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

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

By Alan Miller, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Alan Miller is Director of The New York Salon and Co-Founder of London's Old Truman Brewery. He is speaking at The Battle of Ideas at London's Barbican in October.

By Alan Miller, Special to CNN

The increasingly common refrain that "I'm spiritual, but not religious," represents some of the most retrogressive aspects of contemporary society. The spiritual but not religious "movement" - an inappropriate term as that would suggest some collective, organizational aspect - highlights the implosion of belief that has struck at the heart of Western society.

Spiritual but not religious people are especially prevalent in the younger population in the United States, although a recent study has argued that it is not so much that people have stopped believing in God, but rather have drifted from formal institutions.

It seems that just being a part of a religious institution is nowadays associated negatively, with everything from the Religious Right to child abuse, back to the Crusades and of course with terrorism today.

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Those in the spiritual-but-not-religious camp are peddling the notion that by being independent - by choosing an "individual relationship" to some concept of "higher power", energy, oneness or something-or-other - they are in a deeper, more profound relationship than one that is coerced via a large institution like a church.

That attitude fits with the message we are receiving more and more that "feeling" something somehow is more pure and perhaps, more "true” than having to fit in with the doctrine, practices, rules and observations of a formal institution that are handed down to us.

The trouble is that “spiritual but not religious” offers no positive exposition or understanding or explanation of a body of belief or set of principles of any kind.

What is it, this "spiritual" identity as such? What is practiced? What is believed?

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The accusation is often leveled that such questions betray a rigidity of outlook, all a tad doctrinaire and rather old-fashioned.

But when the contemporary fashion is for an abundance of relativist "truths" and what appears to be in the ascendancy is how one "feels" and even governments aim to have a "happiness agenda," desperate to fill a gap at the heart of civic society, then being old-fashioned may not be such a terrible accusation.

It is within the context of today's anti-big, anti-discipline, anti-challenging climate - in combination with a therapeutic turn in which everything can be resolved through addressing my inner existential being - that the spiritual but not religious outlook has flourished.

The boom in megachurches merely reflect this sidelining of serious religious study for networking, drop-in centers and positive feelings.

Those that identify themselves, in our multi-cultural, hyphenated-American world often go for a smorgasbord of pick-and-mix choices.

A bit of Yoga here, a Zen idea there, a quote from Taoism and a Kabbalah class, a bit of Sufism and maybe some Feing Shui but not generally a reading and appreciation of The Bhagavad Gita, the Karma Sutra or the Qur'an, let alone The Old or New Testament.

So what, one may ask?

Christianity has been interwoven and seminal in Western history and culture. As Harold Bloom pointed out in his book on the King James Bible, everything from the visual arts, to Bach and our canon of literature generally would not be possible without this enormously important work.

Indeed, it was through the desire to know and read the Bible that reading became a reality for the masses - an entirely radical moment that had enormous consequences for humanity.

Moreover, the spiritual but not religious reflect the "me" generation of self-obsessed, truth-is-whatever-you-feel-it-to-be thinking, where big, historic, demanding institutions that have expectations about behavior, attitudes and observance and rules are jettisoned yet nothing positive is put in replacement.

The idea of sin has always been accompanied by the sense of what one could do to improve oneself and impact the world.

Yet the spiritual-but-not-religious outlook sees the human as one that simply wants to experience "nice things" and "feel better." There is little of transformation here and nothing that points to any kind of project that can inspire or transform us.

At the heart of the spiritual but not religious attitude is an unwillingness to take a real position. Influenced by the contribution of modern science, there is a reluctance to advocate a literalist translation of the world.

But these people will not abandon their affiliation to the sense that there is "something out there," so they do not go along with a rationalist and materialistic explanation of the world, in which humans are responsible to themselves and one another for their actions - and for the future.

Theirs is a world of fence-sitting, not-knowingess, but not-trying-ness either. Take a stand, I say. Which one is it? A belief in God and Scripture or a commitment to the Enlightenment ideal of human-based knowledge, reason and action? Being spiritual but not religious avoids having to think too hard about having to decide.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Alan Miller.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Opinion • Spirituality

soundoff (9,994 Responses)
  1. Terminal Ferocity


    October 4, 2012 at 12:26 am |
    • Abinadi


      October 4, 2012 at 12:28 am |
    • Bill Deacon


      October 4, 2012 at 11:22 am |
  2. William Polhamus

    Reality is separate from our consciousness, and reasoning is the only way to understand reality. Being spirtual would be a much better way of understanding the world than to blindly follow something heading off a cliff.

    Being religious is to live in fear of your own mind ~William J. Polhamus, I

    October 4, 2012 at 12:14 am |
    • mind philosophy

      Our minds are what tells us what is real. If all of our minds are malfunctioning there may not be any such thing as reality.
      Besides what defines religion? What defines spirituality? There is no clear answer.

      October 4, 2012 at 11:34 am |
  3. Trick

    If I've learned one thing from my time on this earth and my knowledge of human history, it's that any organization, given enough time, will be co-opted for purposes other than what it was originally intended for. It will be used as a political pawn, or to start wars, or to make someone a lot of money. I've found this to be true of every major organized religion as well. None of that has anything to do with my relationship with God, and I want no part of it.

    Shunning organized religion is no cop-out. On the contrary, I find the only way to get a true, personal sense of who God is and what he wants from me, is to figure it out for myself. I wouldn't go so far as to call joining an organized religion, and going along with their worldly biases and agendas, a cop-out, but I think a case for it could be made, and it'd probably be a hell of a lot stronger than what I just read.

