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.
It may be a cop-out, but insisting on absolute adherence to what is written in the bible in the face of massive amounts of evidence otherwise is, if not a cop-out, delusion.
Agreed! Blind adherence to anything isn't really a good thing...
Synopsis: conform = good, think for yourself = bad, m-kay.
There, I just saved future readers precious time.
P.S. Alan Miller, you owe me five minutes.
We're turning into an amorphous mass of unbelieving, hedonistic slugs . . . if this is what you want then knock yourself out.
If that is what truly you believe, then I fear that you are ignorant of the feelings of others. Or perhaps you just believe that all of life should be suffering at the hands of an unkind God? All life, you, me, everyone, no matter what race, religion, spirituality, or creed they identify with, seeks pleasure and security in some form. To say that spirituality is merely "unbelieving" and "hedonistic" is, firstly, and incorrect assumption but more importantly you are applying it too generally. The differences between people who say they are spiritual can be and often are vast because spirituality has many varying differences for each individual. And I believe that is wonderful and beautiful. There is nothing wrong with having an opinion on way or another (whether it be secular or religious or anything else) if one feels that it makes them a better person, fills them with love, and helps them better respect and understand society. In saying that, I respect your opinion stated above, but I caution, once more, that you apply it too generally.
"Spiritual-but-not-religious" people are constantly trying to connect to something....a higher power? A being of some sort that watches over us? I don't know. What we most certainly are NOT trying to connect is a multi-million dollar organization that promotes hate and not unconditional love for one another. My spirituality derives from Catholic teachings because i was raised Catholic. But i dont consider myself Catholic. I call my higher power God, could I be wrong...yeah...maybe his or her name is Felicia? Who knows.... And ultimately, as i grew up and was able to think for myself. I realized that I am not relgious...I am just a man of Faith. And thats the beauty about Faith....you don't have to question it....you just have to have Faith.
IMy thinking is exactly like yours. Except that I am very anti-religion. I find that it is only an artificial business construct that benefits their elite and controls the minds of those stupid enough to allow it. Oh and has their hands in their pockets.
Why is it so important to choose any how? And why is it so important to profess that to the world? Why can't individuals believe whatever they want without having to explain or justify it to others? As long as they are not committing violent or harmful acts against others, who are we to judge? And I know myself, personally, I typically decline to talk about my beliefs because they don't fit perfectly into the cookie-cutter mold of what the larger society wants me to believe. People get very easily offended and defensive about religion and anything that doesn't coincide with their own beliefs is threatening. I don't want to start up conflict with people, and them understanding or knowing my beliefs doesn't change them: I still believe the same things, they believe the same things, and we both most likely feel just as strongly about our individual positions. Also, a lot of people GENUINELY BELIEVE A LOT OF THINGS that may not be exclusively from religion or another. This article sites it as being a cop out, but if this thing from this religion makes sense to you, and this thing from another does too, believe both. They don't/aren't necessarily in conflict. Identifying with one often leads people to believe you identify with ALL the ideas associated with it. So I personally don't wish to be associated with all of a single religion, but also I don't want to be limited to not believing parts of other religions. "Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense." – Buddha
I think the cop-out is ascribing to some religion. Religion is a creation of man and men, ruled by man and men. Most religions are aristocracies with a human ruler always ready to "abdicate" to when the final ruler – their God – descends onto earth. The irony is that there never was a ruler in the "heavens" and these humans who rule over our minds and passions know it just as well and are able to run an elaborate scam. The cop-out is that you let some fake people all over the world run your life and thoughts – because you cannot handle it yourself.
As for being spiritual – that I believe is a way for the new generation to get rid of this farce that is organized religion. They have been taught to rebel through speech rather than violence – they have leaned well and now will take the BS you dole out about being spiritual being a cop-out and let it slide out the other ear.
