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.
Those who claim they are "spiritual but not religious" want all the fuzzy feelings that come with religion without any of the responsibilities and social standards that might, heaven forbid, require them to transform their lives into something better. This insipid philosophy fits nicely into the egocentric world view that is becoming increasingly common in our society.
better by who's standards? yours?
right – 'we'll' get right on it
pass the plate will ya
Trying to bear fruit of the Spirit and practising charitable love and performing acts of charity are a spiritual man's worries. What are u the religious your worries-evangelism, jihad, doctrine, sectarianism, proselytizing, forced conversion, hoping other religions are wiped out, cheering Pew Survey statistics that believers are declining or vice versa. I don't worry about those cos I have got better fish to fry.
Are you talking about the responsibility of flying airplanes into buildings or killing abortion doctors in the name of some made up religion? All of the thousands of religions, past and present, have been created by man. It is impossible to explaing where we came from, but I'm sure all religions aren't the answer. Just read their books to figure that on out. One can get a spiritual feeling just looking at the wonders of nature without belonging to some false set of rituals carried out by the various religions. As for social standards, don't tell me they come from religion. Otherwise, I would have to kill my neighbor for working on Sunday.
I'm always curious to see people speak with full authority about things they know zero about.
still on your knees, jdd?
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The author seems to express a lot of fear here of those who believe differently. He doesn't understand that Spiriuality is not a doctrine or a fear message to pledge allegiance to, it is a belief that we are all one spiritually and an acceptance of All That Is.
The reason 'religion' doesn't work anymore for me is that religion is a giant fear message and generally intollerant of others – dissobey the church and go to hell, or the devil will get you kind of fear mongering. Religion teaches that God favors one group over another (the Church's followers, of course). All this fear messaging leads to endless conflict, separation and suffering.
I, for one, don't need someone else or a rigid fear doctrine to know God. The Holy Spirit is in my heart, not 'out there to find' as religious groups will tell you. Organized religions here seem to support the status quo including going to war; voting against programs that help others; attacking those who are different (gays, minorities,etc.) or who simply believe differently. You cannot ignore the violence and suffering caused by organized religions around the world: for example Christians killing Christians in Northern Ireland; Christians killiing Albanians in Bosnia; churches supporting violence against Iraques, Palestinians and Afganies;Jewish groups supporting violence in the Middle East; Islam supporting violence against anyone who believes differently; Hindus killing Muslims; the sorry history of religious wars throughout time; etc. The Churches, just in America today, are now so politicized that they coerce people on how to vote, and if you don't go along, you are not welcome – so much for tollerance, compassion, forgiveness and love. One of the last places, in fact, that you will find these sacred traits – without total obedience, losing yourself and losing who you want to be – is in the so called organized religions. These organized doctrines of fear ARE the stumbling blocks in life to over come. Amen.
I agree with the fear thing – it truly gets old – and unhealthy – afterawhile – you become numb to what is truly the message due to the societal pressures of fitting in – and never feeling like you do – that the burden of religion becomes a hindrance to spiritual thought and being. The voting and political part that abounds right now is truly fierce. The norm of not discussing religion and politics so not to cause dissent being gone is both blessing and burden. I mean – if i can just convince 'the other' not to vote – than i won't have to cry as i pull the lever either – cuz we will cancel each other out. Easier than trying to convince not to vote against all the peer pressure from the churches, etc. Convince the other not to vote either – and you both are in clear when the next war starts – which is inevitable the way things are going right now – therefore – not yours or others fault – as we cried from the start that neither are right, and both seem so wrong.
anyway – if that seems a lazy way out – i can assure you it is not.
This has been a bad economy. God is usually the most talked about subject in church, money is a close second. In these tough times, nobody wants their nose rubbed in it, but to hear how we need to keep giving more, people gossiping about who gives what and constantly feeling like we are not giving enough?This may not be the case in all churches, but it is in enough to people off in numbers that re starting to make a difference.Also, being told how to vote? if the church is good at its vocation, it should not need to remind its flock on how to vote.
This article states that "'I'm spiritual but not religious' is a cop-out." While this may be true for a select few people, it isn't true for the rest of us. The first and primary reason it gives is that we've just gotten lazy. This isn't true. People today have far more to worry about in a day than the puritans back in England did. Yes they had to worry about survival, but that's it. Today there is work, family, friends, volunteering, gym, and a copious amout of other things stcked on their plate. The author says just spirituality, "offers no positive exposition or understanding or explanation of a body of belief or set of principles of any kind." Back a couple hundred years ago this may have been true, but today people are bombarded with information. We have more knowledge than those before us did, therefor a better understanding. As for the set of principles we lack? They were like law back in time, and now we have law, so what use is there? They needed the fear of god to keep people in line, and now we have the fear of police, and their technology capable of finding us out. Therefore we have not just gotten lazy, yes there are some exeptions, but for the most part technology and knowledge today keeps us from chosing a religion. We know to much to simply turn a blind eye on things that don't make sense, so we are spiritual, and make up our own beliefs.