    I don't want the Bible interpreted to me one way by someone with agenda or dogma blurring his vision. I am perfectly capable of reading and understanding it on my own. Call that a cop-out if you like, but if you honestly need other people to filter your own beliefs for you before you can feel they are valid, that strikes me as truly sad.

    October 3, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
    • Chad

      at the same time though:

      Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 9

      October 3, 2012 at 11:08 pm |
    • Athy

      So when's it gonna come?

      October 3, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
    • fred

      and Chad, may you also:

      kiss a scorpion while holding onto a skunk's tail and breathing deeply with your nose in its posterior
      like you do so often Chadblews 47

      October 3, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
    • Chad

      We dont know when that day will come

      But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert[e]! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’” Mark 13

      October 3, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
    • Athy

      So, if we don't know (an obvious copout) why the hell even talk about I?

      October 3, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
    • fred

      Chad, that's pretty much Pascal's Wager. Better look it up; you lose.

      October 3, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
    • Chad

      because it will come

      October 3, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
    • Elf

      He sees you when you're sleeping
      He knows when you're awake
      He knows if you've been bad or good
      So be good for goodness sake!
      O! You better watch out!
      You better not cry
      Better not pout
      I'm telling you why
      Santa Claus is coming to town

      October 3, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
    • Chad

      The day will certainly come when I return my face to its place of desire in a skunk's posterior and I lick for ever after.

      October 3, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
    • Athy

      Chad, you're nuts. He ain't gonna come and you're a fool to believe otherwise.

      October 3, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
  4. hunterlh

    I wrote a response (of sorts) in case anyone is interested. It's called "Is 'Cool' cool? Reflections on the new Religion." http://insideoutthefilm.com/2012/10/03/is-cool-cool-reflections-on-the-new-religion/

    October 3, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
  5. Falcon

    The very tone of this article – judgmental, divisive and exclusive is precisely why more people identify in this manner and will continue to do so.

    October 3, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
  6. watch southampton v fulham live 7 october 2012

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    October 3, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  7. Bob

    The part i don't understand from the article is that the people who do not believe in organized religion don't think or are "fence-sitting". The people who are not part of organized religion have made a conscience choice to not be a part of that. That isn't fence-sitting. For me, I'd just like to figure it out for myself. The organized religions may be right, but I don't want to be told what to believe, again I'd like to figure it out for myself. For those in organized religion who truly believe that God/Buddha/Allah is real and their faith is the answer, then I am happy for them that they have what they need. Personally, I believe that the spirit is in each one of us, and that I am less concerned about how it got there than learning how to cultivate that spirit. It's a clear vision to me, not wishy-washy at all. I just don't need to belong to a church or a doctrine to figure that out.

    October 3, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
    • Bil

      Bob – The flaw in your logic is that you believe you can figure it out for yourself. There is no way any one person can know God through the way He has revealed Himself to us on their own. We all benefit from organized religion when we "inherit" the revelation of Scripture as it's been passed down through the Church. It's not mindlessly accepting what somebody else tells you to think. That is a tired and incorrect characterization of people in organized religion.

      "Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and said, 'Do you understand what you are reading?' He replied, 'How can I, unless someone instructs me?' So he invited Philip to get in and sit with him." – Acts 8:30-31.

      October 3, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • End Religion

      bill, speaking of logic flaws, you just unsuccessfully argued against yourself. You assert religion is not "mindlessly accepting what somebody else tells you to think" yet then as "proof" assert you "inherit the revelation of Scripture." Call it what you want, that's having others tell you what to think. you simply don't want to admit it. Religion is nearly by definition a codex of rules commanding one to behaviors and worldview.

      October 3, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
    • dionysusBeer

      @Bil, right, because organized religion has had SUCH a stellar track record at finding the right interpretation of scripture. What are there now, like 39,000 denominations of Christianity alone (I know for a fact that it's over 38,000)? So why should I join organized religion when they clearly don't have the answers pinned down any better than anyone else? And why should I trust the interpretation of one random priest over another?

      October 4, 2012 at 9:12 am |
    • Julia

      End religion,

      You are assuming that Bob is not having his religion of his own free will. If someone wants religion, someone telling them not to have one is just as much being told what to thing as it would be for someone who doesn't want religion being told they have to have a religion.

      October 4, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • End Religion

      @julia: I assume no such thing. He is free to choose to have others tell him what to think or not. I am not forcing him to think or not, just offering the opportunity. The difference is that he craves whatever his religion offers, be it community of like-minded people or an afterlife, whatever, and then they use it as extortion. He either follows their rules or he sentenced to eternal waterboarding in a lava river.

      October 7, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
  8. Good News

    There is only one real GOD and His one true RELIGION

    that is revealed in an absolutely Matchless, most Wonderful and Superb MATHEMATICAL LANGUAGE!

    So it is time to be Spiritual, and yes, also rightfully Religious now!



    October 3, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
  9. matt morse

    Cop out, seriously, every religion is a cop out from the beginning of time, it is an individual allowing another man's answers to the unanswerable questions of 'what happens to us when we die?' and 'is there a greater being than man?' become our own in the absense of any evidence for the sake of belonging to a group and resigning one's self to the laws of the faith.

    The advent of the age of agnostic, atheist and spiritual human existence is the inevitable evolution of the freedom of human thought. Less people indoctrinate their children with a narrow set of religious values, so individuals have the opportunity to form their own opinion of their existence and that is a beautiful thing.

    Let's organize into groups based on our narrow minded political affiliations or favorite NFL franchise, clearly this is far more important than who we worship, saying people who aren't clearly defined by ancient religious doctrine are copping out is like saying Muslims who don't commit acts of terror on Infidels are cowards.