I myself am "spiritual but not religious". To me, "religious" carries a connotation of an assocation with a specific named set of tenets, rituals, dogma, etc., and, although I've searched diligently for many years, I have yet to find one and only one that fits with my own beliefs. Many have aspects I agree with but either actively or passively also carry things that are issues for me. At the same time I very much believe in the human soul and all that implies, individually and collectively, as well as the now-hackneyed expression "higher power", so I do consider myself to be spiritual.
So for me, being "not religious" isn't a slam against any religion, just an acknowledgement that I haven't found one I can invest in 100% for MYSELF. Just my two cents' worth.
Thank you for affirming the author's main point. ME, I, MYSELF, INDIVIDUAL. You just referenced yourself about a dozen times in one paragraph.
We are not unique rulers of our own fiefdoms, no man is an island. This disease of self-obsession and individuality will be the downfall of our culture. People like YOU (not you the individual, the LOT of, and there are a lot of YOU!) truly scare me.
The author says, "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."
On the contrary, it is those who sit complacently in their pews who avoid thinking hard. What do they do if they think the preacher may be completely wrong about who goes to hell? Do they speak up and disagree out loud? What preacher would tolerate a question from the pews during a sermon? And if you ask about it privately you are told you are being tempted by the devil and to to pray harder and don't ask questions that will lead you to lose your faith.
You pose a false dichotomy between a belief in God and Scripture or purely human-based knowledge. But if you study scripture, you find contradictions that most people who are satisfied with their religion don't want to even acknowledge, let alone debate. If you have a brain you will realize you are being lied to, but don't know in what way or how much. Only outside the comfortable complacency of the sheepfold will you have even a chance to find out the truth without being slapped down.
What I want is the freedom to pursue my own investigation into God's existence and how we relate to God; to explore both scripture and my own experiences of the divine with my brain turned on; to include the Enlightenment values of truth, reason, and courage in my explorations; to not be condemned, shunned, or ex-communicated for my efforts; and to worship God in my own way, which might actually include joining a religion that I find truthful, healthy, and welcoming.
it was a straw-man argument to begin with because:
"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."
could easily be countered with the following:
a commitment to the Enlightenment ideal of human-based knowledge, (which includes many differing beliefs in God and Scripture, reason and action), gives a person many different avenues of knowledge that cannot be avoided – thus giving a person many perspectives to having to think about – and many different conclusions which – without ample avenues of thoughts, perceptions, and understanding – could be a life-time of hard thought and study about all things in order to successfully come to wise understandings about all that people have to decide."
apparently if you went to church in repub miss. you might end up in jail if you spoke out about your neighbor being sent to hell
I'm 34 years old and have always been very religious, including lay ministry positions within my Church which I still hold. That said, I feel I'm moving in a spiritual but not religious direction. At the end of the article the author says, "Theirs is a world of fence-sitting, not-knowingess, but not-trying-ness either."
I do feel I'm moving into a fence-sitting, not knowingness, but I object to the characterization of a not-trying-ness. My movement in this direction has been due to reading the Tao Te Ching, a lot of Emerson and some of The Bhagavad Gita, as well as re-reading The New Testament with something of a new perspective. I'm becoming comfortable with the idea that I don't have to know, but that I have an obligation to be constantly searching for truth.
Very thoughtful view! Thanks for sharing.
Being Catholic all my life has given me spirituality and belief in a higher power. However I find religion controling, intolerant of other beliefs, money hungry, with its leaders living a materialistic life. The Vatican itself is worth millions of $, while its faithful are living in poverty raising dozens of children, since birth control is "forbidden." Personally I find Eastern Philosophy a true way of life that hasn't changed and only requires that we live a life of compassion, empathy and love. Numerous religious rules are man-made, not by Jesus or God. I am still Catholic and Spiritual, but I also use my own common sense.
Spirituality unites, Religion divides. If one feels and find love, piece and bliss when one comes in contact with another human being, with other creations like birds, animals, plants, trees, mountain etc one is spiritual.
