Your Take: Author who calls 'spiritual but not religious' a cop-out responds to comments
October 2nd, 2012
04:04 PM ET

Your Take: Author who calls 'spiritual but not religious' a cop-out responds to comments

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

I wrote a Belief Blog piece on Sunday called "My Take: 'I'm spiritual but not religious' is a cop-out," which has received more than 8,000 comments, many taking up key points I raised.

My assessment is that the wider disorientation of Western society, the decreasing respect for many institutions and the disdain for humans alongside what Christopher Lasch has termed a "culture of narcissism" has played out both among the "spiritual but not religious" identifiers as well as among many "new atheists." Lots of the comments bear that out.

Some commenters accused me of outdated and dangerous dogmatism in sticking up for traditional religion. A commenter whose handle is spectraprism spoke to this view:

“The problem this author advocates is that of thinking anyone has the ONE COMPLETE TRUE WAY- and everything and everyone else therefore NOT advocating it completely must be wrong. This is dogmatic, archaic, leads to extremism and is completely incorrect. Not being challenged into blindly following whatever scripture is not showing softness of any kind - it's showing you have a brain to draw your own personal conclusions that work and make sense to YOU.”

I don't happen to believe in a religious "one true way" and in fact am not religious myself. My comments and observations are based on an increasingly common phenomenon in the past 20 years.

Follow the CNN Belief Blog on Twitter

It is telling, though, that this and many other comments converge on dogmatism and extremism and juxtapose them with the notion that an individual choice is immune to any of that. These comments speak to my point that not wanting to be held accountable to any set of ideas or principles is a very popular position among the “spiritual but not religious."

In recent decades, the demise of the notion that there can be universal truths and the ascendancy of relativism and the new preaching of "many truths" and the idea that "all truths are equally valid" has clearly had significant impact on that identity.

The disenchantment with belief and a commitment to some wider authority has also had an impact on the self-described new atheists, who are furious that anyone could have the audacity to believe in something bigger than themselves.

The end of the big ideas of liberalism and socialism left a vacuum in society. Atheism used to be a small component of bigger movements in society. Ironically, today what defines many new atheists is a shared outlook with “spiritual but not religious” views.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

New atheists define themselves in negative terms, as not believing without any broader sense of a positive alternative, while those identifying with a "spiritual but not religious" outlook define themselves as not religious rather than according to the strong convictions that they do have.

This commenter summarized the sentiments that lots of others express on my piece:

Gina Hamilton
So I should believe in God because Bach did and it was the basis for his work? What Miller fails to understand is that most of us started out with a religious tradition in our lives, and gradually grew up and out of it. I can say clearly that I am a recovering Catholic who at the age of 16 became a humanist and freethinker, but that from the acceptance of the lack of a god proceeds a sense of the oneness of the universe and my place in it. It's not touchy-feely; it's science, and yet it is profoundly spiritual as well. Perhaps Miller, one day, will have this sort of understanding.

It is so interesting how so many people now use the therapeutic language of recovery - "recovering" from organized religion. The group American Atheists describes anguish and toil as the "first step" of "coming out," making the analogy with gays coming out the "closet," as though somehow atheists are oppressed today in America.

The therapeutic outlook is of far more concern with regard to human autonomy and freedom than organized religion. The idea is that humans are all "damaged goods" and in need of constant counseling and instruction.

These comments take off on that theme:

Paul Dykstra
Now you need to do an article on ..... "The dangers of being religious, but displaying NO spiritually aware behavior at all".....

Major religions such as Christianity and Islam have proven to be nothing but damaging and vile to our world. I reject this notion that we have to "take a side" on the matter of a higher power. The basic truth about it all is that no matter how much we read or try to decipher life's mysteries we were never meant to have concrete proof of what put us into existence. What is the point in living if you know all the answers? I am spiritual but not religious because religion is a disease of manipulation and control. I can believe in a higher power while also believing that it was never meant for me to understand this higher power until AFTER I die.

honesty is paramount
As a scientist, I am neither religious nor spiritual. I definitely know right from wrong and one of the things that positively defines me: when I don't know the answer to something, I indicate "I don't know". Don't EVER call that indecisive or "wishy-washy".

It is interesting how "spirituality" seems to be thought of as "clean" and unimpeded by problems.