    October 3, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • txteatime

      No, the only real copout is this relatively recent regression that rebels against any sort of norms, integrity, and standards. We have many folks like "Bob" who say they can figure out the great philosophical questions on their own and need no teaching and guidance. Rubbish. Please have the decency to admit that you're good to go with your satellite tv, six pack, and a bag of chips and don't care overmuch about logical arguments and philosophy. Reducing everything to the least common denominator is both wrong and delusional.

      I'm hope I don't live long enough to see what happens to the generations raised without any rules or conformity to burden them. We have all sorts of people pushing illogical ideas with atrocious grammar and spelling because everyone has a valid opinion and expecting literacy is being a hater. Gee, I can't wait to see how "do-it-yourself" values and morality pan out.

      Do you people really not see where all of this is headed? More importantly, do you not care that your children will inherit the chaos that stupidity and arrogance are creating?

      October 3, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
    • sam stone

      "I'm hope I don't live long enough to see what happens to the generations raised without any rules or conformity to burden them"

      Well, that's up to you. Do you have a sidearm or tall buildings where you live?

      October 4, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • thoughts

      maybe this is what is needed for imagination and creativity to truly be respected and nurtured – as well as listening to oneself – or knowing oneself – becoming more of the norm – instead of blind and blinded – blinders of the mind, thought, reason, logic, knowledge, and understanding that has been the political dogma of modern civilized man for so very long – all to presumably control that in-deniable ability of god and therefore man to create massive destruction and well as construction – which is presumably – just the way it is.

      October 21, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
  10. Knee

    "It means your religions are only over 1700yo"? Why we are in 2012 AD. Judaism and Christianity are the Judaeo-Christian religions. Islam is not though it is an Abrahamic religion too like Mormonism. Second Judaeo-Christianity is at least 4000yo. READ MORE.

    October 3, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
  11. Marc

    Absolutely ridiculous presumptions ... it appears that reality and this man don't have a steady relationship. He has not the foggest idea of what people believe, why religions are becoming less and less an attractive alternative for people of all ages (this is not a "young people's movement") and that a decision not to mold our beliefs to that of any given religion . Because I believe in "God" I have to believe in condeming people for being gay, that contraception is evil, that our government should abolish the separation of church and state and espouse chrisitian beliefs, creationisim, eternal damnation, [name of religion here] is the "only true religion", etc, etc. And because I refuse this, I am sitting on the fence?

    October 3, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      I'm not defending the article here but I think despite his heavy hand, he makes a point. What I hear him saying is that SBNR are sort of like people who say "I like sports", believers are kind of like people who say "I'm a Dallas Cowboys fan" and committed religious people are saying "Wow, this is a tough game." While his assertion is a little broad and negates the paths of people who are "actively in the game while not affiliated with any team", he highlights what to any serious spiritual traveler should be noted as a danger – lukewarmness. If, in fact, one believes and if, in fact, one is seeking, that exercise should be undertaken with a duly sober and serious stance.

      Apologies for the clumsy metaphor.

      October 3, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV


      your metaphor is not so clumsy, though arguably you can like football without having a favorite team – I think that's where the confusion comes into this topic.

      I'd extend the metaphor in the following way:

      Alan Miller: "So who's your favorite football team?"
      SBNR: "Anyone who's playing the Cowboys. I hate the Cowboys."

      The "cop out" article really hit a nerve. The truth hurts.

      Sports analogies are always fun. We could use "sports" as the analogy for religion:

      Alan Miller: "So what's your favorite sport?"
      Evangelical Christian: "Ah-murikanfootball"
      Episcopalian: "English Premier League"
      SBNR: "Anything without rules"

      Atheist: "Reading non-fiction"

      October 3, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
  12. rock n roller

    It seems 90% or more of all comments are based on the Judeo Christian Religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) which means your religions and God are just over 1700 years old. Scientists state (carbon fiber testing) that the earth is over 25 million years old. In evolution, as tribes grew they realised they needed laws and regulations to live by and which 2 significant forms emerged, Religion and Government – Sound familiar!!!! In the history of the world which we have knowledge of there have been over 1,000 Gods before JCI, what happened to them (the earth isnt 6,00 years old). To me, Religion is the worst fraud imaginable preying on fear and guilt – You can only return to Heaven if you abide by our rules and as we say. Socio economics has proven that most people are actually pretty decent creatures and this passes all economic barriers of industrialized and 3rd world countries, they obey the laws of the land, try to help people and truly care about others, hmmm. Since all religions believe ones spirit resides in the body how could someone not be spiritual!!! i have met so many supposed religious people who make the hair on the back of my neck standup and couldnt trust them, and others who are so busy being religious they forget to help those around them.. It would be nice if there is a God but with discoverys like the higs boson particle dont count on it... Just be nice to others and if this is your only life, live it full, with vigor and love for others without any promise of anything else.. to many people convert their beliefs to truths!!!!

    October 3, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
  13. Steve

    Jesus took God out of the box (theology) and gave Him to everyone and Christianity put God back in the box by requiring beliefs which insult a person's sense of Truth.

    October 3, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • End Religion

      Steve, the box called. It wants you back.

      October 3, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
  14. aramanan

    I read your article and was wondering -how is that you can accuse "Spiritual but not religious" as fence sitting. Atleast we are in the know-how of the existence of something which has a higher self-awareness than us. I am a Hindu, I have read the so called "Bhagavad Gita" and do you know what it teaches? Brahmins are pure and the rest of the folks including you as impure and relagates you and the rest of the crowd to go repent and try for several births before becoming pure. Next, it teaches violence, war, blood and mayhem in the context that you are only killing the body not the soul. All religion teaches one thing – That its god is the greatest and the rest are fluff added to solidify this concept. I am very happy that I believe that I can be at peace with the knowledge that I am one with the ONE. Religion peddles bigotry.

