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.
This article is simply trickle down government manipulation – shame, blame, dissent, confusion, distortion, delusion, ignorance, and irritation for motivation – nice ... the new world order at play.
his follow up opinion piece was a prime example of double down – the newest politically correct speak.
good job alan – proud?
I think one problem with Mr. Miller's argument is that it assumes motive and also monolithic sameness about people. He doesn't stop to examine very closely WHY a person may label himself/herself "spiritual, but not religious", but instead argues that such people are merely intellectually lazy individuals who won't take a stand. I reject that notion, as many soul-searchers are desperate to believe in something a la Razor's Edge by Maugham, but haven't found anything to fullfil their needs. Some people struggle every single day trying to make sense of their lives, what happens to them and those they care for, so where's the laziness in that?
Moreover, what about people who are drawn to several different beliefs of different religions, but doesn't feel comfortable with any individual one? Why CAN'T people pick and choose, mix and match? What's wrong with seeing religions as each offering a piece of the puzzle of understanding who we are and why we're here. Choosing what feels right and where you feel most at home is more important to me than picking a house of worship that doesn't embrace all of what I believe. How is that not taking a stand?
You said exactly what I was thinking, but much better than I could have.
Religion does not have a place in modern society. Spirituality however, does. Organized religion might work for some, but it's claim to be the only way for fulfillment and a more closeness to god, is flat out false. The religious books (koran, bible, etc) are but guides, not to be taken literal or lightly. The lessons learned through them have traveled centuries, and to this day, speak to us. Perception is a tricky thing, we can believe whatever we want to believe. Drug addicts convince themselves that it is ok what they are doing too.
It is time to be truly Spiritual, and yes, also rightfullly Religious now,
for the Son of Man has thus already come to seek and save those who are lost
in the beginning of this most critical Third and Last DAY (=MILLENNIUM) now! (=John 6/27, 40)
==UNIVERSAL MAGNIFICENT MIRACLES!
it is not possible by humans or by animals to argue about god because it is beyond anybody's comprehension except god(s) comprehension, which are found in religious histories, often derived from vision, inner sights, spiritual awareness, knowledge, everyday observations including miracles, legends, myths, and beliefs / devotion for god. these approaches only justify and prove existence of god and not by humans, 'prophets' and the like. if humans, 'prophets' are to be believed, that become politics and power game and for understanding god. god comes through one's vocation and out of 6 billion humans, at least 1 billion has true vocations in all faiths to understand divinity and god(s) and this knowledge can be aquired easily via trained and legitimate gurus, otherwise it takes much longer time and knowledge may not be recived because of lack of proper direction or paths to prevent being attracted by satun(s) and miscreants including terrorists.
@bhabha: "it is not possible by humans or by animals to argue about god"
my friend, we do nothing *but* argue about it...
"because it is beyond anybody's comprehension except god(s) comprehension"
incorrect. God is a manmade concept perfectly within our realm of comprehension as imaginary.
"these approaches only justify and prove existence of god and not by humans, 'prophets' and the like."
Yet another who doesn't understand what "proof" means.
"at least 1 billion has true vocations in all faiths to understand divinity and god(s) and this knowledge can be aquired easily via trained and legitimate gurus"
You my friend, are suffering from Religious Delusion: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_delusion
All religion is a fraud. If you suffer from a brand of this delusion, it is no less crazy than any other, and certainly not the only "true" brand.
"Legitimate guru" is another oxymoron. You're simply an ignorant person who has been fooled by someone who wants something from you.
"otherwise it takes much longer time and knowledge may not be recived because of lack of proper direction or paths to prevent being attracted by satun(s) and miscreants including terrorists."
lol... dude, find a hobby. Hopefully it'll be one that doesn't involved religion or bombs.
Good thing the writer is no a Quaker. We believe in knowing God experientially and not through an intermediary such as a minsiter.
For Tom, Tom, the Piper' Son..... You say there is no evidence that God exists??? What about you? How did you come to this world? Who created you and the parents that brought you here? What about the sun, moon, sunsets, sky, people, the mind, a beating heart??? I can go on and on. Those are the things that show evidence that there is a God. Prove otherwise, and then let's talk. Have a blessed day my friend.