Hang in there Hannah. Keep testing your beliefs. Resist the urge to turn your discipline over to fear of either police or church. Recognize that all the things that you worry about and have on your plate are merely temporary distractions to keep you occupied and inattentive to the infinite.
We bravely take a stand in the "fence sit, or not" question, though. The religious person has a dilemma of their own to answer: which religion is right, and how do I reconcile differences? That's not a question that we have to answer.
Kind of paradoxically, religion is a good way to be morally (or some would say "intellectually") lazy when it comes to decision-making... so it's less likely that a religious person would even consider that dilemma of their own. Huh.
religious people have to decide every day that indeed today they will continue to be trapped in a delusional, shallow thought life – instead of really and truly trying to discern truth and good-will.
things are easier when they are black or white – but that doesn't really work in a world filled with all shades of colors, and everything in between.
Being religious means being theistic, and once you start down that road, you're stuck in the magic show – The garden of Eden and the saga of the talking snake, God appearing as a burning bush, people walking on water, water turning into wine, dead people coming back to life three days after being murdered so they can have dinner with their friends, and so on. Belief in deities immediately requires buying into an intricate maze of myth, legend and lies.
Spirituality, unlike religiosity, is not about belief, it is about virtuous action – Loving acts of kindness, compassion, expressions of empathy and service to others. While a religious person may well be virtuous, belief in a deity is not a requirement, it is an annoying hindrance in seeing the physical world as it truly is, all the while selling childish fantasies that are no more in touch with reality than the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny.
To say that one is spiritual means that you believe in a Spiritual God. You cannot claim to be spiritual and at the same time say that God and the spirit realm does not exist.
Man can display God like qualities – love, kindness, joy, self-control, mildness, peace, long-suffering, faith – because we are created in his likeness.
And God went on to say: “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness,....
i agree completely. The bible is most ddefinitely not litteral, more like guidelines. Spiritualism allows me to both believe in a god as well as science. Just because i dont think jesus walked on water dosn't mean that i don't believe he was a good man with great teachings. I seriously doubt he even wanted to be rememered, only his ideas. I am sure he would be insulted by the common christian teaching todaya that say's if you do not have faith in jesus then you cannot go to heaven.
My apologies, my last posting was meant for Markus O Negative (R.I.P. Peter 4/14/10) though I mentioned your name. Feel free to read and share your thoughts.
The TRUTH is Man made God in his own image, not the other way around. That is because God is Imaginary and the bible is a book of myths and lies. Proof that god is imaginary can be found at http://www.godisimaginary.com
Of course both are imaginary beings, but the true story is Satan is GOOD and God is EVIL. Satan tapped God on the shoulder and asked God please don't flood the earth and kill all those innocent children. God answered and said "Bra ha ha ha! I am allmighty god and can do what I want. It would please me to see those babies drown in agony! Bra ha ha ha!". Satan said "that's wack, dude! You are one cruel, sick, evil monster". So Satan left heaven and promised to help mankind against the evil imaginary God. Then one day all the people grew up and realized God and Satan are both imaginary and they went away hand in hand as boyfriends forever. That is after God asked Satan's forgiveness for all of the mean spiteful things he did. The End.
I am an Atheist and do not believe in any god. I am also spiritual. Who are you to tell me otherwise? Believe what you will and I will do the same. Your beliefs are no more valid than mine.
[Quran 36:36] Glory be to the One who created all kinds of plants from the earth, as well as themselves, and other creations that they do not even know.
[Quran 35:13] He merges the night into the day, and merges the day into the night. He has committed the sun and the moon to run for a predetermined period of time. Such is God your Lord; to Him belongs all kingship. Any idols you set up beside Him do not possess as much as a seed's shell.
[Quran 59:24] He is the One God; the Creator, the Initiator, the Designer. To Him belong the most beautiful names. Glorifying Him is everything in the heavens and the earth. He is the Almighty, Most Wise.
[Quran 22:74] They do not value God as He should be valued. God is the Most Powerful, the Almighty.