    October 3, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
  15. Religions' Contribution

    What the author conveniently neglects to mention when touting the great contribution religion has made (i.e. visual arts and Bach) are the wars of theology and ideology that has brought mass killings of those who do not agree with it. How can one defend beliefs that rallies its believers into killing non-believers? And all in the name of piety.

    October 3, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • Bob

      You have to look at people and their individual and collective sins versus the actual doctrine of the religion. It's clear in Christian doctrine that murder is wrong, including murder in the name of conversion or anything else. The fact that people still commit acts of evil while hiding behind their religion and claiming their religious doctrine approves does not make that so.

      This is the problem with Islam. EIther nobody knows for sure, or the religion is too disorganized and without central governance to clearly state and enforce that is it wrong for Muslims to kill people. We don't really KNOW if Jihadis are following proper Muslim doctrine or not. We know that Christians who murder people are not.

      And even at that, compared to Stalin and Hitler, who murdered millions in the name of no religion or belief system, Christians as a representative group haven't done of whole lot of mass killing and genocide, at least nowhere near the scale of the great evil powers of the world. Still, that doesn't excuse the acts of the Chrstians who have, nor all the curruption within the Catholic Church, but those things are an indictment of individuals and their propensity for sin, not the religion istelf or it's doctrine.

      October 3, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • aramanan

      Well said.

      October 3, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
    • Religions' Contribution

      @Bob – Making a specific mention of Islam is exactly why I find religion questionable. Saying that particular religion "is too disorganized and without central governance" is hypocritical – how many branches of Christianity are there? And to question whether those jihadist are following proper doctrine or not is, again, hypocritical. Recall the Crusades... authorized at the highest level of the Church. One can always say that it was people, not the religion, that advocated the violence. But in the end, what is religion but the actions and interpretation of its followers?

      October 3, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
    • sam stone

      Bob: Those folks may have killed in the name of "no god", where in reality, THEY were the gods

      October 3, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • Bob

      As a Catholic, I agree with "Religion's Contributions" contention that Protestant Christianity suffers some of the same issues that Islam does, in that once Churches started separating from the Catholic Church, they also progressively abandoned a central authority that has the ability to interpret and state the doctrine. As Protestant Christian churches become less structured and more random evangelical churches pop up, you see more and more self professed, uneducated "preachers" coming out with some ridiculous interpretations of the doctrine, which the Catholic doctrine stays the same, as do the doctrines of the original, structured Protestant churches like the Episcopals, who DO have authorities on doctrine. So, you are preaching to the choir on that one. As far as I'm concerned, the only real Christian churches out there are the Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Eastern Orthodox, who all maintain a sense of tradition and central governance that keeps their doctrine from deviating toward the individual biaes of Church personnel.

      The Crusades was a long time ago now, and it was never a part of Church doctrine. Church doctrine doesn't change and doesn't make mistakes. The Church makes and enact bad policies and decisions all the time, as does every organization controlled by man. But I think it's safe to say that the Church no longer advocates anything like the Crusades and hasn't for a very long time, and it should also be noted that the Crusades were never about violent conversion, they were about obtaining safe passage for Christians through distinctly hostile territories through violent means, which isn't good anyway, but it was never done out of a religious desire for violent conversion of nonbelievers.

      October 3, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
    • End Religion

      bob, all religion is a fraud. If you suffer from a brand of this delusion, it is no less crazy than any other.

      Proof Every Christian Goes to Hell by End Religion
      1) The only irredeemable sin against your Lord thy God is denying him, the Holy Spirit
      2) To deny is to refuse to admit truth of or to refuse to give that which is requested
      3) Any sin is to deny god of his commandments
      4) Therefore, even one sin results in a soul that cannot be forgiven. Sin once, and you're going to hell whether you repent or not. Since Christians are "born into sin" they're automagically damned to hell and cannot be forgiven.

      October 3, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV


      You say: "Christians as a representative group haven't done of whole lot of mass killing and genocide, at least nowhere near the scale of the great evil powers of the world."

      I'm presuming of course you don't mean the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the good Catholic King Leopold II of Belgium (killed 8,000,000 Africans in the Belgian Congo at the turn of the 20th century), Mussollini (Catholic), Franco (Catholic), oh and Hitler (Catholic too). The Nazi Wehrmacht soldiers didn't have "Gott mitt uns" (God with us) on their belt buckles you say? (They did you know.)

      October 3, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • Bob

      First, let's be clear that none of the atrocities you are referring to were committed by people claiming that those atrocities were part of and endorsed by Catholic doctrine, and that's been my point from the start. Catholic doctrine does not condone murder, period, and most people know and believe that. I don't think most people are clear of the stance of Islam on that issue.

      Of course, that doesn't mean that people don't and won't continue to use religion as a thinly veiled excuse for greed and murder, nor does it prevent the Church from sometimes committing those atrocities, though I think most people would admit that the Catholic Church does not participate or condone acts of military aggression, genocide, or even the death penalty.

