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Some commenters accused me of outdated and dangerous dogmatism in sticking up for traditional religion.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.
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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.
Both your articles seem stuck on several points:
You state or imply that to be "spiritual" without being "religious" means to be wishy-washy or to have opted-out in a negative response to the honest challenges that religion represents. Nonsense. One can be extremely disciplined and evolved morally and spiritually without being overly religious. I know such people.
That "spiritual" means I can do or believe whatever I want without concern for anyone else's point of view because "everything is relative." Nonsense. That "everything is relative" may be true, but "relative" to what? Relative to you. Relative to me. If I do something stupid or immoral, I will suffer the consequences. I can believe in those consequences or not, just as I can believe in gravity or not, but suffer I will suffer or be happy just the same depending on my actions.
I consider myself both spiritual and religious. Why does one have to be either spiritual or religious? Both have strengths and weaknesses. Being spiritual can mean living without the structure of a religious tradition, but it does not have to be that way. The Hindu tradition certainly has religious aspects to it, but very little organization. Even in the West young people used to go to a "Master" to learn a trade. Now that tradition has mostly been lost. In the East that "Master"/student relationship included spiritual training. That tradition continues even now without being strictly organized in a religious sense.
Being religious can also mean being dogmatic, but it doesn't have to. Some religions are very tolerant of other points of view. Other religions are extremely narrow and dogmatic. To me former seems useful, the latter outdated and less suited to the times we live in.
It strikes me as funny how people actually try to explain 'spiritual but not religious' at all to these articles. The guy is obviously just trying to harm people with his ignorance and incitement of dissent, confusion, and other negative emotions.
There is not group such as he mentions. People are trying to describe an experience as something that is something like an organized religion (or the opposite of that) when it is neither. It is a made up phrase, to describe an inner experience and subsequent outter life style that is the main goal of most religions to begin with. All religions portray to be spiritual in some essence to it's being – that is what religion is. But noone needs religion to be spiritual – as all are spiritual – or they would be a zombie or something.
The guy reminds me of evil ... he makes your lip snarl up at his obvious power play – and degradation for harm (makes one defensive at his outright defamation of people he doesn't even know nor understand). What a dip.
I can't stand what this world is coming to because of people like him, and what 'we' have already been through, and what the future holds. I would not pay a penny to listen to his hate speech (he actually charges $1000 – $5000 to have people listen to him – about what?)
explain yourself Mr. Alan ... we are all waiting to see what idiot things you have to say about this next time around.
"Organized religious beliefs (even going back into ancient times) have caused more death and destruction than any other organization in the world..."
You hear this all the time by atheists and 'spiritual but not religious' faithfuls. Of course, they have no proof or even any real numbers. They may bring up the Inquisition, but lack any real understanding of the actual count of entire population of Europe during that time as compared to , say, the deaths on D-Day or from the Holocaust, let alone WWI and WW2.
But it makes them feel superior, which is honestly their entire point.
And farts have caused more bad smells than all the refineries in the world, right?
Uh... ever hear of a little event called the Crusades? How about the spiritual cleansing of most of the indigenous people of North & South America? Jihad in the 6th and 7th centuries? Just to name a few outside of the "modern" wars you mentioned. And this barely scratches the surface. BTW... not an athiest, just wondering how you can be so willfully blind.
Wow. Self-righteous Alan Miller STILL doesn't get it, does he? NONE of those 8,000 comments seemed to make an impression. He learned NOTHING.
He is a "believer" and has nothing to learn from anyone, ever...Arguing with a "religious" person is as pointless as arguing with a drunk.
The inherent, fundamental flaw in politcs, which NOBODY is addressing, is that there is supposed to be a SEPARATION of church and state. Political decisions (i.e. voting) should never involve a religious justification. It's very discouraging when you hear someone say they voted for a candidate "because he has good Christian values." That's someone you should vote to lead your church group, not hold public office. We need political leaders who understand real issues like health, safety, economy, and infrastructure, not who leave things up to a ficticious deity.
