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Some commenters accused me of outdated and dangerous dogmatism in sticking up for traditional religion.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:
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.
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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.
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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:
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:
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:
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:
I’ll end with this comment:
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.
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.
I am fairly sure that the next article this guy writes will be a three page rant against people who buy Neapolitan ice cream instead of committing to strawberry, chocolate, or vanilla.
lmao. i wouldn't be surprised.
If you taste strawberry and chocolate in the same bite you will suddenly have a strong desire to bomb an orphanage.
He isn't very tolerant is he? I can see him working during the Grand Inqusition garnering much favor with the Chruch authoirites, implementing the Church's 15th century invention of 3rd Degree Torture (death by pain) upon the 'non-religious' and Atheists. FYI – it is still a capital crime in the Vatican to disagree with the Papal doctrine. Yes, a law from the that time that made it legal to kill non Catholics. They no longer control such a large portion of Europe and can't enforce that still extant law. Thank the non-religious for that! Jump for joy!
Oh man, Tim. That put me on the floor. Funny!.
this is where a voting system like reddit has makes a lot of sense...too many reviews to peruse over. The highly rated ones should float to the top.
for me, 'spiritual but not religious' means I accept and embrace the wonderment of not knowing 'what's out there'...as per socrates, wisdom comes in 'not knowing'...in realizing we cannot know (this is where I find atheism to be on the same spectrum as religious dogma) anything in an absolute sense in this life, we can choose to embrace a sense of awe and wonderment and the spiritual feelings that come from that.
for me, judgment - not discernment mind you - especially harsh judgment, is counter to a healthy spiritual outlook. there are plenty of responses angrily judging this author for his attempts to better understand the identification of being 'spiritual, but not religious'...I don't detect much spirituality emanating from them.
Christina Buddha, Muslim Buddha, Jewish Buddha, Hindu Buddha, Buddhist Buddha, Atheist Buddha, and now "Spiritual but not Religious" Buddha, Too many Buddhas on this page are trying to explain their version of Truth Absolute. There is no God higher than truth absolute.
hinduism, absurdity of a hindu, ID thief.
Other similar religionsists, of various religions have expressed a similar insecurity with letting go of religion. But why he is bent on attacking the non-religious and Atheists I don't know. Being Atheist is only a small part of my philosophy and I hardly identify with it. It certainly doesn't define who I am. Is the author defined by one single thing he doesn't believe in? Perhaps he doesn't believe in the Great Red Pig? Does that make him a negativist who is all negative and offers nothing positive in place of the Great Red Pig? Is that a big deal too? Those ancient doctrines are obsolete in most respects. Learning to discard all the old dogma and mythology is a very very positive step toward true understanding...toward seeing things the way they are, not how we want to pretend they are. As sure as Alchemy had its day, we know better now and should let go of that old stuff we call religion, and not let it inhibit our intellectual development. What is positive about clinging to false beliefs? They are a source of false comfort at best! I may not believe in god but I do believe in seeking what is true and that includes acknowledging as false what is false. I am closer to enlightenmnet as an Atheist than any deist religionist can be. Becoming an Atheist was merely a result of thinking objectively and becoming informed. It frees one from a lot of confusion from trying to reconcile a whole slew of contradictions and false doctrines.
Philosophy means path to height or better and hindu Atheism denial of truth absolute is hindu Sanatan ism, criminal goon ism, no need to insult word Philosophy with hinduism, out side the limit of truth absolute.
Repeated studies have shown that there is a greater incidence of child molestation and incest among southern white evangelical christians than in any other group that participated in the study. Living in cramped quarters (such as trailer parks) is one of the main causes of perverted behavior among christians. Those requiring further proof need only to take a casual drive south of the Mason-Dixon Line. The abundance of toothless christian cretins you will see are a direct result of generations of inbreeding. Historians have long theorized that the south lost the civil war due to the many mentally challenged soldiers in the Confederate army, also a result of this inbreeding.