If one hates, dislikes feels superior then other human being or elements of nature one could be 'religious' but never a spiritual.
Religion may unite a group but divides the humanity.
I think more people need to take an educated look at the religions they follow, as you have, and use their common sense to be certain they aren't blindly following something that may not be completely what they thought it was, or because it's what's expected of them.
And I absolutely love Vidyashanti's reply. I couldn't agree more!!
WHAT MR MILLER CLEARLY DOES NOT COMPREHEND IS THAT GOD IS NOT A RELIGION, AND RELIGIONS, WHILE THEY INCLUDE EFFORTS TO KNOW AND APPRECIATE GOD, ARE NOT GOD. THIS EXPECTATION THAT MILLER HAS THAT WE SHOULD ALL FIT NEATLY INTO THE TINY LITTLE BOXES THAT HE IS COMFORTABLE WITH SHOWS A FASCIST MENTALITY. IT IS OFTEN SAID IN INDIA THAT "GOD IS NAMELESS AND FORMLESS, BUT ALSO HAS MANY NAMES AND MANY FORMS." THE GURU RAVI SHANKAR SAYS THAT RELIGION IS THE BANANA PEEL, AND SPIRITUALITY IS THE BANANA.
Read books like "Many Lives many masters", Life after Life, etc and you will start to get the idea.Traditional religion has caused more wars and more deaths than pretty much anything else.
It seems to me, spiritual but not religious, is progress, incorporating facts of the modern world with a very old
text. I don't see why it has to be "God is Dead" or "Jesus walked with the dinosaurs".
In the end, what does it mean? It means a clever writer pushed a few buttons and sold a column.
Looong time ago, I tried to read the bible.. I found out it was very difficult to follow the story, and also came to conclusion, necked mind or just a mind (specially clever or intelligent mind) can’t understand the bible, I believe that is why we think the priest got the story better. assuming they have “clean or holy brain??”
Most of religion leaders are sinners, but do we have to change “our self” or our religion just because of that? Is that a good reason? What happen to “do what I say and not what I do”? Why we think, religion leaders are better humans than me and you?
Think about it, let’s say, religion leaders are saints, then we have to be with one religion and that is it… no reason to change…. Is that good? Are we going to be plugged to something for ever even that means better? I don’t think so… soul wants to know more…
Is our disillusion based only with religion leaders or also the bible?
I believe bible should be modified and revised just like any other book, most of the content in it, does not stand for our current life and situation…
If we change the bible, we may free so many people including religion leaders…. World would be better place to live
Most of our world conflict is religion based… imagine you change that? No reason to be angry or to punish or to defend
I, myself, looong time ago, choose to be spiritual, I teach my self
Spiritual is just daydreaming on steroids.
As an atheist – you say that there is no evidence that there could be a creator.
As a religious being you say there is absolutely no way there could not be a creator.
As an agnostic – I choose to wait patiently and see what comes to the forefront in my lifetime, and in the meanwhile I try my level best to balance myself with my natural surroundings, hence the spirituality. If nothing comes forth in my lifetime – in my current state of mind I believe I will be A-OK to die a man without a conviction either way. Bu then who has seen the future – I may eventually fall on the path of religious readings – though I do know I will not imbibe what is outright crazy from any religion.
Honestly I tend to agree with the author's statements but not his message. The problem is not that people who are "spiritual but not religious" are lazy about their beliefs, its that they actually have taken the time to think about it, and to the old world religions that sort of thing is scary. Christianity and all of the other faiths that stem from the teachings of Abraham enjoyed their "glory days" in a time when people were not granted equal access to education, and certain scientific advances had not been discovered yet. Now that most people can read the religious texts they were denied for centuries and had to accept on blind faith, it is easier to see the hypocrisy latent within dialogue. Education and critical thinking are the enemies of the three great middle eastern faiths, because their original messages of peace have become overshadowed by the tyranny of the evil people who carried out bloody wars in the names of those faiths. As a former Christian, I realized that it not logical to follow a murdering, vengeful, vain, and jealous god that would have the gall to claim to be the god of love. As for the religions of the East, they seem to be a little more modern in that they don't draw so many lines in the sand. The us vs them mentality doesn't happen as much between Buddhist and Taoist for example. But that really doesn't make them any better, just a little less prejudiced. My encouragement for the "spiritual and not religious" would be to understand that the reason those old faiths don't make sense to you is that you are smart enough to know better.