      So I would say that your list of atrocities is partially accurate in fact, but does not successfully dispute my point that far fewer people have been murdered by the Catholic Church or by people claiming approval of the Catholic church for their deeds than by secular governments. But again, even if that were the case, because the Catholic Church has clear, unchanging doctrine and central leadership, it is very easy to see and know when the acts of an individual or government is in violation of Cathiolic doctrine. One could argue that the Catholic Church is right now in the midst of being taken to task for perhaps it's worst errors and atrocities ever in it's history in the form of the child molestation scandals that are all being sorted out now. But thos atrocities are also in clear violation of Catholic doctrine, and as such, we are still dealing with individuals who have sought or used their power to commit acts of sin that are not in any way condoned by Church doctrine. It should surprise nobody that people who seek to commit horrific and cowardly acts are attracted to organizations that afford them the trust of and access to the people they want to hurt, which is why it's not just priests, it's cops, teachers, preachers and clergy of all religions, politicians who commit such acts. And the leadership of the CHurch who protected these people don't and shouldn't get a pass either. Their sin and the sin of all clergy who have hurt people is far worse than the sin of an atheist who does the same thing, because an atheist's influence is insignificant and negative anyway, but a priest who violates someone is visiting destruction on more than just the person they are hurting, but on the Church and God in an even deeper way.

      But all that aside, Hitler was not a practicing Catholic at all, he was actually an angry ex Catholic who spoke against Catholicism, so let's reduce your numbers by about 6 million on that one. Leopold's holdings in the Congo were financial, not religious in nature, and they were actually his private holdings, not those of his country, and yes, what an awful person, but he didn't kill people with the understanding that it was part of Catholic doctrine to do so either. Mussolini and the Catholic Church at the time of Hitler made absolutely the wrong decision in not standing up to Hitler, but that is the Church's political leg, and this also had nothing to do with doctrine.

      I think I already addressed the Crusades somewhere above, and the Spanish Inquisition is a really interesting discussion piece, they definitely did the wrong things for the right reasons on that one in terms of putting an end to ritual human sacrifice.

      October 3, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      LOL Bob are you a poe? Or do you just not know your own bible or the history of the Catholic church?

      October 3, 2012 at 10:26 pm |
    • Bob

      I'm not an actual religious scholar like yourself, but I have a reasonable general knowledge of Church and general history and fully understand and agree that the political wing of the Catholic Church and many individuals within it's ranks have done terrible things. I don't know why anyone would be so naive as to believe that every organization of people, regardless of the overall quality and product of their beliefs, message, and works wouldn't have the same issues. So if you are arguing that, because every large organization has evil people in it and makes mistakes that hurt people, that no large organization can do any good and no large organization should exist, I guess that's your prerogative.

      To me, the Catholic Church necessarily consists of 2 bodies, the spiritual body that professes and practices the doctrine, and the physical and political body that manages Church holdings, personnel, and worldly policies. The former is a divine product of Christ's instructions and the ongoing works of the Holy Spirit, and the latter is an organization of people who are charged with serving and providing access of the former to the people. The degree to which the organization is flawed or sins has no bearing on the goodness or validity of the doctrine. When the Church sins as a political body or the individuals within it sin, it is just an indication that to whatever degree they hurt people or the Church as a whole, they are hurting God and therefore not doing their assigned mission as well as they should, and as I said, considering their positions of influence, they should be held more accountable than anyone for those sins.

      As a Catholic, what matters most to me in terms of religion is receiving the Body of Christ, the rest of the Sacraments and prayer. There are 3 Churches I know of that deliver all those things in the way I believe I need them. I don't need to believe that any of those Churches are flawless to believe that they are delivering the real thing, because that's a product of divinity and powerful ritual, not policy. As an individual, I stand against the bad things the Church does while still believing the Church should continue to exist and right it's wrong as, in my opinion, it has always done throughout history. We're not Crusading anymore, now we're protecting child molesters. In 100 years, I'm sure protecting child molesters will be long gone, and then maybe the Church will start hoarding plutonium, I don't know, it will be something, hopefully nothing too horrible. I have faith that there will be someone serving the body and blood of Christ to the people until they end of time, and that's really what's most important to me in terms of religion.

      But being realistic about the negative acts the Church has committed should also include being realistic about the incredible physical good the Church has done for people throughout the world for 2000 years. I just don't know how anyone could argue against the reality that the Church as a body and individuals acting in it's name have, in terms of sheer numbers, fed, clothed, housed, healed, educated, and loved and cared for more people than any other, not just as an incidental byproduct of the fact that people who happened to be religious did good things, but by policy. On one hand, the Church hoards excessive wealth, on the other hand, the Church has spent more money to help the poor than any other organization. People who are against the Church argue that the evils committed by the Church outweight the good, and that if that is the case, the church should not exist. That is their prerogative and I of course strongly disagree with both assertions. I think the Church and it's members should always be held equally accountable to the law as anyone else.

      October 4, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV


      you can't weasel out by writing long posts.

      You said: "Christians ... haven't done of whole lot of mass killing and genocide".

      The fact is that they have. The people I listed were all "Christians". They all caused the death of innocents by their orders. Christians do cause genocide. I never said they did so in accordance with any particular doctrine.

      And by the way Franco mandated Catholicism as the state religion.

      Hitler's personal theology is moot. He manipulated the good Lutherans and Catholics of the Third Reich to do his horrible bidding by telling them it was God's will. There are plenty of quotes to substantiate this. Nazi Germany remained no less a "Christian country" * than the United States is today.

      * Meaning a country with a majority of adherents to Christianity.

      October 4, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
    • Bob

      "Christians as a representative group haven't done of whole lot of mass killing and genocide, at least nowhere near the scale of the great evil powers of the world."

      You quoted me correctly the first time, not this time, and I was specific for a reason, because I never tried to argue that Christians don't commit atrocities, but that it's not possible for Christians to claim that the atrocities they commit are faithful to Catholic doctrine. I mean, if you are bent on playing that game, then you can say that because theists have made up the majority of the word's population they have also killed the majority of people who have been killed, so therefore theism causes killing, as if without it, there would never be a war.