Dustin calls religion a "disease" - once again we see the therapeutic language. Striving for an understanding of the world is an important and essential human attribute, yet so many of the comments have reiterated a generality about "spiritualism" and "my choice" that it seems to endorse the point I made that what seems so paramount is in a determination not to be "labeled" or dictated to by an authority.

So what is left? The superstition and mysticism of some "oneness" and often a therapeutic notion of being "spiritual."

Here’s a comment from someone who identifies as 51yo:

I always had a hard time with the guy in the front of the church, he's a guy... I'm a guy, what's the difference? He will one day be proven as a womanizer or worse, I will never walk that path. After another guy (Constantine) put his hands all over the Bible, I have little faith it is any more true than words my neighbor might come up with. Like you said, I search for truth and read as much as I can, but the final analysis is my own; I'm not tied to someone else's redistribution of "facts" or their interpretation of great stories. I can do that and be a good person without the trappings of a traditional place of worship, or someone telling me to do something they are incapable of.

The commenter 51y0 doesn't want to be tied to anyone else's "facts." While we all have to work out our things in life, I am interested to know what “spiritual but not religious" facts are.

It can seem that on the one hand there's a reluctance to commit to advocating anything and also that words can end up losing any meaning if one simply says something to the affect of "spiritual means it's right for me." Nick says it can mean a lot of different things to people:

Nick Heise
The author of this piece, though he admits that calling the spiritual-but-not-religious movement a movement would be incorrect, still wrote this entire piece as these people were a united group whose thoughts and beliefs could be analyzed and criticized as a group. I'm no genius, but these seems to make his entire position quite flawed.

I put myself out there as a point of reference since, as I'm talking about my own person, I don't have to rely on complete conjecture like the above article. Yes, I have used the expression "I'm spiritual, not religious." But what does that mean to me? Surely it can mean a lot to different people, just like the same scripture of the Bible can be inspiring to many Christians in countless different ways. To me, saying that I'm spiritual but not religious highlights that I'm not a person who believes in the existence of God as a fact, but neither do I believe in his nonexistence as a fact. It's my assertion of the respect and awe that I have in the face of a universe that I can't understand, which contains forces (perhaps a God) that I can never prove to exist or not exist. For me, it's not an unwillingness to think and make a decision - it's the result of years of thinking and consideration with the conclusion that I haven't yet gathered enough information to make a definitive choice.

I’ll end with this comment:

If you look at the definition of religious – even atheists are religious, they just strongly believe in NO God...this is from Webster's Online Dictionary: Definition of RELIGIOUS 1: relating to or manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity.

Maybe it's just that people are tired of being fanatical about church – and want to go back to a more open an honest approach to beliefs? Maybe the stigma of being a church member now has such a negative impact on how people think of you that people don't want to admit they go to church? Being spiritual means you believe in something (which I think is better than nothing) – the alternative is NOT only being an atheist....

Organized religious beliefs (even going back into ancient times) have caused more death and destruction than any other organization in the world ... and it's done in the name of (whomever your beliefs say to) – and has been since the beginning of mankind! Maybe choosing to say you're "spiritual" means you don't want to be associated with all the chaos and destruction – and maybe organized religions need to rethink their controls on individuals.

This remark will chime with many – the new atheists among them - who believe that being "spiritual" means you don't want to be associated with all the "chaos and destruction."

It strikes me that having an opt-out plan should have something more than simply a negative, whether it's a "spiritual" one or a "new atheist" negative. We live in an age where many are disillusioned with institutions and humans generally, yet not so evident is a positive alternative.

Thank you for the comments. The event we held last night, "I'm Not Religious – I'm Spiritual" benefited from some of them.

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

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Opinion • Spirituality

soundoff (1,789 Responses)
  1. Flopsycat

    Just goes to show: debates over religion (and politics) are a waste of time and energy. People believe what they choose to believe, and no amount of discussion will sway them.

    October 3, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
    • GAW

      You understand the issue all too well.