A total separation is impossible as the majority of politicians, well maybe not the LIberals, have religious belief's that color their judgement. Populate Congress with Atheist/Humanists you say, well there just aren't enough qualified Atheists to run for office successfully. Face it, well more than half the country at least tacitly accepts religion. Since majority rule is the basis of our government, the government is going to have a religious opinion. Whether or not they can separate their political views from their religious views depends on the individual.
A spiritual person is a good person to have in office. America is predominantly Christian so if by the grace of God a politician is both spiritual and Christian he will likely understand the problems of a majority of the population and have sympathy for the minorities. He also will tackle problems with pragmatism. We can make things easier by considering that actual Christian values are spiritual in nature. Let us seek to understand each other rather than stereotype. Christians do think. At least the God we serve is a helper not a stand-aside-so-that-I-do it for you guy. If I am not doing anything positive with my life he will not do things for me. I hope you let go of that stereotype. It prevents tolerance and learning. A block to spirituality.
This is a phrase invented by confused women.
Nicely dismissive, Felix. The brush you're using is too broad, some men are spiritual as well. Apparently, in your universe, men do not get confused or make mistakes. I do not live anywhere near you. I do however live a moral, ethical life and am NOT a recovering Catholic. I have completely recovered. To sum it up, I live my life by the ten commandments as it makes life easier for me. No one gets hurt and I don't get into trouble or make people unhappy. Not confusing at all.
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 encounter are a direct result of generations of inbreeding. Historians have long theorized that the south lost the civil war because of 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.
Spritual-but-not-religious people have thin skins. They're fee to choose their path, and people are free to criticize it. They seem to want to be able to berate other peoples beliefs without having their own questioned. It doesn't work that way.
I think you just jumped onto a bandwagon there partner! Jesus was spiritual but notb religious. So were the Apostles. Why then do you think it is positive to describe yourself as religious? It is sad when i see people like you profess Christianity. Christianity does not mean the gus who go to church but rather those who follow Christ's teaching! Every spiritual person is Christian but not every Christian is spiritual. A spiritual Bhuddhist is a Christian but a religious Christian may well be useless to God!
I think you lack reading comprehension, "partner"
You're free to believe whatever you like, and people are free to criticize it. If you can't take the criticism, you shouldn't be living in a multicultural society. New agers sit and complain about traditional religion for hours, and then act like they're being persecuted if someone else questions their own beliefs.
It's America, you're free to believe what you choose, and people are free to criticize it. That's how it works.
I don't think anyone but Mr. Alan and those like them criticizing this group of people have reason to start bullying these people, and then bully them mor, when they were initially bullied and defamed for no apparent reason to begin with, for standing up for themselves – or worse – act nice and try to enlighten Mr. Alan and others like him so that they might understand better and thus be more understanding and less judgmental. Didn't help a bit.
You apologize first to 'us', then if you are offended by what I just said – I might apologize in return.
is there some real reason why people are being thus labeled and put into a group where there are beliefs are anything like that? What do you have against people who do yoga specifically? this label and this group of people do not even really exist. It is a harmful act for no apparent reason. These are individuals, not a group – you can not generalize in any way.
What is your problem – care to share?
I am at work thats why I am making lots of typing mistakes. The bandwagon is that every spiritual but not religious person is a New Ager. The main problem is that CNN pasted a Bhuddhist or Hindu meditating on its post. Basically that may be true of some spiritual people. I am an Anglican. I espouse Messianic Orthodox doctrines. I am a Lay Pastor and Bible Class Leader. As well as a Prayer Director. Do I count myself religious. No. Why? Those are my religious duties. They are absolutely unnecessary to being acceptable to God. My spirituality is however what I will be happy about. To bear the fruit of the spirit is my goal. To love my neighbor as myself is my purpose. Traditional religion. Where I come from that is Voodoo not Evangelical Christianity. read the Gospel. Where does it say Christ was a religious leader. They were very antagonistic towards Him because he was not in with them. He was basically a layman who had decided to confront the clerics.