James, brilliant comment. I could have not said it any better
Nonsense you have no idea what you are talking about. TM
To a spiritual but not religious Christian like me. Empiricist Atheism is no better a religion.
I consider myself to be a bit of both, "spiritual and religious." I say this because I have been a member of the clergy for quite some time now. I find that the "Old religious" values are different, but the bible never changes. "God is the same, yesterday, today and forever." It is our society that has done the changing. But actually, "there is nothing new under the sun." You still have the religious zealots out there, the "Pharisee spirits" are still out there. The spirits of judging someone based on outer appearance is still there. The spirits of not believing that Christ is the "Son of God" is still out there. The spirit to persacute someone for their belief is still there. The spirit of thinking that "some are better than others" are still there.
Yes, I believe that Jesus Christ is the SON OF GOD. I believe that He is the final judge of our lives. I believe that God does not have a respect of persons; meaning that no one is better than the other.
I don't see God as this revenged filled God that is set on ruining peoples lives. God wants us all to be on one accord and love one another, no matter our color, caste or gender. He wants us all to live clean, holy lives. He wants us to all have a "personal" relationship with Him. That is where the spiritual aspect of religion comes in.
Many people don't know how to have a personal relationship with God. Many don't know how to cut themselves off from their microwave lives to live a simple, peaceable existence. Some are always looking to see how they can make life miserable for the next person. This is called the "evil way of living."
Yes, it is possible to live, work, eat and sleep next to someone different from you and still show them love, respect and kindness. This comes from the LOVE that GOD places in the hearts of those that know, love and worship HIM! "The man/woman that does not know love, does not know God."
Love what you wrote! Thanks!
I wouldn't say education and critical thinking are enemies to Christianity. For me, that is exactly what led me to believing Christianity in my late 30's after a lifetime of never having gone to any church or raised on any particular religion. One of my parents was Catholic, the other Muslim, neither practiced much. I considered myself "unaffiliated" for most of my life. But after having children, I became a much more active seeker. I found a non-denominational Christian church that made the Bible extremely accessible and relevant to modern American life, and my life has been transformed since then.
I think what Americans suffer from most greatly is lack of humility. We can't stand the idea that we may not know it all, or can't figure everything out for ourselves. I've spent 5 yrs actively studying the Bible to try to learn as much as I can. There are indeed mysteries I admit I still don't understand. But I do know there is hope in a God who suffers himself in order to save me, and that forgiveness is abundant. I also am discouraged by Christians who spend more time judging others to feel morally superior, than humbling themselves and trying to love one another. Jesus' 2 simple commandments are to love (implicit is TRUST) God and love each other. If you can follow these two things, and humble yourself to admit that anything in the Bible you still struggle with, requires further study and prayer, your life will be transformed as well.
This is by far the most ridiculous article that I have ever read. I tend to dislike people who comment and criticize others harshly, but seriously, who ever wrote this is an ass.
I agree with Amy. This guy is an ass. I have found being spritual but not religious makes me think more not less. I am continually asking myself about the meaning of my life – rather than being told by a given religion's dogma. I was raised a Chirstian and experienced being born again at age 18 – but at age 25 the still quiet voice inside me told me that Christiantiy was not the answer. I have lived a much freer, fuller, and more meaningful life these past 25 years.
No one religion can possibly be right, so those who sit on the fence have merit. I agree with Amy.