It does not befit God that He begets a son, be He glorified. To have anything done, He simply says to it, "Be," and it is. [19:35]
Thanks for taking time to read my post. Please take a moment to clear your misconception by going to whyIslam org website.
maybe that's why alan thinks this group is lazy – he doesn't realize all we have to do is pray that it is so – and, boom, god says let it be (sometimes anyway).
doesn't know what he's missing.
@smk It does not befit God that He begets a son, be He glorified. To have anything done, He simply says to it, "Be," and it is. [19:35]
Except, He cannot say "be redeemed" without sending a reedemer. For He is Holy and would not be Holy if He did it any other way.
So apparently you get to decide when something would be holy and not. Wow how special you must be.
In my life, I've grown up around religion and taught that it is the basis of what we live our lives on as if it where actual 'fact'. But I have always been a person to ask questions that got the answer of "that's just stupid. Why would you even ask that?" You do not question the logic of the bible, as if the book I was given actually fell from the sky, written by a 'God'....it was not. In my life, I've had friends die, watched my mom nearly beaten to death by my dad, and watch countless times of reports of people killing each other over a religious belief. NOT from christians, but the other religions like the Muslims that not just believe, they KNOW that what they do is right, and will be rewarded for their blind faith, with no intention of ever realizing that all they are really doing is killing another human being, someone that has just as much right to live- to exist- than they do. And what of christianity? Well, aside from the long 2000 plus push to force the belief (crusades, witch hunts, inquisitions) which- interesting to me- was carried out by people that didn't believe, they KNEW a 'God' wanted them to kill on 'his' behalf. Their fear drove them to believe that if you tie a person to a rock, push it into a river, that if that person floated then their a witch....really? It's interesting that no one seems to realize that the bible not only shows a 'God' acting for himself- flood, parting the red sea, striking down seventy men for looking into the ark of the covenant and another man for simply touching it as he tried to balance it on the cart it was on. Where is the physical proof of the tower of babel? It never said it was destroyed, just that the people became confused with all the different languages. Where is Sodom and Gomorrah?
The questions I ask the most is this- If the christian 'God' is the same yesterday, today and forever, and is clearly seen to be a being that can act without ANY help from us, why doesn't he? If there is no physical proof of a 'God' to speak for itself, and there is only the bible and testimony from this person and that person and MILLIONS believe what is taught to them as reality....does it really make it reality?
No...it just makes it a religion, a point of view that has no right to be called reality than any other belief.
Consider the possibility that there are NO GODS. That all religions throughout human history have been created to enlighten humans on a point of view, only to be corrupted by greedy humans, that take advantage of our fears and the inability to question what is being taught to us, to see what is right in front of us, as reality. We do NOT need 'Gods' to exist, just each other....one human race....one unified world.....
I am sorry for your experience, what's interesting I experienced similar evils in my life time growing up. But why is it I still believe in God and not allow the evil acts of man to rob me of my faith? It is because I have found the truth, and the Bible foretold of individuals like you speaking abusively about the Bible and God due to the actions of those who profess to believe and worship God but proving false to it's power, and that is understandable.
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.
2 Timothy 3:1-7
But know this, that in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here. 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, self-assuming, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, 3 having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness, 4 betrayers, headstrong, puffed up [with pride], lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God, 5 having a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power; and from these turn away. 6 For from these arise those men who slyly work their way into households and lead as their captives weak women loaded down with sins, led by various desires, 7 always learning and yet never able to come to an accurate knowledge of truth.
If you continue to study the Bible, you will see that God will act very soon to rid the earth of ungodly men. Also, there is a reason why God allows man to continue as they do. He is giving man an opportunity to prove that they don't need him and that they can govern themselves. How are we doing so far Henry? We deny God and try to live life our own way, it has been disastrous.
I well know, O Jehovah, that to earthling man* his way does not belong. It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step.
Trust in Jehovah with all your heart and do not lean upon your own understanding. 6 In all your ways take notice of him, and he himself will make your paths straight.
And just a little while longer, and the wicked one will be no more;
And you will certainly give attention to his place, and he will not be.
11 But the meek ones themselves will possess the earth,
And they will indeed find their exquisite delight in the abundance of peace.
Thank goodness I'm not a cop-out. I'm neither spiritual nor religious. What a relief!
This guy just doesn’t get it and he’s incensed enough to discount what he does not understand. He thinks because he sits in church burry eyed struggling to stay awake that he is enlightened. He sees the light at the end of the tunnel yet we see nothing let alone have a tunnel to peer into. He is demonstrative and selfless, we are selfish and inner looking only thinking of ourselves. It’s that mentality that drives people away from religion.