      October 3, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
  2. TruthIsTheThing

    It's hard not to get lost in this debate. Tragedies and mistakes of the past and present are a given. I don't think anyone would argue that the human race has a monopoly on perfection. Having said that, I would also hope that everyone believes in some sort of truth as a baseline. Unless we are living in some sort of existential dreamworld (which is an entirely different debate altogether), certain realities exist–we seem to need oxygen to breathe, gravity tends to keep us connected to the earths's surface, 2 + 2 = 4 and can therefore be mathematically trusted to be used in the calculations for designing a building or a bridge. Another's misuse or abuse of such truths can be hurtful, destructive, and tragic but does not negate their essential truthfulness. It is therefore not a totally illogical process to imagine that there may be inherent spiritual truths in place within our universe. Yes, many will attempt to twist such truths to fit their own selfish purposes. Yes, many may be completely mistaken in their understanding–conversely many could be correct as well. However, to completely reject the notion of universal truths in favor of personal experience is akin to believing one can jump off a cliff and fly simply b/c one does not like the idea of gravity or the actions of those who have espoused the theory of gravity in the past. What is wrong with simply believing that some things are simply true–whether we "like" the idea they are true or not?

    October 3, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
    • snowboarder

      there is no reason to believe that there is spiritual truth in the universe. spiritualism could simply be ancient mythology.

      October 3, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
  3. SmallzThaGod

    First off I wouldn’t expect for most Western society to have a stern view or real view on religion or spirituality. Being where we got our current views on church come from misguided ideas of what the religious world was..Let’s not forget Europeans miscued ideas of Christianity and all the
    reformations etc. that took place. To come up with so called codified churches that represented knowledge they had no clue of or could interpret & still cant interpret. Most of these manmade religions were created out of the milieu of manifest destiny one way or the other any how or with total subjection of peoples or the world in mind and god or the spirit wasn’t a part of that plan. That’s the reason most ppl can’t get down with religion today because of strain of oppression that it came from was born from. And how the top 1% in these so called religions like all the rest of em alike care more about ppl power than they do about spiritual development. Education, knowledge an wisdom the things that get you closer to the higher power by default without mans triphecta of MIND CONTROL . A holy man once told me God created truth and the devil created religion that aint atheist either he was just keeping it 100.

    October 3, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
  4. RationalBeliever

    Most of you who have commented have obviously missed the entire point of the piece. Not an unlikely result considering the stances of those commenting. Someone merely points out that there is a lack of depth to the shallow broad statements of many who follow the spiritual but not religious path and what is received in reply...

    Shallow broad statements about how misunderstood their shallow broad beliefs are. Go figure.

    October 3, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
    • lookbothweis

      Author: "You people are shallow." Responses: "No we're not. You're arrogant." This guy: "You people miss the point. The article was pointing out that you're shallow."

      Yea, I see this conversation going well.

      October 3, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • JFCanton

      Someone could offer a little depth: but if they did, they would have something like Buddhism and that wouldn't be very individual or fun.

      October 3, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • hawaiiguest


      If you don't ask any other question except for "spiritual or religious?", then of course you're not going to get any depth. Try asking questions that require more than a single word to answer.

      October 3, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Religion is shallow and lacks depth, they just claim it but it is a facade.

      October 3, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • JFCanton

      So Aquinas is shallow? Teresa of Avila?

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


      What is deep about being taught "God wants this, so do it.". To obey and not question is a hallmark of many religions, christianity being highly prominent in that regard.

      October 3, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
  5. JFCanton

    What are the standards that someone who is "spiritual but not religious" expects of others? As a conservative guess, 50% of the people in the world if left alone will be self-destructive for the bulk of their lives. Maybe they'll get it when they're 50, 60, 70; but that's objectively a waste (especially if they have propagated and been shoddy parents).

    October 3, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
  6. Beam

    I have seen the chaos spirituality does to people and its not pretty. Nothing for them is set in stone, so to speak...no real guidance of their views...it changes everyday according to their moods. What works for a time for them changes and suddenly it doesn't work so they try some other humanist ideas or a piece of this religion or that. Any peace and contentment felt is short lived. Everything is rule by emotions.

    The thing is with atheism I see people joining their group all the time because the think it will make them appear intelligent. They see their leaders talking high and mighty and believe everything they are told...for instance that most wars were caused by religions of some sort...without checking the facts for themselves. Never mind most wars were simply to take over a land or people...or wars against those who had a religion. There are tons of websites attacking the bible..taking things completely out of content and twisting them around to make it say something else and these 'blind followers' just believe it...again without checking their facts. They are the ones following the herd and are so narrow minded they will not tolerant those that have any real religion.