Oddly enough, many of these christian misfits make their way north or west where they can be found working in gas stations and car washes. And yes, some do end up in Congress on the republican side of the aisle. And some end up in mainstream cinema, appearing in such classics as Deliverance, Smokey and The Bandit and the Dukes of Hazzard.
Those studies are not accurate. Other studies show that the abuse occurs in patriarchal fundamentalist households regardless of which religion they follow or which geographical region they inhabit. It's just a coincidence that most patriarchal fundamentalists in the U.S. happen to be Christians living in those areas.
Anne, palintwit is a troll. No use in responding.
JESUS CHRIST WAS SPIRITUAL BUT NOT RELIGIOUS AND GOT KILLED BY RELIGIOUS LEADERS FOR IT! Read and understand John 3 and hear a spiritual teacher speak. Religion kills Spirituality gives life-St Paul
word religion does not exist in Hebrew, Aramaic or Arabic language, nor is in Gospel's of book of Mithra ism, called Christianity, bible and Quran.
Holy crap, hinduism! You're losing your touch. This is perhaps the most coherent thing you have ever said. Unfortunately your claim is false.
Show me the proof for your hinduism, absurdity against truth absolute.
Absurdity of thief of name more longer. Pagan and hindu name thief. Is absolute with dogs.
ארח orahh – Hebrew word for religion
دين Dīn – Arabic word for religion
1 Timothy 5:4
4. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God.
You believe what you believe. I'll believe what I believe. Don't force your opinion on me and I won't force my opinion on you. We'll all get along just fine!
miller is deeply troubled that your belief "offers no positive exposition"
Lol, this is a nice fantasy. You're talking about humanity here! Never gonna happen! Perfect strangers will always know what is best for you.
what miller was really trying to say was "you who gave up religion, create new religious laws or go back to existing ones!"
The common theme that the right-wing-nut jobs ignore and for the record that's any religion is that athetist do not try and shove nothing down your throat we do not even consider you at all until it's the right-wing-nut jobs that are trying to shove it down our throats.
It's clear to athetist how wrong you are so why would we have to talk to it. Because you can't go about your lifes without this inane idea you have to "SAVE" someone because somehow only you and your kind have the answer. Stop and we will stop because as long as you feel the need to intrude in to grown-ups lives we'll be there to stop the brainwashing
Though I agree with the gist of what you are saying, this is not a political issue. Also, punctuation would help to clarify your argument.
I was never makiing it political and thanks for the grammer lesson "NAZI" don't worry my ex is a grammer nazi and it makes my day when I can upset you guys. All in fun 😉
I see though you're quite the Philosopher here and I am especially grateful you allow us our opinion even though you seem to distain anyone but yours but, thanks for being in charge allowing the children to speak misguided as I am.
Ooh, look...this must be a communications major!
Lol, my sarcasm alarms are ringing. However, the term "right-wing" is a political term. And again, I do agree with the gist of your comment. PBUY.
Anyone who believes atheism is a religion does not understand either word.
"It is so interesting how so many people now use the thera'peutic language of recovery – "recovering" from organized religion. The group American Atheists describes anguish and toil as the "first step" of "coming out," making the an'alogy with gays coming out the "closet," as though somehow atheists are oppressed today in America."
Are atheists not oppressed? It may not be inst'itutionalized oppression, but it is still oppression. Everywhere we look religious propaganda is forced upon us. We're told that we're waging a war against Christianity (or Christmas, or Easter, etc., etc. – you'd think Christians were the ones being oppressed), though nothing could be further from the truth. Even if we were, it would be a war of defense, not aggression. Studies show that we atheists are mistrusted as much as rap'ists (http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/religion/story/2011-12-10/religion-atheism/51777612/1), though nothing has been done to deserve this.
