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Some commenters accused me of outdated and dangerous dogmatism in sticking up for traditional religion.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.
Thanks Alan Miller, what I have found is a profound hatred eminating from those who claim to be spiritual but not religious, they have NO tolerance for any who are 'different' than they, and yet, the 'individual' spiritualist, is different from the next 'individual spirtualist'.
May, you obviously don't get out much, or you need to make some new friends. You really know THAT many people that you can define how ALL "spiritual" people act as opposed to "religious?" You're as silly and foolish as Alan Miller. Go away.
Turn the tables and think about it...
What a bunch of spin...
No, it's the opposite actually. The "spiritual, not religious" are attacked by the faithful, whether they identify with Christianity the religion or Christianity the "relationship" (?). They are attacked by them just like non-Christians, the atheists, gays, liberated women, and basically everyone else who doesn't believe and worship exactly like them, even other Christians, are attacked by them. How the "relationship" types can be do dogmatic and not consider themselves "religious" is beyond me.
I am spiritual and I have respect for everyone's beliefs. I will hear them out and listen. I actually love listening other peopel's beliefs and will never say they are wrong. It is not for me to do that. I don't judge them as much as I wish I was not judged. I believe if you do good you will get good back. All I see in this artical is him tearing apart people for there beliefs which I don't think is right one bit. I do agree with the others on the whole religion basis bringing nothing but problems. War in the name of God, this in the name of God that in the name of God. And I have always questioned if there is only one God why are there so many bibles and scriptures. Written by men. I find the stories interesting for most part but do view them greatly as well written stories to teach us from right and wrong. Then you get different groups of people who percieve these stories all different from there own point of view and that is what causes the troubles. I really believe everyone has to have some kind of faith in something at least.
Maybe you didn't notice, May, but Mr. Miller is the one doing the attacking... TWICE now. He fired the first shots, as it were, thus he is the one displaying the hatred. He is not merely saying that he disagrees with them, either, he is attacking their beliefs, the kind of character that they have for holding those beliefs, making inflammatory and presumptive comments about liberalism and socialism, etc.
that is an extremly judgemental and foolsih statement
I couldnt even make it through this article because it is so poorly written. I assume the author is trying to discredit all of the comments about his original article through rambling, run-on counter arguments? Fail fail fail.
Guys like him aren't use to anyone not just automatically shouting AMEN to everything they say. Having to actually defend his beliefs is probably very new for him.
All he is doing is tearing down one set of people with a certain belief system that he himself does not understand. If he was to come on here and start to tear down Catholics or Christians which I don't believe he would have the guts to I am certain he would not be writing a second artical about any religion. Religion is a touchy topic with almost everyone because it is viewed so widely different.
Methinks Alan Miller has been humbled by his last spat of nonsense and can't stay down when the fight is over...he obviously needs the last word. Sad.
Like Romney, he's "doubling down" on his stupid remarks and only digging himself into a deeper hole.
There is no "new atheist" negative.
The change is that more atheists and agnostics are comfortable being public about their lack of belief.
The only "negative" is that which is falsely attributed by irrational believers in imaginary beings.
Saying that because atheists don't believe there is a god they therefore are negative is like saying that adults who no longer believe in santa claus are just being negative.
This is just absurd and this guy is getting way too much attention for it.
Why not pick a fight with Islam? Or are the 'Spiritual' an easier target?
He shows disdain and personal anger here. The spiritual are better equipped to handle such negative emotions.
What a lame fight to pick. I imagine he gets a kick out of getting a rise out of people like this. Not a good quality in a person.
If anything, this article is revealing about the author's personal problems and baggage.
What a waste of energy... for myself and everyone who has commented. Ignore this guy and carry on as you all were... happier to what you feel is right. Not someone else's idea of right.
Because Alan Miller is an immature git that can't be wrong. He doesn't know how we work here in America. He thinks he can tell us how we feel and think. Wrong Alan Miller! Now go away before I have to write another fragmented sentence!
Responding to what you said "...as though somehow atheists are oppressed today in America."
Well if you're sitting here writing articles to challenge atheists/spiritualists/what-have-you...It seems to be some sort of attempt to oppress it. Especially when you compare it to gays, who historically have been oppressed through out time until just recently.
I find claiming to be spiritual but not religious to be the usual reaction of people who want religion as a security blanket but who don't want to deal with the baggage that religion has. They don't want to deal with their gods or their "truths" being responsible for some of the most heinous acts in history.
It's as simple as this: religions drive people apart, while spirituality brings people together.