      Hitler was not a Catholic by the time he was in government and he never claimed that his actions were inspired by or defensible within the constructs of Catholic doctrine. Ergo, he was not acting as a Catholic.

      I mean, just about everyone claims that "God" is in favor of their cause, but we're talking about religion here, not just God. In that sense, Hitler was "spiritual but not religious", no?

      And if you want to say that any leader who names Catholicism as the state religion is implicitly acting as an agent of that Church in everything they do, I think that's more than a stretch and regadless, the doctrine of Catholicism is clear on most matters thanks to the structure and recorded history of the Church, so it's always easy to see which Catholics are actually practicing, and which are not, and that's been my point all alone, that the doctrine does not cause evil to be committed, evil acts and individuals are common to every major organization.

      October 4, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
  16. Bob

    The reality is that Protestant Christianity is the original seed that this whole "spiritual but not religious" phenomenon comes from. In splitting from the Catholic Church, The Church of England set a precedent that put non-Catholic Christianity on the slippery slope through "spiritual but not religious" which will eventually lead to atheism.

    You can see this trajectory by comparing Catholicism to the original "traditional" Protestant religions to the modern day evangelical Protestant churches. Up until 50 years ago, most Protestant doctrines were almost the same as Catholicism, which there being some dispute over the real makeup of the Eucharist. However, since the Church of England split without taking the Catholic church's complete history, artifacts, and structure, gradually, the Sacraments got watered down and content of the Bible mistakenly becamse the entirety of the makeup of Protestant Christianity, which is not and has never been the sole source of Christianity until that point. That led to the idea that man is saved by Jesus Christ "through faith alone", which implies that what we do, including in terms of religious worship, is not as important as our "general" faith in Christ as Saviour. This led evangelical Protestants to actually start condeming religion in general, claiming that Christian worship can be a purely personal endeavor for which no religious practice is required. "Christian but not religious" is the step before "spiritual but not religious", which is the step before "not spiritual not religious."

    The problem with all this from the Catholic perspective is that the Sacraments which Protestant Christianity has gradually left behind are the specifc devices used to keep Christians in contact with the Holy Spirit, and the assumption is that people who are in touch with the Holy Spirit will know the importance of the Sacraments and thus of religion practice itself as a means of most effective communication and worship of God.

    October 3, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • visitor

      Yes, tools like the holy bones of Saints. Oh, and Marian apparitions, let's not forget those.

      By the way, I grew up Catholic and am hardly a Protestant, but really, if it wasn't for Protestantism, Christianity would be practically dead everywhere but the Third World and a couple of European countries.

      October 3, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • Knee

      I always wonder what the Roman Catholic beef with Anglicanism is! The Anglican Communion is the 3rd largest Xtian denomination. It is based on Pre-Counter Reformation Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox and Reformed Theology and Ritual. IT IS OLDER THAN UR VERSION OF ROMAN CATHOLICISM.

      October 3, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Bob, I'm with you and I think your assessment is correct. I'm a devout Roman Catholic myself but I need to point out to you that, at the time of the Lutheran Reformation, the Catholic Church had become a distortion. The Reformation provided a wake up call to the papacy that, unfortunately, was sorely needed.

      October 3, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • Corpus Christian

      Bob, While I know (being raised Catholic) that Catholics like to believe Protestants began with Henry VIII wanting a divorce. I suggest you read up on Martin Luther and how he tried to change the Catholic Church from rituals of buying your way into heaven.
      That may have made money for the Catholic Church's building programs but did nothing for the salvation for the sinner paying the money thinking God would forgive his sins because he paid money to the Catholic Church.
      I also suggest you read the Bible – you wont see: Mary being part of the Trinity; or Purgatory ("Today you will be with Me in paradise"- Jesus) and "works" needed to obtain salvation. ( Just what was left out when Christ died on the cross to pay for your sins?)
      May God bless you, Bob.

      October 3, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • Bob

      The Catholic beef with Anglicanism is they separated from the Church and do not acknowledge the Eucharist as the true body and blood of Christ, and the Eucharist is the whole point of having Mass, so to us, if you don't believ it is the body and blood of Christ, than Mass is nothing more than casual Bible study. That said, Catholicism and Anglican are very very similar, which is great, but if they had stayed with the Church and suffered through the problems and corruption until the Church righted them, than we wouldn't have people running around speaking in tongues, writhing around on the floor, letting snakes bite them, and calling themselves "Christian but not religious".

      October 3, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
    • Bob

      I am well aware of Luther and agree that the Church was in a very bad state when he split. I just disagree that what he did was the proper solution, and I think history shows he was a very abused and totured person, which led to issues of faith, bouts of weakness, and ultimately a negative impact on all of Christianity. In other words, he didn't have the strength of faith to know that the doctrine was true despite what the church politicians were doing wrong, or the faith to know that it would eventually right itself, which it did.

      October 3, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • Bob

      I also agree that there are important beliefs and practices of Catholic Christianity that are not found in the Bible, and that is an important distinction, that Catholics do not believe that the total body of Christian religion is stated and contained in the Bible. We have a saying, "sola scriptura in un-Biblical", meaning, nowhere in the Bible does it say that all a Christian is to know, believe, and do is in the Bible. We believe in and rely on the Hold SPirit, the Communion of Saints, tradition, and longstanding ritual to round out a faith that also includes the Bible. The idea that the Bible is the only source of Christianity came about as Churches split off and essentially broke the coninuous lineage to St Peter and all the revelation that led to the evolution of Catholic ritual over the years.