    No where does it say in the bible to believe blindly...nor is that taught in most bible based churches. No where does it say to leave our brains outside the church doors! In fact the opposite is said. I have studied the bible for many years and studied the historical evidents of it, including archaeological finds that back up much of what's written in it. In light of all the evidence for it, it seems to me it would take alot of 'faith', to not see the truths in it. Its words are never changing...it gives us a solid foundation to live by. To love one another...regardless of their beliefs....to work for a living and pay our taxes and respect the law. And to love God because He loved us first inspite of ourselves.

    The problem with relying on humans to solve all our problems is we constantly fail. People point fingers at God saying He is some terrible deity in the sky and want no part of it, quoting bits and pieces of the old testament. Yet...WE kill innocences all the time...including unborn babies, children and women and men in wars we have started ourselves. We allow so many to go hungry and sick, and turn a blind eye to those in need, yet we are somehow better then this God we think is so terrible? That never made any sense to me at all and never will.

    I don't want to 'be one' with a cold dark space called the Universe made up of things that cannot see or hear. I want to be one with the Creator of those things..

    October 3, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      If the bible has the "truth" why is it that those who follow the bible can't even come close to agreeing as to what that "truth" is? Saying that the other believers are reading the bible out of context and are therfore "doing it wrong" just goes to the point of how poor of a job your god does in communicating. An omnicient god should have known how badly his message would be twisted and have done a better job, it is evidence that the bible was in no way "inspried".

      October 3, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • Beam

      Blessed...actually you are wrong on that. First Jesus warned us over and over again there would be false prophets and false teachers and even wolves in sheep's clothing...and explained very clearly how to know the difference. This is why it does take actually reading and studying the bible so people don't fall for those untruths and twisting of scripture. This obviously was no surprise to God, or He wouldn't have told us ahead of time to be on the look out for it. In fact we read it happening in some of the very first churches written about in the New Testament.

      Sadly there are some that DO blindly believe what some popular preaches have to say and don't double check their bibles to see if its true...but the thing is that happens in every belief! Including politics. In science...in atheism, in everything. People must take responsibility for their beliefs, no matter what they are, and find out if their leader (whomever that might be) is really telling the truth. People need to start thinking! No matter what their beliefs are.

      Its like these young people I see that join atheism because they believe what the atheist say...that Christians are uneducated and stupid and will believe anything. They are fearful of being looked upon as stupid! That is their biggest reason for joining up with the atheist. They don't investigate and see all Christians who have major science degrees, or are CEO of leading companies or or even multimillionaires because they got an excellent education and worked hard. They blindly believe we are all stupid and have low IQ's...OR are mentally ill. :/

      As far as what Christians believe, we ALL do believe in one thing..that Jesus is the Son of God, did come to earth to live among us, to teach us and free us from the bondage of sin...that He did die on the cross for our sin and was raised from the dead and now sits at the right hand side of God. That is our core belief. There is the core belief and the minor doctrinal beliefs that are not salvation issues that can vary among churches and should not divide us. God allows for variety because we are not all the same. These are minor things though in most cases.

      The sad thing is people look at us and expect some kind of perfection...and since we are fallible human beings we will never reach their standard, so they reject our faith based on us being like them. :/ No where does the bible say we will magically become perfect people that everyone loves and admires. In fact being a Christians is extremely dangerous in certain parts of the world. A person can be killed, tortured or imprisoned just for being a Christian. Here in the USA we are looked at as mentally ill...we are abusing our children by taking them to church where they play and sing songs and color pictures about Jesus...(really scary stuff there! ). :/Of course the news never shows a normal regular everyday church...just the extreme cult like ones so people think we are all like that.

      People believe we are holding back science AS IF we are really somehow stopping science from doing its thing...still haven't figure out how we got that kind of power for being stupid and mentally ill. :/ I happen to love science...science is all over the bible! Its one of the ways God shows us Himself. 🙂

      People call us all sorts of names on a regular basis, narrow minded, hateful, bigots, intolerant, etc.(though everyone seems pretty narrow minded and intolerant of our beliefs). But that is ok if they are like this because they aren't Christians! :/ It takes thick skin to be a Christian..its not for wimps that want everyone to like them, because the world hates us. But this is no surprise either...Jesus told us it would be that way.

      October 3, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
  7. Abdullo

    I am religious but not "spiritual" like women in picture here, because I live in downtown apartment, not in million dollar beachfront house.

    October 3, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • hinduism by Judaism self center ,secularism source of hindu filthy hinduism, racism.