If I say I'm spiritual but not religious, all you know about me is that I don't subscribe to a (mainstream, presumably) organized religion. You know absolutely nothing else about me and my beliefs. So your conclusions are a reflection of the fact that you don't even know what you don't know.
They have no trouble with you being spiritual, but not religious ... as long as you believe and worship their god, Jesus, in pretty much the exact same way that they believe and worship him. Yup, they're not "religious" at all! 😉
Seeing as the author is ignorant of American culture: "as though somehow atheists are oppressed today in America." I tend not to put much stock in his opinions.
If there has been so much conversation about one of the presidential candidate's slightly non-mainstream faith, imagine the outcry if one of them *gasp* actually didn't believe in JC as their personal savior. Such a candidate would never have even gotten to the national stage.
But maybe that's not oppression, just ignorance and prejudice by the religious majority.
The author of this article is the best troll I have ever seen.
He can't pin it down so,it bothers him. He can dismiss the relgious but see the cultural importance. With the spiritual he's trying to grab water, it falls through his fingers and he's left frustrated. He's sharing the frustration by strawmanning.
I mistrust all systemizers and avoid them. The will to a system is a lack of integrity. – Friedrich Nietzsche
1. Spirituality happens through the transcendence of the ego or the "self". You don't need to be religious to do that Mr. Miller.
2. The only thing an atheist agree on it that they do not believe in a deity. There is nothing else that unifies atheist ie. there is no such thing as an atheist "world view." For example, an two atheist can disagree on evolution, or wether there is an afterlife or alternate dimensions.
3. Mr. Allan, you need to edit your essays before you publish them. They are full of nonsensical run on sentences.
and CCN payed you what?...thought so! Let the article stand and just comment on the body, in a way it reflects your beliefs. Your using “Ad hominem” (attacking the arguer instead of the argument.)
It's spelled "grammar". Sorry, I couldn't resist.
Christian, religious, faithful and spiritual. It probably will offend some, but I pray for myself, family and the world every day. The God I worship loves us ALL - in spite of all our flaws and blemishes. Life is meant to be lived. Work hard, play hard and love hard!
Anyone can take a little from all the religons in this world and wind up with a bunch of nothing. being spirital is nothing more than being at peace with oneself. The lord Jesus, and his teaching if followed can give a person this inner peace.
You are delusional. It's just ancient mythology. Grow a brain.
And so can hundreds of other things. The Self-Help section of your local library can offer multiple methods to seek inner peace. Christianity is good for some people, but it's rather arrogant to say that it's the ONLY way.
you need to get punched in the face.
AI'm betting that you want to be the one who does God's punching from him, eh? And people smirk at Islam's claim of being a religion of peace.
And, religion is not a cop-out? From absolving self from responsibility to channeling energy of billions into something completely unproductive. The only good thing about religion is that it still helps build communities by bringing people together (sometimes dangerous ones) and, what I believe, some smart people thousands of year back realized that. Belief is important because it helps us cope with life's struggles, but if you can do it with, say, belief in yourself more power to you. Organized religion has too many bad things for my taste and so I choose to believe in family, friends and myself. Co-out its not, taking responsibility for my actions it is.
I feel the same way about this article as I did about the first. If the author has something important to say, he's failing to say it.
Ancient religions are not relevant to the 21st century. There is no Yahweh, God, or Allah up in the sky watching us live like we watch reality TV shows.
Ancient books do not provide any guidance on how to live in the modern world.
Most Americans go to church out of fear of death. They want to receive a false promise of good luck on earth and an immortal afterlife.
The religious experience, which was programmed into us by evolution, needs to find new outlets of expression. That is what the New Age type religions are all about.
You state that "ancient books cannot provide a guide on how to live in modern world".
So how far back is ancient, my grand children believe 1970 would merit ancient?
Therefore every book before 1970, has no modern relevance?
The sounds we utter define us, choose your words wisely?
Here's my take: who cares? Be religious if you want to, don't if you don't. Be spiritual...or not. Believe in Jesus, the flying spaghetti monster, or nothing. Just don't push your beliefs on me (or anyone else) and treat others as you'd like to be treated and we'll all be fine.
This was a waste of Internet bits. This isn't a forum for callous debates on religion or spirituality by an author that freely admits he has not claim to either side. He provides no true basis for his opinions other than his own limited experience. I'm losing interest in CNN as a valid news media. The once great news powerhouse feels more like a bad rendition of Honey Boo-Boo than news. This opinionated author is just one of the many recent examples.