@Ruined. Saying "no" religion can be right takes the same position as someone who says "only one" religion is right. You can't assert that someone else's view is not possible, while assuming that only your view is. It's not logical. I do believe that there are Truths out there, that are unchangeable. And no matter what anyone believes, is not going to change those Truths. the question is, are we open-minded enough to explore the possibilities and ambitious enough to educate ourselves?
@Mark – by assuming Ruined is wrong you are participating in folly. How do you know that all religions in existence today are the final ones we as a human race will ever encounter? How do you know that the one true religion didn't exist at one point in time – but was vanquished by others? Tell me how do you know Mark? HOW?
I totally can agree with the notion that all the ones that exist today are equally likely to be wrong and totally misplaced in their word and deed.
As for this statement "You can't assert that someone else's view is not possible, while assuming that only your view is." – ruined totally can. How do you know he is not the all knowing who has taken up commenting on CNN blogs to try talk to us mortals? You don't – and what he said what perfectly logical. Do you realize it is easier to disprove than to prove?
There are over a thousand religions practiced in the world, and they all have one thing in common. They are intolerant of other faiths, and are willing to hang maim, quarter, drown, poison,burn, shoot, stab and bomb the heretics, infidels, etc.. in the name of their beloved deity. I am a deist. I believe that we are the result of a created design, but I haven't the slightest idea who the designer is, nor I suspect do any of you reading this.
I would agree to "intolerant of other faiths" but not all the violence you describe. These are misinterpretations man has made to make religion serve his needs. No where in the New Testament of the Bible does it say to hurt someone else in the name of God. I haven't read the whole Old Testament, but I haven't run across anything of the sort in there either. Jesus' greatest commands are to LOVE God and LOVE your neighbor (anyone who needs help). Don't let the poor actions of those who call themselves Christians define who Jesus really is or what Christianity is.
Jesus claims to be the Truth. This isn't intolerant of other faiths any more than a physical law you may agree with that states "two masses cannot occupy the same space at the same time". This is a physical truth that cant' be violated. It's not a matter of intolerance.
I do not claim to be a member of the "spiritual but not religious" camp. I am a Christian who does not attend church. But I do read and study The Bible, attend talks and lectures.
I can understand why people would choose "spiritual but not religious." It's not that they can't decide. Religions are man made. Mankind is more often than not corrupt and hungry for money and power. Those are sins. Pastors, ministers, priests, etc, who are adulterers, abusers, molesters, cheaters, liers...they are sinners too. Why should I or anyone listen to a hypocrite tell me what I am to believe?
Through my reading and study of The Bible, I know what I believe. I talk to others about it, and I learn new things. I have a much more open point of view and liberal mind than many strident church-goers I know. I believe what I believe of studying, my experiences, and what I have faith and know to be true. I do NOT rely on the whim of feelings and emotions. They are unreliable and, not always, but often, untrue. I have lots of feelings and let myself swing with my emotions, but I KNOW that they are not something by which I should live my life or let lead my beliefs.
I don't classify myself as "spiritual but not religious" because that's not what I am, but I do believe that man-made and -enforced Religion is a separate thing from faith and religion (God, Christ). I do my research and think long and hard about everything. And so, I would say that I have a belief in God and Scripture AND "a commitment to the Enlightenment ideal of human-based knowledge, reason and action." HELL, I even believe in EVOLUTION.
Does this make me a fence-sitter? Does this mean that I've not taken a stand? Does this mean that I'm someone who "avoids having to think too hard about having to decide?!"
Perhaps you should think about what you are saying about people you don't know. You don't know what would make someone claim anything. How about a national survey? Or a simple online poll? Sharing! Everyone should share this. It's an interesting debate. And what can a debate do for people who have deeply rooted themselves on either side of this topic? Debate can open their eyes and minds to other things. You can learn about where another person is coming. Let's give it a shot!
Alan Miller should just say what he is thinking... All other religions and beliefs are wrong except for Christianity!
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