Prove goddidit. Go ahead. THEN, we'll talk.
Sorry sir,but the burden of proof is on you because you assert very specific beliefs for which you can provide no tangible evidence. . I don't have to provide evidence for my disbelief any more that I have to prove that I'm a non-astrologer or a non-Yankee fan.
I will believe you assertion if you can pray for god to restore an amputees' limb and it happens-no disrespect to amputees, but that would be proof positive!
@awwl: Your logic is inadequate and preposterous.
Faith is defined as belief without proof. To believe in God requires a leap of faith. You or I may see something as 'proof' of God's existence-that doesn't mean others interperet the thing the same way. This is America. Please don't try to force your beliefs on others.
To me, spirituality is a one-on-one relationship with a Higher Power, God, Supreme Being, or whatever name you choose. Religion is an organized construct of humans to offer a framework for developing the relationship.
@anyone who will listen, Here you can apply what I like the call "the magic bunny theory". Just replace god with magic bunny and you should be able to see how your argument falls apart:
You say there is no evidence that the magic bunny exists??? What about you? How did you come to this world? Who created you and the parents that brought you here? What about the sun, moon, sunsets, sky, people, the mind, a beating heart??? I can go on and on. Those are the things that show evidence that there is a magic bunny. Prove otherwise, and then let's talk. Have a blessed day my friend.
they exist! many people have seen them.
Gosh, it's been nearly 12 hours and the dolt hasn't been able to come up with a scintilla of evidence to support his asinine claims. I'm shocked, I tell you! Shocked!
@duckforcover. I appreciate you pointing out the contradictions of your fellow blinded foolish non-believers. The definition of faith applies for you too as well smarty. Has anyone provided the slightest evidence of GOD not existing? noooooooo i dont think so it is impoosible. I can provide trillions. Lets star with an easy one. Our perfectly engineered solar system. Your turn.
how do you make the logical leap from a creator to a "god"?
waiting on an answer
Prayer changes things .
prayer has failed to change my adult diapers for me. What a messy business!
these new religious types dont know what they want, for all they know praying to their toilets is up lifting in their eyes,
"these new religious types dont know what they want, for all they know praying to their toilets is up lifting in their eyes,"
I think I smell a disgruntled ex Evangelical Fortune Cookie Co. "writer".
Hi, truth be told.
There is evidence that GOD is distant from this world, but no evidence that He does not exist. GOD's government does not exist in this world, there is also evidence of this. GOD is allowing mankinds self-rule to continue until the time He has appointed. Look around you look at the world yesterday and today. Look at the governments all around the world. Are they not corrupt? This world is full of violence, lust, envy, confusion, greed, pride, lies, hatred, and death. Man alone brought forth the destruction of the world through an extraterrestrial named satan. The world crys out for the government of GOD and His justice. The world crys out for the Kingdom of GOD whos Eternal Law is Love in every aspect. Jesus Christ left this world with one command, to love. He said love as He has loved. "What greater love is there then the love of someone freely giving up their life for a friend?" – Jesus. This is the Etern Law in the Kingdom of GOD, this is the law man has forsaken, and it is this law that will judge each and every person. Soon all will change, mankinds self-rule is almost up. The end is near and the government of GOD draws near, the Kingdom is at hand. Jesus warnings are becoming more frequent and growing more severe. Those who have ears hear His words, those who have life repent and turn to Christ Jesus earths only hope. None will deny the power of this new one world order, and all knees will bow to the Kingship of the Lord of all lords. May the grace of the Almighty be with you all. John 8 vs 47-"He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God."
There is no evidence that a god exists. None.
nope to nope
I love to stroke my dick while posing as truth be told.
fixed this for you, no charge...