      Look at her thumb and index finger, making sign of truth absolute, 360*, but denying truth absolute GOD in word's, typical hindu Pharisee ism, criminal hypocrisy of hindu Jew's, criminal self centered, deniers of truth absolute. for more visit limitisthetruth.com and click on word Choice on website to open file.

      October 3, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • AvdBergism source of AvdBergfilthyracism

      Absurdity of name thief stealing more longer name. Pagan and thief. Thief absolute with dog.

      October 3, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
  8. Non Atheist

    Alan Miller has been hired as recruiter by the traditional religions. He is working very hard.

    October 3, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
  9. steelerguin

    I understand completely because although I may be obese, I am not fat.

    October 3, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
  10. Chris

    "These comments speak to my point that not wanting to be held accountable to any set of ideas or principles is a very popular position among the “spiritual but not religious.""

    You have a lot of cojones to peddle around flimsy strawman arguments born from an obvious ignorant and egocentric view of others. Good lord, it's plain as day to see!

    October 3, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • Carl

      That's the only response he can offer as a religious apologist. He can't acknowledge that the "merely spiritual" are choosing not to take literal and "accountable" positions because IT IS ABSURD TO DO SO and completely unnecessary–that's the obvious fact that religious people hate to talk about because there is no rational response to it. Either he acknowledges the absurdity of organized religion, or he implies that those who reject it are cowards. So guess which one people like him always choose?

      October 3, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
  11. Peanut Butter Billy

    "And after 8000 comments from the first article, the author *still* hasn't learned a single thing. This article serves only to demonstrate the author has an opinion and obstinately refuses to be dissuaded from it." Couldn't have said it better myself. It's always a sad sight when someone goes to such great lengths to try to hide the fact that they are simply disappointed that their opinions weren't well received. It is a weak move pick apart criticisms using your CNN badge as a soapbox. You wrote a ridiculous article, you handled the criticism in a ridiculous way, and deep down you know that this indicates certain aspects of yourself being very immature and out of control. Keep climbing.

    October 3, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
  12. Dani

    It is interesting that you speak of the universal truths, yet seem to have no grasp on how they work. There are most certainly universal truths, but you do not need a religion to discover them. It is an individual's choice to abide by the truths or to disregard them, and the affiliation, or lack thereof, with a religion is irrelevant. Do not be so foolish to assume that because a person chooses not to participate in a religion that they are incapable of recognizing universal truth and therefore "copping out." Several of the world's religions use fear mongering in an effort to get people to conform to their ideals. The idea of a retributive God goes against the universal teachings of forgiveness, compassion, and love. Explain to me how participating in something that leaves you fearful and anxious is better than opting to develop a belief system that allows people to make mistakes and know they will receive forgiveness regardless of what they believe?

    October 3, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
    • lookbothweis

      I completely agree.

      October 3, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • Carl

      "There are most certainly universal truths, but you do not need a religion to discover them."

      And in fact, many such truths are things of which we can never be certain. Personal experience is riddled with subjectivity and self-delusion. But as unreliable as that is, it is not an improvement to have faith in the subjective self-experiences of some claimed prophet. Religion is neither necessary nor helpful in searching for the truth.

      The most important thing is that you don't have to pretend to be certain of all of these universal truths. Some may be discoverable with high degrees of certainty, and others will be mere guesses. Organized religion is based on the absurd premise that we have to pretend to know the unknowable and codify it.

      October 3, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
    • Dani

      Carl you are absolutely right. I think there are a few truths that seem concrete, but for the most part it is all speculation. I think it is more of a journey-is-more-important-than-the-destination type deal, so hearing people claim to have an answer is amusing. The most honest answer anyone can give concerning this issue is, "I don't know." Unfortunately, large portions of the human population will spend their lives fighting over who is right and who is wrong, because they are incapable of seeing past subjective prejudices and ideals.

      October 3, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
  13. buffalo

    Let me see if I've got this straight: Some person/ deity/ ball of energy created me out of dirt and scraps but gave me a brain and intellect that can take me to the stars, devise remedies for diseases, solve complex and simple problems often simultaneously, etc. etc. But....if I don't assume a certain position or say the right combination of words or perform certain rituals on a certain day this All-Knowing thing wil send me to the center of the Earth and little/ big creatures will blah, blah. Nope...still not buying it!l

    October 3, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • Carl

      Correct. And furthermore, you are going to hell just for thinking about it! And the pope is absolutely 100% certain that he is correct, because he believes that he is correct.