And yes, religion is a disease. One that the whole of modern society needs to recover from. If you compare historically the amount of good that has been done by religion (charity, scientific advancement, art, etc.) to the amount of harm (war, hate, terror, oppression, etc.) the scales will tip definitively toward the latter. Christopher Hitchens stated that religion is child abuse, and I have no reason to disagree with him. Exposure to religion, especially Christianity, creates an undue burden of mental anguish on a child by making them believe that unless they behave in a certain way they are doomed to eternal torture. At other times, children are raised in an environment of religious extremism leading to intolerance, hate, terror and oppression. Therapy is need to allay the effects of other types of disease and abuse, why not religion?
a majority of the population receives religious indoctrination (brainwashing) at a young age. they are constantly threatened with expulsion from the community and eternal torment for non-believers. that is a difficult burden to overcome.
Amniculi, another word for hindu Judaism, criminal self center ism, denial of truth absolute, way of hindu Magi's, criminal tricksters to offer same hinduism, absurdity with a new label,
Lol, hinduism by Judaism self center ,secularism source of hindu filthy hinduism, racism = absurdity with a new label
Thanks for the comment though.
Could someone get the hinduism troll a subscription to hooked on phonics or something?
Here in Québec, religion has become very moderate... most people baptise their kids...but mostly as a sort of tradition to gather family members to celebrate...almost noboday goes to church (most churches are abandoned or are turned into condos)... most people are catholic but are under the impression that that is enough to get a place in heaven... no praying...confessing required... Holidays are again a family affair...Christmas is gift giving and easter is all about chocolate...just about no one scare their kids with hell crâp and such non-sense...
Nick, I wish we could say the same here.
yes amnu.... I was extremely surprised when I first heard that Americans youths are so devout...here almost exclusively senior citizens still believe enough to practice...
"Spirituality" in a country such as the US is a little hard to live to its fullest. Most people in the US are materialistic in one way or another and even many of those people who don't have much wish they could be materialistic. The major religions are all about materialism nowadays and have been for a long while. Materialism and spirituality don't go well together.
PS. The greed of a few will ruin an entire country, especially in the age we are living in.
Seeing that there is no absolute definition, in a relevant sense, to spirituality, I see no reason why spirituality and materialism have to be mutually exclusive.
The author simply strung words together into strings such that a computer would recognized the word sequences as being syntactically correct English.
Like all philosophical discussions, meaning was absent, as were answers - or even real questions?
Actually what he was saying was that anyone who doesn't worship the way he does is unacceptable.
..."recovering" from organized religion. Is this not correct? Since many, if not most Americans were "culturally indoctrinated" into religious beliefs (or brainwashed) in our formative years. Sounds quite appropriate to me.
Spiritual Facts: God (Source) is Unconditional Love. God is in you. You are not separate. You have a direct connection to God and everyone else. God is Beauty, Peace, Harmony, Truth, Patience, Kindness, Humility, Giving, Merciful, Creative, Sharing, Compassionate, Understanding, Forgiving, etc.
What is Beauty to you? Do you seek Truth? Are you Patient? Are you Kind? Are you Humble?....
The degree of your Spiritual evolution is determined by the answers to these questions.
All those things are easy to feel without a god.
that is a lovely sentiment, but not really supported by anything.
I think it is actually very simple. Organized religions and their churches usually run some type of activities within their communities that are volunteer driven; free clinics, soup kitchens, food and clothing drives, etc. I think that many of the "spiritual but not religious" folks simply don't want to be expected or even asked to participate in an activity sponsored by the church. It might actually require some effort on their part.
In Spain, the Catholic Church used to ask for volunteers to run a community program called 'The Inquisition'. They stopped after they had a hard time signing anyone up because everyone was 'spiritual not religious'.
Please, it has to do with the Dogma of the religion not volunteer work
ron – nonsense. stop trying to use a self gratifying argument to try to make "religious" appear charitably superior.
the "spiritual" grouping almost invariably disagrees with the dogmatic inflexibility of religious organizations.