There is no evidence that GOD exists. GOD's government does not exist in this world. GOD has no hand in allowing mankind's self-rule to continue. Look around you. Look at the world yesterday and today. Look at the governments all around the world. Are they not corrupt? This world is full of violence, lust, envy, confusion, greed, pride, lies, hatred, and death. Man alone brought forth the destruction of the world. The world cries out for a departure from god. The world cries out for release from the delusion of the Kingdom of GOD whos fictional Eternal Law purports Love in every aspect yet delivers only hate. Jesus Christ never existed in this world. He is reported via mythological third-hand zealot accounts to have said "love as He has loved" plus many other things wherein he espouses hate and violence. There is no Eternal Law nor any Kingdom of GOD. It is impossible for man to have "forsaken god's law" since god did not exist. No human has been or ever will be judged by any god upon death. Soon all will change, simply because the world continues to evolve. It is eventual that mankind's self-rule will end, whether by insect, microbe, weather, cosmic forces or self-destruction. The end is likely not near however. Jesus warnings seem to become more frequent and severe because those deluded by religion are ruled by fear and as they grow older they become more afraid. Those who have delusions hear His words, those who have imaginary friends in the sky repent and sometimes turn to Christ Jesus, earth's greatest fraud. Anyone sane will deny the power of this new one world order, which exists only in the mind of crazy folks. Some of the knees of those whose insanity falls into the Chrisitian brand of the delusion could bow to the Kingship of the Lord of all lords, unfortunately it will all still be imaginary. May the grace of the kindness be with you all.
Really? Because I may be spiritual but not religious, that means that I am unwilling to take a real position? This means that I don't take a stand on what I believe? That means that I don't think and I don't try? Are you kidding me?
I believe that we people are spiritual beings living human lives. I believe in a higher spiritual being that pervades this universe and the world around us, including within us. I am amazed and awed by this creation that we live in and by the gift of life and sentience that we have been given. But must I adopt a world faith to believe these things? Must I choose one faith or another if none of them correspond to my understanding of this universe and our spirituality?
I have spent much of my life, all 55 years of it, in search of truth and understanding, reading and studying about many of the worlds faiths throughout my life. I have lived and worked abroad outside the U.S. where I have been known people of many different faiths and worldviews. And who am I to say who is "right" and who is "wrong"?
And who are you to say whether those of us who chose to live a spiritual life with very definite, positive principles whether we are "right" or we are "wrong"? Really?
Sorry to say, your blog entry is in itself a cop-out in your lack of understanding human spirituality. Look and listen again with an open mind and an open heart, my dear kin.
You have a very high opinion of yourself. I am 100% sure that it is not justified.
This article is funny. I would argue that being "religious" is a cop-out in itself (psychological safety net, avoid real thinking for yourself or pondering about life and death). Sure, the scripture and the major organized religions have influenced the world in many ways, but let's be real. Back in the day, people were formally affiliated with religions because they were afraid. Now that people can think for themselves they are taking a more honest approach and saying "I don't know if I agree with this". There is no movement of "spiritual but not religious", just people who have always been on the fence but are just now honest enough to admit it.
It's also a great line to lay on the ladies if you're looking to hook up.....
You are hilarious. You've obviously never been around educated religious people. Joining a religion raises much more questions than can be answered and encourages all sorts of thinking and learning. Like 90% of the people commenting here, you have no clue what you are talking about because you have most likely never actually investigated any religion with any depth.
I've decided. I've taken a stand. My stand is that neither option offered in this rigid, myopic polemic is for me. There. I'm 'transformed'.
I would call myself not religious but a follower of Jesus...
How do you know anything about Jesus?
What causes many, myself included, to turn away from organized religion is the hypocrisy that I've seen. Even in my own family. When my father died, my borther-in-law, an elder in his church (which my mother also belonged to, but I did not) suggested that I should not go back to my parent's house after the memorial service, becase there wold be many chrch members there & they woldn't feel comfortable if I showed up. Excuse me???? It was MY father that dies, & I was the one who spent time every day at their house helping to take care of him. My sister showed up once every couple weeks & took Mom ot for a little while "to give her a break" while I stayed & took care of Dad. How lovin & caring of my sister & brother-in-law!
I see this type of behavior in every organized religion I have ever had contact with. Church leaders having affairs, cheating on their taxes, asking & expecting all congregation members to give $$ to the church, even the poorest members, who are barely managing to pay their own bills. Look at the Catholic church......the wealth, the political power.....any of that sound like Jesus' teachings to you? And I'm not picking on Catholicism.....there's many other religions that do the same thing. Most of the "spiritual" people I know are truly about compassion, caring, helping, loving their fellow man, regardless of color, nationality, race, as well as caring & respecting nature. Of course, there are many religious people who DO follow their religions teachings, but in my experience they are outnumbered by the greedy, selfish, self-righteous ones.