Has God forgotten us? Why aren't there prophets today like there used to be? God lives and has not forgotten us. Living prophets once again walk the earth to bring us the light of revelation and scripture and you can see and hear them Saturday and Sunday in General Conference! Tune into LDS.ORG.
Nice advertisement. No thank you all the same
Since we're on the subject, Eat at Joes! Shop Smart; Shop S-Mart!
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
Those who believe and obscure not their belief by wrongdoing, theirs is safety; and they are rightly guided. (82) That is Our argument. We gave it unto Abraham against his folk. We raise unto degrees of wisdom whom We will. Lo! thy Lord is Wise, Aware. (83) And We bestowed upon him Isaac and Jacob; each of them We guided; and Noah did We guide aforetime; and of his seed (We guided) David and Solomon and Job and Joseph and Moses and Aaron. Thus do We reward the good. (84) And Zachariah and John and Jesus and Elias. Each one (of them) was of the righteous. (85) And Ishmael and Elisha and Jonah and Lot. Each one of them did We prefer above (Our) creatures, (86) With some of their forefathers and their offspring and their brethren; and We chose them and guided them unto a straight path. (87) Such is the guidance of Allah wherewith He guideth whom He will of His bondmen. But if they had set up (for worship) aught beside Him, (all) that they did would have been vain. (88) Those are they unto whom We gave the Scripture and command and prophethood. But if these disbelieve therein, then indeed We shall entrust it to a people who will not be disbelievers therein. (89) Those are they whom Allah guideth, so follow their guidance. Say (O Muhammad, unto mankind): I ask of you no fee for it. Lo! it is naught but a Reminder to (His) creatures. (90) And they measure not the power of Allah its true measure when they say: Allah hath naught revealed unto a human being. Say (unto the Jews who speak thus): Who revealed the Book which Moses brought, a light and guidance for mankind, which ye have put on parchments which ye show, but ye hide much (thereof), and by which ye were taught that which ye knew not yourselves nor (did) your fathers (know it)? Say: Allah. Then leave them to their play of cavilling. (91) And this is a blessed Scripture which We have revealed, confirming that which (was revealed) before it, that thou mayst warn the Mother of Villages and those around her
As the Allah, koranic/mosque driven acts of terror and horror continue:
The Muslim Conquest of India – 11th to 18th century
■"The likely death toll is somewhere between 2 million and 80 million. The geometric mean of those two limits is 12.7 million. "
and the 19 million killed in the Mideast Slave Trade 7C-19C by Muslims.
and more recently
1a) 179 killed in Mumbai/Bombay, 290 injured
1b) Assassination of Benazir Bhutto and Theo Van Gogh
2) 9/11, 3000 mostly US citizens, 1000’s injured
3) The 24/7 Sunni-Shiite centuries-old blood feud currently being carried out in Iraq, US troops killed in action, 3,480 and 928 in non combat roles. 102,522 – 112,049 Iraqi civilians killed as of 9/16/2011/, mostly due to suicide bombers, land mines and bombs of various types, http://www.iraqbodycount.org/ and http://www.defenselink.mil/news/casualty.pdf
4) Kenya- In Nairobi, about 212 people were killed and an estimated 4000 injured; in Dar es Salaam, the attack killed at least 11 and wounded 85.
5) Bali-in 2002-killing 202 people, 164 of whom were foreign nationals, and 38 Indonesian citizens. A further 209 people were injured.
6) Bali in 2005- Twenty people were killed, and 129 people were injured by three bombers who killed themselves in the attacks.
7) Spain in 2004- killing 191 people and wounding 2,050.
