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

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

By Alan Miller, Special to CNN

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

By Alan Miller, Special to CNN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what, one may ask?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/09/29/my-take-im-spiritual-not-religious-is-a-cop-out/?hpt=hp_c2

 

by on Oct. 1, 2012 at 7:59 AM
Replies (21-30):
Bookwormy
by Platinum Member on Oct. 1, 2012 at 10:57 AM
2 moms liked this
Although CNN says that the views represent the author only, by posting it, CNN demonstrated that it is not a tool of the ultra liberal left. This conservative op-ed demonstrates CNN's neutrality.

Thanks for posting!
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romalove
by Roma on Oct. 1, 2012 at 10:58 AM
4 moms liked this

 So it's this blogger's way or the highway?  Believe as I do or don't believe at all?

Good grief.

If he wants to reference the Enlightenment, great art and literature as byproducts of Christianity, I hope he also remembers the Inquisition and religious wars and other tortures inflicted on humanity by those same Bible believers.

lga1965
by on Oct. 1, 2012 at 10:59 AM

 Exactly how I feel.....

Quoting GLWerth:

I've never used that phrase, but the fact is, I believe in a god and do not believe that organized religion offers anything for me. In fact, I strongly believe that organized religion is a net negative influence on society.

You can have belief without the rituals of an organization to tell you how to believe and behave. It seems to annoy this guy.

 

punky3175
by Punky on Oct. 1, 2012 at 11:04 AM
3 moms liked this

 So examining all religions, facts, science, faith systems and deciding what works best for an individual is a bad thing?

It's much harder to step away from religion and decide what you truly believe in and what path you want to follow.  Never in all my time as a Christian was I forced to look at myself and "fix" what needed "fixing."  I have had more growth in my spiritually and grown closer to the Divine in my last year or classes on Paganism/Witchcraft than I ever did in my time as a Christian.  I think it's much easier to look at the Ten Commandments (or other holy doctrine) and decide right vs. wrong - someone else told you it's wrong so that's all that matters.  It's harder to step back and think critically about why something is right or wrong and decide for yourself if you want to believe that.

Thankfully the "fear" tactics used by various religions have never worked on me.  Telling me "Satan is guiding my actions" just makes me giggle.

Quoting little.worthen:

I think it's a cop out. It's like you want to have a relationship with GOd but you don't want to have to be required to follow any of the "rules" associated with religion, even if God is the one who made the rules.
To me, being spiritual but not religious is something Satan came up with. It sounds good now in this life, but this life is short and will screw with the rest of our eternity. Satan will literally do ANYTHING to steer the children of God away. Even by making it sound like they are doing something holy.. He has no limits

 

happinessforyou
by Bronze Member on Oct. 1, 2012 at 11:06 AM

Sorry- but I am calling BS on this one. I was raised Catholic and had started raising my kids in the same faith-UNTIL the whole preist/pedophile thing that the Church swept under the rug for YEARS!! THAT is what soured me on organized religion. But I still believe in the 10 commandments and the Golden Rule!

mikiemom
by Ruby Member on Oct. 1, 2012 at 11:09 AM

Right here is the problem, I don't believe in your Satan and many many many people who believe as I do don't use their beliefs to hate other people.

Quoting little.worthen:

I think it's a cop out. It's like you want to have a relationship with GOd but you don't want to have to be required to follow any of the "rules" associated with religion, even if God is the one who made the rules.
To me, being spiritual but not religious is something Satan came up with. It sounds good now in this life, but this life is short and will screw with the rest of our eternity. Satan will literally do ANYTHING to steer the children of God away. Even by making it sound like they are doing something holy.. He has no limits


furbabymum
by Gold Member on Oct. 1, 2012 at 11:11 AM
3 moms liked this

 I've tried almost every church in my area. I will not go to church. I do not need that shit. I do believe in God though.  "I'm spiritual but not religious"

LilyofPhilly
by Gold Member on Oct. 1, 2012 at 11:13 AM
When I hear that phrase I think "flake".
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LucyMom08
by Gold Member on Oct. 1, 2012 at 11:14 AM
4 moms liked this

 I get the feeling that the author is a tad defensive...religious feelings are private, and one can only follow that which feels right to them...no one can force another to believe and have faith...and I can't count the number of people I know who believe in God, but don't like the dogma and atmosphere of church (I live in the Deep South). They aren't copping out of anything, they've made it to the point of defining their OWN beliefs, not letting anyone else do it for them.

 

furbabymum
by Gold Member on Oct. 1, 2012 at 11:14 AM
1 mom liked this

 Yup. In my experience the holier someone claims to be the more hypocritical they are. Sorry, just cuz, "God is on your side." doesn't mean you can be an ass aye. I've grown a lot more outside of the church as well punky though I'm stil what I would consider christian.

Quoting punky3175:

 So examining all religions, facts, science, faith systems and deciding what works best for an individual is a bad thing?

It's much harder to step away from religion and decide what you truly believe in and what path you want to follow.  Never in all my time as a Christian was I forced to look at myself and "fix" what needed "fixing."  I have had more growth in my spiritually and grown closer to the Divine in my last year or classes on Paganism/Witchcraft than I ever did in my time as a Christian.  I think it's much easier to look at the Ten Commandments (or other holy doctrine) and decide right vs. wrong - someone else told you it's wrong so that's all that matters.  It's harder to step back and think critically about why something is right or wrong and decide for yourself if you want to believe that.

Thankfully the "fear" tactics used by various religions have never worked on me.  Telling me "Satan is guiding my actions" just makes me giggle.

Quoting little.worthen:

I think it's a cop out. It's like you want to have a relationship with GOd but you don't want to have to be required to follow any of the "rules" associated with religion, even if God is the one who made the rules.
To me, being spiritual but not religious is something Satan came up with. It sounds good now in this life, but this life is short and will screw with the rest of our eternity. Satan will literally do ANYTHING to steer the children of God away. Even by making it sound like they are doing something holy.. He has no limits

 

 

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