      October 3, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Again, true enough. If Luther had listened a little bit more to the Calvinists, we might have a more unified church today. He was a bit urgent wasn't he? Also true that my Protestant friends deprive themselves of the wonderful traditions we hold in the Catholic faith such as the Mass, the Stations of the Cross, the Rosary etc. because they so not find them in Scripture but are nonetheless handed down to us by oral tradition and the continuity of the papacy.

      October 3, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
    • Corpus Christian

      Bob, Luther didn't split, he addressed his concerns to put the Catholic Church back on the right path, in return the Vatican put a price on his head.
      These traditions you say are equal to the Holy Spirit breathed words of the Bible, are from the same MEN that wanted to kill Luther, Galileo and many others.
      I"ll stick with the Bible over men adding stuff. Particularly when that stuff is a way for the Church to make money.
      Peace of the Lord be with you, Bob

      October 3, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • End Religion

      always funny to see one religious person beating up another over who has the one true way, especially when they use as a club something like " Peace of the Lord be with you, Bob" after telling you everything you believe is wrong since it doesn't jibe with their view of things. Love it, love it, love it. If you folks had 3 cents worth of rationality amongst you I'd be astounded.

      I have a story for you...

      This morning there was a knock at my door. When I answered the door I found a well groomed, nicely dressed couple. The man spoke first:

      John: "Hi! I'm John, and this is Mary."

      Mary: "Hi! We're here to invite you to come kiss Hank's ass with us."

      Me: "Pardon me?! What are you talking about? Who's Hank, and why would I want to kiss His ass?"

      John: "If you kiss Hank's ass, He'll give you a million dollars; and if you don't, He'll kick the guts out of you."

      Me: "What? Is this some sort of bizarre mob shake-down?"

      John: "Hank is a billionaire philanthropist. Hank built this town. Hank owns this town. He can do whatever He wants, and what He wants is to give you a million dollars, but He can't until you kiss His ass."

      Me: "That doesn't make any sense. Why..."

      Mary: "Who are you to question Hank's gift? Don't you want a million dollars? Isn't it worth a little kiss on the ass?"

      Me: "Well maybe, if it's legit, but..."

      John: "Then come kiss Hank's ass with us."

      Me: "Do you kiss Hank's ass often?"

      Mary: "Oh yes, all the time..."

      Me: "And has He given you a million dollars?"

      John: "Well no. You don't actually get the money until you leave town."

      Me: "So why don't you just leave town now?"

      Mary: "You can't leave until Hank tells you to, or you don't get the money, and He kicks the guts
      out of you."

      Me: "Do you know anyone who kissed Hank's ass, left town, and got the million dollars?"

      John: "My mother kissed Hank's ass for years. She left town last year, and I'm sure she got the money."

      Me: "Haven't you talked to her since then?"

      John: "Of course not, Hank doesn't allow it."

      Me: "So what makes you think He'll actually give you the money if you've never talked to anyone who got the money?"

      Mary: "Well, He gives you a little bit before you leave. Maybe you'll get a raise, maybe you'll win a small lotto, maybe you'll just find a twenty-dollar bill on the street."

      Me: "What's that got to do with Hank?"

      John: "Hank has certain 'connections.'"

      Me: "I'm sorry, but this sounds like some sort of bizarre con game."

      John: "But it's a million dollars, can you really take the chance? And remember, if you don't kiss Hank's ass He'll kick the guts out of you."

      Me: "Maybe if I could see Hank, talk to Him, get the details straight from Him..."

      Mary: "No one sees Hank, no one talks to Hank."

      Me: "Then how do you kiss His ass?"

      John: "Sometimes we just blow Him a kiss, and think of His ass. Other times we kiss Karl's ass, and he passes it on."

      Me: "Who's Karl?"

      Mary: "A friend of ours. He's the one who taught us all about kissing Hank's ass. All we had to do was take him out to dinner a few times."

      Me: "And you just took his word for it when he said there was a Hank, that Hank wanted you to kiss His ass, and that Hank would reward you?"

      John: "Oh no! Karl has a letter he got from Hank years ago explaining the whole thing. Here's a copy; see for yourself."

      From the Desk of Karl
      1. Kiss Hank's ass and He'll give you a million dollars when you leave town.
      2. Use alcohol in moderation.
      3. Kick the guts out of people who aren't like you.
      4. Eat right.
      5. Hank dictated this list Himself.
      6. The moon is made of green cheese.
      7. Everything Hank says is right.
      8. Wash your hands after going to the bathroom.
      9. Don't use alcohol.
      10. Eat your wieners on buns, no condiments.
      11. Kiss Hank's ass or He'll kick the guts out of you.

      Me: "This appears to be written on Karl's letterhead."

      Mary: "Hank didn't have any paper."

      Me: "I have a hunch that if we checked we'd find this is Karl's handwriting."

      John: "Of course, Hank dictated it."

      Me: "I thought you said no one gets to see Hank?"

      Mary: "Not now, but years ago He would talk to some people."

      Me: "I thought you said He was a philanthropist. What sort of philanthropist kicks the guts out of people just because they're different?"

      Mary: "It's what Hank wants, and Hank's always right."

      Me: "How do you figure that?"

      Mary: "Item 7 says 'Everything Hank says is right.' That's good enough for me!"

      Me: "Maybe your friend Karl just made the whole thing up."

      John: "No way! Item 5 says 'Hank dictated this list himself.' Besides, item 2 says 'Use alcohol in moderation,' Item 4 says 'Eat right,' and item 8 says 'Wash your hands after going to the bathroom.' Everyone knows those things are right, so the rest must be true, too."