None of the things you listed require religion, they all can be done without it. There are many secular charities and volunteer organizations. The nice part about secular soup kitchens is they don't require the needy to listen to their beliefs before getting fed.
And some of us come from religious experiences that did none of that. In fact, you will never see an organized group of Jehovah's Witnesses doing anything for their community. One doesn't have to be affiliated with a church, or be spiritual to do those kinds of things. Nice try with the guilt and assumption though.
This guy needs to get a life.
Now I'm even more confused as to the author's purpose for their original article and this follow-up.
Was the original article just an intellectual experiment? Did he pose his theme of organized religion is better than "spiritual but not religious" just to get varied reactions to use for the lecture series he did the next day? Did he actually believe what he originally wrote or was it just bait on his fishing line to get what he wanted from commenters?
Is there a God?
Is religion better than spiritual but not religious?
Can God make a rock so heavy he can't lift it?
Republican or Democrat?
Creamy or chunky peanut butter?
Dogs or cats?
Fries or Onion rings?
Star Wars or Star Trek?
Team Edward or Jacob?
I'm so confused....Can I go home now. My little head hurts!
see the answer to the first question
independent (probably negative to the author because it doesn't choose a doctrine)
both, and Mass Effect
death to Twilight.
Live long and prosper for the force is with you
Who are Edward and Jacob?
Jeez, I thought we had to stick with the options given. I want to change Democrat to Green. Everything else can remain.
In Latin “A” means not or without and “theist” means religious, so atheist is just “not religious”. It may seem too many Christians that 'I'm spiritual but not religious' is a cop-out," because their narrow definition of god and spirituality. Religion is a man made concept so being religious does not mean you follow Gob but a man created dogma. Spiritual just means discover the essence of being. I’m not sure if it’s possible to be Spiritual and religious sense religion is just discovering what some else tells you.
I think he was trying to define atheist as a unified belief systems, and put them in a box he could understand them.
James, I like this post. Again, I suggest you read the Wikipedia article on spirituality. You will see another perspective (that of whoever or whoevers [SIC] wrote the article).
Atheism has nothing to do with word religion but denial of truth absolute, being truth god himself. self sustained.
it may also seem (to this atheist) that 'I'm spiritual but not religious' is a cop-out," for those people who having rejected organized religion don't replace it with deterministic set of beliefs. There are a lot of people who hide under the label "spiritual but not religious" without knowing or even trying to know what they believe in, because this label is both appealling and socially acceptable.
Just like blind followers of religion who cleave to the label "Christian" (or whatever) people who blindly cleave to "spiritual but not religious" without bothering to define exactly what that is are avoiding the tough questions.
Please understand that I am not talking here about people who are on a genuine journey of spiritual exploration.
Faith (or spirituality) is the belief in a higher being – a deity. Jews have faith. Christians have faith. Mormons have faith. Even Muslims have faith. Religion is the politicization/bureaucratization/canonization of faith. What's funny/sad about this is that, if you are of Christian faith, Jesus railed against just this. See Matthew 23:15. I think "Religion" as it were, has done more to turn people away from God than to bring people in. Spirituality is and should be the personal search of a relationship with God. Those that say they are spiritual but not religious are merely stating that their faith is in God not in a man made construct purporting to be the gatekeeper to that relationship. Put your faith in man and you will be disappointed.
spirituality has nothing to do with faith or belief in a higher being
I have to disagree. That is an essence of this discussion.
In this context spirituality is very much about believing in a mystical higher spirit of some kind.
James would it be too much trouble for you to visit Wikipedia?
Spirituality doesn't have to relate to faith or a higher being but it can. While Wikipedia is not a legitimate academic original source, it can be used for academic observation - the article exists and it was presumably written by a human. Spirituality can have several meanings when we get specific. Jew4Jesus is (almost certainly) correct from his perspective.
James, you are free to redefine words however you want but please don't blast people when they correctly use a common meaning of a word.
Hugo, James wasn't blasting anyone...unless I completely missed some other post he made.