8. UK in 2005- The bombings killed 52 commuters and the four radical Islamic suicide bombers, injured 700.
9) The execution of an eloping couple in Afghanistan on 04/15/2009 by the Taliban.
10) – Afghanistan: US troops 1,385 killed in action, 273 killed in non-combat situations as of 09/15/2011. Over 40,000 Afghan civilians killed due to the dark-age, koranic-driven Taliban acts of horror
11) The killing of 13 citizen soldiers at Ft. Hood by a follower of the koran.
12) 38 Russian citizens killed on March 29, 2010 by Muslim women suicide bombers.
13) The May 28, 2010 attack on a Islamic religious minority in Pakistan, which have left 98 dead,
14) Lockerbie is known internationally as the site where, on 21 December 1988, the wreckage of Pan Am Flight 103 crashed as a result of a terrorist bomb. In the United Kingdom the event is referred to as the Lockerbie disaster, the Lockerbie bombing, or simply Lockerbie. Eleven townspeople were killed in Sherwood Crescent, where the plane's wings and fuel tanks plummeted in a fiery explosion, destroying several houses and leaving a huge crater, with debris causing damage to a number of buildings nearby. The 270 fatalities (259 on the plane, 11 in Lockerbie) were citizens of 21 nations.
15 The daily suicide and/or roadside and/or mosque bombings in the terror world of Islam.
16) Bombs sent from Yemen by followers of the koran which fortunately were discovered before the bombs were detonated.
17) The killing of 58 Christians in a Catholic church in one of the latest acts of horror and terror in Iraq.
18) Moscow airport suicide bombing: 35 dead, 130 injured. January 25, 2011.
19) A Pakistani minister, who had said he was getting death threats because of his stance against the country's controversial blasphemy law, was shot and killed Wednesday, 3/2/2011
20) two American troops killed in Germany by a recently radicalized Muslim, 3/3/2011
21) the kidnapping and apparent killing of a follower of Zoraster in the dark world of Islamic Pakistan.
22) Shariatpur, Bangladesh (CNN 3/30/2011) – Hena Akhter's last words to her mother proclaimed her innocence. But it was too late to save the 14-year-old girl. Her fellow villagers in Bangladesh's Shariatpur district had already passed harsh judgment on her. Guilty, they said, of having an affair with a married man. The imam from the local mosque ordered the fatwa, or religious ruling, and the punishment: 101 lashes delivered swiftly, deliberately in public. Hena dropped after 70 and died a week later.
23) "October 4, 2011, 100 die as a truck loaded with drums of fuel exploded Tuesday at the gate of compound housing several government ministries on a busy Mogadishu street. It was the deadliest single bombing carried out by the al Qaeda-linked al-Shabab group in Somalia since their insurgency began. "
may GOD guide us to the straight path ameen
thats a how muslim love the prophet muhammad (P.b.u.h) enjoy
I thought Mr. Miller's blog was particularly characteristic of a cynical nature who felt an externally dictated set of expectations is more correct than an internally generated interest in feeling connectedness. While desire not to accept an authoritative external imposition is a strong motivation of "spiritual but not religious," there is also the visceral experience of personal manipulation during sermons or services that he does not address. Much of religion is banked on the notion of "faith," but numerous historical studies repeatedly demonstrate the dangers of misguided "faith." The course of religions over history show that "spiritual but not religious" is a common thread in human history, and that those converting to religion often did so by force of the ruling class. Therefore, religion itself was and is often spread through coercion and murder. I believe the outrage at his comments is that he feels that this shift from "religious" to "spiritual but not religious" is somehow unprecedented and may pose a threat. Rejection of externally imposed rules on faith and practice of worship has been a social force since the beginning of human civilization. Anyways, I am curious to see if his position generates its own movement, or if the backlash will kill it.
Anyone who doesn't suspend judgement on the existence of "god" must know something I don't - and you don't. No clear evidence either way.
