interest in understanding this more, I would suggest you read I Ching by Fu Xi, Mount Analogue by Rene Daumal, The Republic, and Human, All Too Human. I feel like the thing this critic misses is that the "spiritual not religious" attraction lies on its basis of truth seeking which lends itself to examining many different philosophies/differing ways of information/thought processing and human mechanisms of action, not necessary blindly accepting things that have been scientifically proven to be false (say for example the old testament of the Bible stating the earth can be a maximum of 5000 years old when carbon dating puts the age of earth at roughly 4.6 Billion years old). I just find it hard to take something like that seriously when the basis for everything it says is rooted in fiction. The books I listed above deal with things that span time; meaning a book written 5000 years ago presents principles that are applicable today, just as they were then and were for any civilization. To be honest, this essay comes across as close-minded and almost hypocritical. Why not be open to looking at situation from a different way in order to deeper understand it?
The Bible does NOT "state that the world is 6,000 years old". It states that man was created 6,000 years ago (give, or take a few years). What you need to do is prove it wrong, yourself. Don't just rely on what you have read. The Bible is the only ancient book that has predicted thousands of events that have come to pass hundreds, and even thousands of years AFTER the prediction, exactly as predicted in the Bible. Some people just will never believe the truth of the Bible.
It's definitely a cop out. Young people don't want to have the faith that it takes to believe that a man walked on water, which is really really impressive and cool. i don't know why kids don't believe in it. at least my children do. everything else is a total cop out. one kid i know asked me why did jesus didn't heal the whole world, or why did jesus need food in order to feed people, why couldn't jesus biolgically or metabolically change a person so they didn't feel hungry that day or didn't need food to survive for a few weeks, or feel that pain. well, the reason is that jesus didn't want to show off. Jesus also didn't want to heal too many people at once and only healed people in his vicinity. he would never do something truly crazy like appear in the minds of every person in the world at one time, like everyone sharing a dream. only the devil would do something like that. jesus was never too boastful.
How old are you, TrueBeliever? You seem to be just a child. No reasonable adult could really believe what you just said.
Athny, the evidence suggests your science god (evolution) is only getting better at killing. Yea, or nay? Would this evidence confirm or deny Revelation?
The evidence suggests nothing of the sort, you simpleton.
Anybody's contribution is nothing if not post after post of logical incongruity.
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.