      October 3, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
  14. Non Atheist

    We get to write comments and Alan Miller gets to write another blog post responding to all comments. He has got the bully pulpit. Lets not waste our time.

    October 3, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
  15. Non Atheist

    I think this author has to define what "religious" and "spiritual" mean to him. Otherwise, this debate has not meaning if we are dealing with malleable, misunderstood or loosely defined terms.

    October 3, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
  16. spectraprism

    Far as you, miller, if you don;t believe in a religious one true way like you told me, then why are you dissing those very ones here that don;t, either? What exactly IS your point? That you yourself are the ACTUAL narcissistic pick and choose buffet kind of believer? While slamming on those that accept spirituality but not a regimented religion? What is the actual essence of what you're trying to say.

    October 3, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • DavidA

      His point is simply that so many here clearly haven't been ina community where honest debate occurs, who's absence of community distorts their facts about religion and spirituality, and who balk at the very possibility that they may not have it right. That's what your comment and so many others here perfectly demonstrate – it's a raw, unflitered, un-fact-checked, flying solo spiritual world out there which either trembles or retreats in the face of genuine community.

      October 3, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      That is my question as well. He seems to contradict himself by saying he is not religious and then knocks anyone else who is not religious.

      October 3, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • Jimmy Joe Jim Bob

      "it's a raw, unflitered, un-fact-checked, flying solo spiritual world out there"

      The irony and hypocrisy in this statement is one of unbounded idiocy. Religion is all about myth, lemming.

      October 3, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers


      If you are right and that was his point he did a terrible job of communicating it in 2 attempts.

      October 3, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • spectraprism

      but to debate what? And you David, make his supposed point no better than he has- he's not part of a church or dogma, yet thinks to criticize those that also aren't, either. ok. and?

      October 3, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • DavidA

      Of course it's about myth. Myth is humanity's primary way of making meaning. Science gives us fact... our human narratives give us meaning. But that doesn't mean we can't measure the effects of those myths. When a person posts on this page that religion kills more people than anything else, why not check the facts? 270 people murdered per day. Only a tiny fraction of those murders have anything to do with religion. If such a person had a "real" community in which to check their facts, they'd know this.

      October 3, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • Statistically Insignificant

      Oh, DavidA... you want to come off as the voice of rationality, but uh-oh, no. Your attempted point is to make religion synonymous with community – which is a half-truth. Sure religions form their own communities, I'll grant you that. But like Miller, your assumption is that if people don't belong to an organized religion, they are therefore void of community. Communities exist in many forms, with or without religious context. Your arrogant assumption that no one else here belongs to a community implodes anything else you have to say.

      October 3, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
    • therealpeace2all


      " His point is simply that so many here clearly haven't been ina community where honest debate occurs,"

      *honest debate*...? Where would that particular community be exactly ? Apparently the world-wide belief blog here doesn't count ? What is *honest debate* anyway ?

      " who's absence of community distorts their facts about religion and spirituality, and who balk at the very possibility that they may not have it right."

      Who says there isn't 'community' with people ? That's a 'big' assumption on your part. And as far as 'balking'... that's part of what debate is about... is discussing, debating, etc... The (religious) as in the 'defined' Christians, Muslim's, etc... are the 'most' prone, to being stuck in their respective world-views. They *don't* question, at all, "the very possibility that they may not have it right."

      " it's a raw, unflitered, un-fact-checked, flying solo spiritual world out there which either trembles or retreats in the face of genuine community. "

      More malarkey.


      October 3, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers


      The point about religion killing people is that the religious claim the moral high ground, and yet when the texts of Abrahamic religion are examined god commands the slaughter of mult.itudes of people based in the fact that they don't "believe" the right things. He and his followers kill for thought crimes and then claim to be more moral, then when this fact is pointed out the response is "well atheists do it too" which seem to admit that the religious are no better or worse than the non religious. Just because many versions of religion try and take a more Buddist approach does not change what the actual foundation of the religion is.

      October 3, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
    • FlawedLogic

      "Communities exist in many forms, with or without religious context. Your arrogant assumption that no one else here belongs to a community implodes anything else you have to say."