For me it the doctrine of the bible it’s self that doesn’t conform to modern intellect. The bible is the truth yet no mention of dinosaurs or Neanderthals. The earth is less than 10,000 years old? When I was a teenager I was going through the process of being confirmed in the Catholic religion. My mother was a Catholic school teacher and it looked better for her if both children attended the church. I enjoyed the bible study with the priest. We talked about the bible and its context today. I bought up the dinosaurs, Neanderthals, and the age of the earth he said he believed that dinosaurs and Neanderthals existed. He said he believed the earth was billions of years old.
When asked why doesn’t the church update the doctrine? His response didn’t surprise me. What surprised me was he actually said it. This is paraphrased of course. “If you start to rewrite the bible to fit a modern intellect, then people will start to question the rest of the bible. Can you imagine what the world would be like if people woke up and did not believe in the bible? Society would be in chaos.”
Religion is not about you and me trying to explore the spiritual aspect of life. It’s not about coming educated or understanding our world we live in. It is about control, a control that starts at a young age with fear. I am 46 and for 30 years I have lived without fear.
"avoids having to think too hard about having to decide"? Mr. Miller, what are you talking about? It's those that conveniently follow those religious doctrines the ones that are avoiding to think hard and to decide and to be responsible for themselves. Seriously, do you know what are you talking about?
Religious or spiritual....it is a highly personal matter and really no one's business but the individual's. There is no need to be so defensive and angry about it, sir.
I was raised in Church and believe that children need to be taught the bible. As a child, I loved the bible stories in particualar. However, as an adult I have attended a number of churches and have become a member of several. Now, I don't even bother because most churches have become businesses. They are not in the business of saving souls but in the business of making money. Very few abide by the biblical teachings. There are more adulterers in the church, more fornication within the church, more child molesters and hypocrits than ever. My bible teaches me to shun the very appearance of evil – therefore, I do not waste my time with "church".
Glad not everyone feels the way you do, Alan. I sure don't. In fact, I don't personally know anyone who does.
I believe this man has a right to his opinion just as I have the right to be spiritual not religious. Religion is a club you belong to where rules made up by humans are your are guidelines and if you don't abide you are not welcome, well only if they find out that you are breaking the rules, if you are never caught you are not guilty.
My belief is that I am free to study many ways and choose what speaks to my heart. I do not think that religion is wrong it is just not for me. Just as there are many good and bad religious people the same holds true for spiritual people. Some choose to rely on the term to define them while others are interested in always learning and seeking to be a better person, trying to show love to others as you would want to be loved and be kind and compassionate. These are not traits of religious or spiritual people but traits of humanity. So the question really is does what you believe in mirror what is in your heart and mind? If you can say yes then no matter where you are or what name you call yourself you are in the right place for you. Since you cannot see into another you should not judge but accept even if you don't understand.
While I'm sure the author feels accomplished in that he has clearly generated a lot of discussion, I hope he has come to terms with how shortsighted his thesis is.
is this author retarded?
I do agree completely with this writer that we need to try harder than THIS. One comment down below says that adopting pre-existing dogma is a copout, but it's not as easy as that. Not at all. A real walk of faith requires a lot of effort... not in rules and regulations but it's like maintaining a marriage: RELATIONSHIPS are work, and it's the same with our relationship with God. This is the most important relationship in my life, and I'm very grateful for it. Has nothing to do with religious form or a system of daily practice.
Steve Jobs said before he died that he hoped there was something beyond this life. He wanted to believe that. I truly hope he made more of an effort than THAT, I really do. And it seems to me that many of the offbeat "spiritual" types are much the same.
I have no relationship with God. He has more things on His plate than any one of us. I was born, I forge my way for good or for bad. God is not there to help me or harm me. And that's how it should be. I don't want or need a crutch and God doesn't want to use one. That is the truest test of His work.
The "spiritual but not religious" label is the exact opposite of a cop-out. Adopting a prepackaged belief system is a cop-out, which is exactly what organized religion encourages. While there may be self-indulgent aspects to those who view themselves thus, it is at least a step toward spiritual maturity. Stepping away from dogma to experience spirituality in an honest way should be encouraged and embraced. Of course, the old guard folks, like Mr. Miller, will squawk, but who cares? It's not really his business, anyway.
I profess to be spiritual and not religious. It is not hogwash, or restricted by any church dogma. I am not young. I am west of 60.I was born protestant, to parents who did not go to church. I married catholic and converted, After my first marriage ended like a huge train wreck after 30years, where our faith was used as a weapon, I found spirituality. It in part saved my life. There is a God and I am not it. There is a saying in my prayer groups, paraphrased "religion is for people afraid of going to hell, spirituality is for people who live in or have experienced hell on earth and are clawing their way out."
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.