Perhaps you could suspend judgment on whether others have evidence that you don't.
Is your problem with "spiritual but not religious" that we opt out of the bad parts of religion, and are therefore cop-outs? Because then I'm guilty as charged.
Every day I have to deal with things I can't cop out of. Life, death, laundry, traffic, job responsibilities, family responsibilities, health responsibilities, societal and moral responsibilities (yes those are separate from religious). I CAN'T cop out of things that are real and really affect people. I use spiritual-not-religious to help me deal with those problems not because it's a feel-good-yoga-thing but because like your relation with God, my relation with my spiritual beliefs helps me form moral guidelines and deal with things bigger than myself. That part of religion is useful, so I will use it.
But parts about where people come from, how the universe was formed, whether it was St. Peter or Paul that did this or that, whether or not Jesus married Magdalene or the prodigal son made it home or not, those are STORIES to me. Maybe they contain morals but so does the story about the boy who cried wolf–worth learning, but not worth praying over. So.. what exactly is WRONG with opting out of the storytelling (and war-mongering and womanizing and outdated scientific beliefs) parts of religion?
You say atheists use negative terms, that they identify with "not religious" rather than anything firmer. Ok, but SO WHAT? Why do we need to identify? Wouldn't it be great if i could just identify myself as a person, of a certain race, gender, occupation, ethnicity, etc, rather than a person of a religion? Why is that so necessary?
I am a spiritual Christian. Though I have a theology Certificate , I am a Lay Pastor and Bible Class Leader in my parish but these are not what I count on to allow me a life of victory. Spirituality is the answer for me. Religiosity is just an attemt to codify spiritual experience. However this is inferior to spirituality. I look in the Written Word so that as I grasp its essence I gain insight into the Spiritual Word. What I can say is that religiosity is a sham. If I rated myself as a Christian based on my piety and religious works then I am wrong. I have to love my neighbor as myself and bear the Fruit of the Spirit to be in right standing with God. Spirituality helps me do this hence I reject religion outright. Left to me all religions do not matter if they do not help a man achieve the path of spirituality. I see a spiritual person as favoured of God!
You just don't get it, do you? Religion does not belong. Period. I said it once and I'll say it again: "Religion fully embraces God. God does not embrace religion." Religion has taken some stance that it has a special place with God when each soul has that special place and there is no need for religion to intervene (or more properly intrude) on a person's ability to speak directly to God. You may not speak to the Creator, but you can certainly speak to the Voice of God, Metatron. The technique is meditation, and when you have advanced yourself sufficiently, you can speak to God.
I would seriously like for you to apologize in a nonharmful manner due to your lack of respect and defamation of a group of people who you epitomize by people who do yoga. It is not ok for you to put these people down as you have done, as many people with PTSD are taught to learn to do yoga, meditation, breathing and relaxation as an excellent way to deal with this deadly illness. You have no moral right to not apologize in a meaningful and non-harmful manner for this one reason alone – if nothing else. Please do so immediately – you could help people who have to bare their skin just to get you guys to pay attention to the fact that these people's family members are committing suicide as a result of PTSD – and this would be better if you actually did it in a way that did not include more degradation, distain, and non-healthy ignorance. It is not bliss – it is hell – and you are contributing to it – or not.
How good it is to know that my Lord reigns!
I didn't vote for him!
You are truly a BJ!
I can think of nothing more overtly narcissistic than making so many claims about what YOU perceive as social and historical reality without providing a shred of systematically and carefully collected evidence to back them up. Your insights are empirically worthless. Waste of time. Just a bunch of pseudo-intellectual, blowhard, armchair, flowery bunk. Your version of reality IS reality. Solipsist.
'Your insights are empirically worthless. Waste of time. Just a bunch of pseudo-intellectual, blowhard, armchair, flowery bunk.'
MrMufasa: This statement is pure gold. I stand and heartily applaud you, sir. Hear, hear!