      Me: "But 9 says 'Don't use alcohol.' which doesn't quite go with item 2, and 6 says 'The moon is made of green cheese,' which is just plain wrong."

      John: "There's no contradiction between 9 and 2, 9 just clarifies 2. As far as 6 goes, you've never been to the moon, so you can't say for sure."

      Me: "Scientists have pretty firmly established that the moon is made of rock..."

      Mary: "But they don't know if the rock came from the Earth, or from out of space, so it could just as easily be green cheese."

      Me: "I'm not really an expert, but I think the theory that the Moon was somehow 'captured' by the Earth has been discounted*. Besides, not knowing where the rock came from doesn't make it cheese."

      John: "Ha! You just admitted that scientists make mistakes, but we know Hank is always right!"

      Me: "We do?"

      Mary: "Of course we do, Item 7 says so."

      Me: "You're saying Hank's always right because the list says so, the list is right because Hank dictated it, and we know that Hank dictated it because the list says so. That's circular logic, no different than saying 'Hank's right because He says He's right.'"

      John: "Now you're getting it! It's so rewarding to see someone come around to Hank's way of thinking."

      Me: "But...oh, never mind.

      October 3, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Luther's split begins in 1517, with the Diet of Worms* in 1521
      Calvin's split begins in 1530
      Henry VIII breaks away the Church in England in 1534
      English Presbyterianism begins in 1592

      * Always good for a laugh.

      Contemporary American Evangelical Protestants (Baptists, etc) have a tradition that goes back to the Puritans. They started as Calvinists breaking with the Church of England from around 1540. While the evolution of Puritanism is very complex, they are really nothing like the Catholic tradition and I'm not sure I would say that "Up until 50 years ago, most Protestant doctrines were almost the same as Catholicism" unless you can be more specific about what you mean.

      Anglicanism / Episcopalianism of course remains much closer to Catholicism.

      October 3, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
  17. DZoolander87

    It's clear that Alan Miller is a self-proclaimed intellectual who can't fathom that other people can accept the fact they do not know the answer to something and thus proclaim as such. On the contrary, these “spiritual but not religious” thinkers are being prudent in stating they have observed nothing in this physical world that can prove or disprove the existence or non-existence of God and therefore, wisely, they acknowledge this. Mr. Miller seems to be agitated by these proclamations of acceptance of not-knowingness. It is a shrewder person that can accept they do not understand fully the answer to a question as large as the existence of a higher power based on their experiences and observations. He claims “Being spiritual but not religious avoids having to think too hard about having to decide,” when, in fact, many have thought hard their entire lives and come to accept the fact they do not have the answer. Alan Miller, unwisely, seems to be unable to accept that he doesn’t understand something. Simply saying that you believe there is something beyond this world, while at the same time accepting you don’t know exactly what that is, does not make your stance any less valid than one of the two options Mr. Miller claims you must take. So, I say let him claim your position is invalid, it makes no difference to you.

    October 3, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
  18. Louise

    I will say it again. Religion is the greatest form of slavery. They already got your parents and the poor child born in that religion is enslaved as well. Look at all the destruction religion has caused on this planet. No god is better than the next and no religion is better than the next...it's all there to keep you enslaved and to have you murder each other in the religion's honor. Wake up, can't you see you are being manipulated and controlled!!!!

    October 3, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • Oudeis

      Controlled by whom? In order To do what? To think of what? To feel what? To look like what? To behave like what? Please Louise tell me specifically what "control" means in your opinion in the context of religious affiliation. Thank you

      October 3, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Maybe she hasn't thought it out past the initial assertion.

      October 3, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • End Religion

      the bible is chock full o' ways god wants you to behave. Then he extorts you by apparently sending you to eternal waterboarding in lava if you don't listen. Sounds like control to me.

      And as if one's very soul is apparently not enough, just for good measure religion also needs your money. Tithing, or rather financial extortion, is also commanded. Indeed Malachi 3:8 god claims not paying the tithe is robbery! (3:8 Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings.) Apparently god's idea of an eternity in wonderland involves debt slavery.

      don't be worried, Louise, slavery is just alright with god:

      interesting article on religion and slavery:

      October 3, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
    • Bob

      God hasn't enslaved anyone. God's whole premise is that people have free will, and if they come to Him, it must be a product of that free will. If they don't come to Him, then their lives simply amount to what they would have amounted to without God, which is a physical existence on earth and eternal separation from God when it's over. To call this model some form of enslavement and punishment is to not understand it. Each member of the human race is walking in the dark toward the edge of a cliff. God comes along with a flashlight and says, "Hey, if you follow me, you will be able to see and you will never fall off the edge of the cliff," and then people who are unwilling to follow Him have the nerve to complain that the fact that they walk off a cliff of their own free will with full knowledge of a better alternative is God's fault.

      So, do you want free will, of do you want God to physically intervene and actually enslave you?

      October 5, 2012 at 9:20 am |
  19. newcastle united v manchester united live streaming

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    October 3, 2012 at 10:54 am |
  20. Jesus Christ

    Oh wait everyone, Alan Miller (or rather he's paid CNN A LOT of money to let him) posted another article in rebuttal to all those that dared to disagree with him. He even goes so far as to get the last word in and state that all of the comments were ever so helpful at his self-run (all-about-Alan-Miller-night!) conference the other night. Yay for Alan. LOL!

    October 3, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • David V

      I'm still waiting for someone to tell me who this guy is.

      October 3, 2012 at 10:49 am |
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About this blog

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.