      This is the exact point that DavidA and the author miss. I was wondering why both of these people deem that religion is the only moral guiding light? And why an agnostic (which I think the author got confused with atheist) must conform and pick an established religion. Can people not collate and join together over any other principal than religion? What about the practicers of scientology I wonder? Before L. Ron Hubbard those people did not follow that religion but then it was created as a new religion; it became permissible? Can they now be considered a community and correct moral followers because they have now identified themselves as a religion?

      October 3, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • spectraprism

      the fact is, is that he himself comes by his ethics and morality and beliefs, by a varying and sometimes contradictory conglomeration of ideas taught, or caught, just like the rest of us. If he didn't, he's either a robot buying dogma, or he was brought up in complete isolation, devoid of anyone offering ideas of any sort. I don;t care if he's an atheist, believer, or whatever. Slamming people for having various different teachings and ideas that they assemble to come up with their own personal code and morality and outlook, instead of blindly following church leaders, is no different than what he's done. and yet he calls it narcissistic. It makes no sense.

      October 3, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
    • DavidA

      Cheesemaker, I was watching Life of Brian this week – love the name! I think that looking back at a text that's maybe 2,500 years old to draw conclusions about modern day religion is disingenious. I recognize that a huge chunk of religious people are asking us to take these writings literally, but a huge chunk isn't. I don't judge science based on leeching or blood letting because that was practiced hundreds of years ago. There are many communities in which people could join and make a difference who are in no way related to the insanity of religion, but they don't. Some think they don't need to – which is where Miller aims this article I think. Maybe they don't need to, but 9 times out of 10 flying solo serves only yourself.

      October 3, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • DavidA

      Well let's talk honestly about communities then. What communities began hospitals, homeless shelters, food pantries, orphanages, and the likes? As people have left religious communities, all these service are on the DECLINE. This is a simple fact. By and large, people aren't out forming orphanages in their newly found communities. Some might be. But most are not. Fact.

      October 3, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
    • spectraprism

      ok, now i think I follow what you're getting at, that this trend of doing one;s own thing could lead to an -ever increasing isolation. If one doesn't agree with politics, religion, etc it could lead to a shrinking of one's circle. ok. I understand that. But what is he, as i assume, an atheist doing instead to counteract this? does he offer anything else besides criticism of those doing what he himself is doing?? And there are lots and lots of non-profits and charities taking up the mantle that are not necessarily religious. This may be your point, which I understand, but I'm still not convinced that it's the author's.

      October 3, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers


      I agree that those who do not take the bible literally are less of a threat to the rest of us but the fact is that the bible was by and large meant by the authors to be taken literally. If the bible is to be used as a general guide it is no better a moral book (and could be argued worse) than other known human writings. The danger is that religious texts are claimed to be either the word of god or the inspiration of god and therefore followers can claim a moral superiority where there is none.

      October 3, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
    • DavidA

      cheesemaker, I think the Western mind is naturally inclined to view history through that kind of lens... I'd recommend something like Karen Armstrong's "A Short History of Myth," because in reality the idea of a divided world was totally foreign to the authors – everything was pretty much sacred, both the stories and the logical (logos) measurements that would form the basis for science. The writings were much more about established meaning than established truth – that kind of distinction was foreign to them. So when you have for example "morning and evening on the 1st day" of creation before you have a sun and a moon, it wasn't a big deal for such a thing to be non-sensical. They weren't really after the creation of science text book and seems to me (and Armstrong) that the texts were meant for something else entirely.

      October 4, 2012 at 8:55 am |
  17. GAW

    One of the most confusing issues is that the words Spiritual and Religious are defined differently by different people. Even people within an organized religious system may define themselves as Spiritual but not Religious.

    October 3, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      The distinction is unimportant once you realize they are both different ways of saying the same thing: that a person believes in things that don't exist.

      October 3, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • GAW

      2 Seyedibar Oh if life were that simple.

      October 3, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
  18. Non Atheist

    If we accept morality as relative then we will have to accept what each person decides what is right and wrong. In that scenario, the state has no right to enforce any laws because that would be an absolute standard of right and wrong for the state overruling what each person believes. What do you think that would lead to? Lawlessness, chaos and anarchy.

    In practice, the state does establish a standard of right and wrong that we all have to accept. That is a fact – e.g. polygamy, why is it illegal in US? It should not be banned in a nation accepting relative moral standards.