I understand your pain and anger, there are many who feels the same way you do. Due to the hypocrisy of many religions many become atheist, and still believe that they can be a spiritual person. Those hypocrites will have judgement payed to them, but the key is to not let it remove you from having a relationship with God or searching for the truth.
2 Peter 2:1-3
However, there also came to be false prophets among the people, as there will also be false teachers among YOU. These very ones will quietly bring in destructive sects and will disown even the owner that bought them, bringing speedy destruction upon themselves. 2 Furthermore, many will follow+ their acts of loose conduct, and on account of these the way of the truth will be spoken of abusively. 3 Also, with covetousness they will exploit YOU with counterfeit words. But as for them, the judgment from of old is not moving slowly, and the destruction of them is not slumbering.
The "key" certainly has nothing to do with more religion, for crying out loud! It's simple. There never was, nor is there now, nor will there be in the future, a jesus or god that could possibly create the bullshit many humans call religion. You don't have to be afraid. You do not need religion.
Deal with the lack of afterlife by celebrating life and family in the here and now. Be responsible for your own decisions. Be kind to the earth and others on it. Forge a path with determination, or "go with the flow" and let life determine the course if you're the lazy type. Either way, you don't need a god or a religion for any of that.
Go figure a christian that is ready to discriminate and go completely against the teachings of the bible in regards to being forgiving, accepting, do onto others as you would yourself, not passing judgement etc. And you wonder why people leave the church? It is simple the church violates the 10 commandments and preaches a do as I say not as I do approach. Since when is it the job of christians to persecute hom0$exuals, believers of a different faith etc? That is a judgement that as YOUR bible says is left up top god. Hypocrites.
Judgment of people is for God. People are allowed to judge actions. Actually, the Bible calls for Christians to judge behavior. You don't know what you are talking about.
Take a stand you say? That I would align myself with someone else's contorted beliefs? Why would I do that? That is how wars start. That is the basis of racism and discrimination. Do you think any slave owner allowed a slave to attend his church? Nope- "dirty" slaves had to build their own and weren't allowed to read- not even the Bible.
Alan- Don't make non-religious people dirty just because they don't see it your way. Not everyone is endowed with your masterly perspectives.
No one has dibs on me and I have dibs on no one else. We are all sovereign to our own experience. We do a disservice to ourselves by thinking someone else knows more than we do in terms esoteric beliefs that are mutable and impossible to prove. Who does the Pope in Rome think he is by telling me I can't relish in masturbatory bliss everyday???
Show me how to change a spark plug on an old Buick- that is useful. But tell me how to get to heaven? That's rubbish.
I know how to get to heaven. In fact, I have been here a very long time. And, I am not a sinner despite what YOU might believe. Sin is extant. It is a multi-level marketing gimmick to get you to put your pence in the pocket of crooks.
Want to read something interesting? Papal Bulls. You can start with: Inter caetera!
No one is more spiritually evolved than anything else that I can see. A blade of grass is a spiritual expression just as integral to existence as anything else- right up to the Pope in Rome.
You might be spiritually inclined, but that doesn't make you spiritually superior. If you think it does, that only makes you arrogant and narcissistic.
In essence, all things can be viewed from a spiritual perspective. However, it is simply a subjective experience and its operation in thought in limited by language and other factors.
Spiritual considerations are irrelevant to human existence if you cannot be self sufficient in the world. Even a blade of grass is self sufficient or it ceases to exist. Even a stone stands on its own until it tumbles.
I prefer to consider myself a chemical being rather than a spiritual one. I can see God, or what I think is God, a lot quicker with a chemical experience than a religious practice such as a Bible study group. Heck, a cup of coffee does wonders in the morning to see the Light, as it were.
Enough of these spiritual considerations. If you want peace of mind, do a better job of managing your day-to-day chemistry. Take a pill if you need to, but I prefer to have a swim. Even yoga is a good way to balance the chemical milieu that makes my brain fire with ideas and constructs- including but not limited to all things spiritual.