    There is no question of practical relative morality as long as the state makes and enforced laws for every citizen.

    relativistic morality is an individual construct and by definition not a construct of the society. if the state or society decides what is right and wrong for each one of us, there is an absolute standard irrespective of what an individual believes, e.g. polygamy or child marriage etc

    October 3, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • snowboarder

      non – none of what you have said is true. even if you suggest that states set morality, which is also not true, there are as many versions of morality as their are number of states. not only that, the view of morality evolves in all but the most dogmatic of states.

      this is the very defintion of relative.

      October 3, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
    • Non Atheist


      relativistic morality is not a state concept - it is an individualistic concept. as long as a state is making and enforcing a set of laws for all its citizens - it is not relativistic morality in practice because state overrules individual citizen's beliefs on what is right and wrong.

      October 3, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • snowboarder

      non – we are not speaking of "state", "enforcement", or "overruling". i specifically stated society, which is also community. community can be based on nationality, geography, ethnicity, shared theology or probably many other groupings.

      even within a state where morality is legislated, standards of morality are relative from group to group.

      so no, you are completely wrong. we see throughout the world and throughout history that morality is relative.

      October 3, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
    • Non Atheist


      that moral relativity is only in your mind and not practical when you are forced by the state's definition of right and wrong. you can believe what you like but ultimately state punishes and rewards you according to its standard. what is the point of something you cannot practice and only dream of in your mind.

      October 3, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • therealpeace2all

      @Non Atheist

      Hi Non...

      And... laws that are decided upon by the people do change over time to fit the societal, cultural, etc... views.

      They are indeed 'relative' as context shapes meaning.


      October 3, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
    • snowboarder

      non – i don't understand how you can not take a simple look at history and society today around the world and tell me that morality is not relative.

      you are wrong. plain and simple. i am finished pointing it out to you.

      October 3, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • Non Atheist


      you guys are talking about relative morality (collective) over time. i am talking about relative morality over population at a given point of time. that does not hold true in practice.

      October 3, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
    • therealpeace2all

      @Non Atheist

      Hi -Non...

      I know I'm jumping in here between you and a convo with @snowboarder... but I'm trying to understand your position, as it doesn't make sense to me...so far.

      You Wrote to @snowboarder: " you guys are talking about relative morality (collective) over time. i am talking about relative morality over population at a given point of time. that does not hold true in practice. "

      I'm quite clear as to what I mean and what I'm talking about, as it is fact. When you say... "I am talking about relative morality over population at a given point of time" ... maybe some examples from you would help... to help clarify what you mean and how it is different from what I, or -snowboarder are suggesting ?

      And, by the way, since you are of the opinion that morals are *absolute* ... how do you come to that 'opinion' ?



      October 3, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • Non Atheist


      at any given point of time - each individual is subject to the state (or society's) definition of morality as set in law books. individual may be believe whatever he feels like but he is rewarded or punished not according to his personal view of morality but the state's view of morality.

      relativistic morality is an individual concept - where each individual is able to decide for himself what is wrong or right. but in practice, he is subject to state's laws which are absolute at a given point of time and over-rule his sense of right or wrong.

      October 3, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
  19. stillthinking

    I think i am seriously upset by these articles by Mr. Alan because of the current politics – and how he reminds me of the worst of what I have had to experience in the politic / economic / religious etc. arenas in the past decade and full force in your face if you watch or read the news for the past few weeks when I was diligently trying to understand the candidates better for the elections in order to make responsible votes. Like – having one candidate bluntly put down half the population of the USA in similar fashion as Mr. Alan did. And having him be so unprofessional and off the cuff good ol' boyish like other presidential political dramas I have witnessed. I am still seriously upset about the choices offered to the american people and the world in general this fine fall of 2012 – and the incitement of chaos, wars, and violence through overt and covert hate crime attacks against humanity in general that his articles epitomize from the current manipulations ...
    that I truly think he owes a true apology ... to all.
    not that it will matter the next time a cop attacks someone with dreadlocks or someone who does yoga or anything – i am sure his apology will mean a great deal then ...
    give me a break Mr. Alan – are you seriously this callous and in need of a ... what?

    October 3, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  20. Tara

    This reads like a whiny author who wishes he could hit back against everyone who made negative comments, but had to write this piece instead. God forbid he read the comments and critically re-evaluate his beliefs/articles.

    And I believe you confuse atheists with agnostics, sir.

    October 3, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34
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.