A spiritual perspective of life is no more useful than a dog chasing its tail. Entertaining- absolutely! But useful? Doubtful.
@ I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV
Thanks for the reply. Understand your point and agree with your view of the article.
How is true spirituality achieved? Though just about every religion claims to know the path to spirituality, the directions given are about as numerous as the religions themselves. A Protestant claims to be saved at a revival meeting. A Catholic seeks communion with God at Mass. A Buddhist pursues enlightenment through meditation. A Hindu strives for release from the cycle of rebirths through self-denial. Are all of these on the path to true spirituality? Are any?
Many hold that spirituality means to “believe without belonging,” that is, to believe in a god or a deity without belonging to a church. Others feel that spirituality refers, not to a religious experience, but to a desire for inner peace and for meaning in life. They assert that those seeking spirituality need not look to religion at all. Rather, they need only to look inwardly, to their innermost feelings. One writer says: “True spirituality is something that is found deep within oneself. It is your way of loving, accepting and relating to the world and people around you. It cannot be found in a church or by believing in a certain way.” Is that the truth? Again? What does it mean to be Spiritual? And, can an atheist be spiritual?
NIcely written. I would venture that an agnostic could be religious in that he might genuinely practice the tenets of religion without the certainty of the divine presence. I cannot imagine an atheist being spiritual or religious since denial of the spirit is their canon and religiosity is seen as superfluous by them. Another person might be religious without a spiritual connection, what one might call a pew-warmer. And yet another might be spiritual to the point of abandonment in religious ecstacy. My view then is that we are not members of different classes or philosophies but merely somewhere along the continuum which spans man's experience but that none of us exists outside of that continuum.
@ Bill Deacon
I appreciate your view.
The apostle pointed out that being a spiritual person is more than a matter of personal preference or inclination. Essentially, it is a matter of life and death.
For the minding of the flesh means death,+ but the minding of the spirit+ means life and peace;
Do you understand what Paul was saying?
Can an atheist be spiritual?
I'd say no, by definition. That's the rub with this "spiritual but not religious" label. Almost everybody wants in. Few like to be called not spiritual. That's part of why the article was written.
Christians who don't attend a church but read the bible every day don't want to be associated with the label "religious" and call themselves "spiritual". This article was not written about these people. They are religious.
Atheists who don't want to be thought of as 'shallow' want in too. This article was not written about people who have rejected the 'mystical' and have taken a stand "made a commitment to the Enlightenment ideal of human-based knowledge, reason and action." I was frankly surprised by the number of these people who decry organized religion and orthodox beliefs, profess a disbelief in God, but still want to be thought of as 'spritual'.
Nor, I think was this article written to describe people who have embraced a self-consistent deist or unifying spirit belief – like Einstein's preference for Spinoza's God, even if they don't believe in an anthropomorphic God. I consider these people (in the context meant by Alan Miller here) as religious.
The biggest problem with this article is not what is said, but that Alan Miller did not define his target – those people who define themselves as not organized religion but without really determining exactly what and choosing a bit o' this and a bit o' that most frequently from Eastern traditions.
As for the atheists. Spiritual no, but I think we could use terms like 'self-aware' to mean something similar without requiring or infering a belief in a higher power.
Of course it's not a cop-out. It's call "Agnosticism". And it's more rational than Chrisitianity, Islam, Judism, even Buddist terms.
This is more religious nonsense. This is like joining a gang where you have to choose one gang over another. . Who says that you "have to choose a side". As a person of free will I choose "none of this nonsense". Even without choosing any of this stuff, my day is no different than anyone else's.
Thanks! 2012 is an interesting time. Full of sfhits and change. I am presenting two presentations in October on 2012 which might interest you. The first, The , will be held at CDM Spiritual Teaching Center in Everett, WA on October 2nd at 1pm. The other, , will be held at the Anchor Pub in Everett, WA on October 30th at 1pm. Otherwise, I have also completed a book which you may enjoy: 2012 Is Happening Now: A Spiritual Perspective, available from both and
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.