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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 (241-247):
turtle68
by Mahinaarangi on Oct. 5, 2012 at 2:11 AM

 Damn...what a load of crap. 

How can this article even reflect those cultures that have always been spiritual and never religious?

 

FrogSalad
by Sooze on Oct. 5, 2012 at 5:03 AM

Very well-written.  I agree with most of it except what I highlighted in red.  As a rational materialist, I and others very much care about society and the future for the simple fact that we know this is the one and only life we have and we want to leave a better world for our children and the generations to follow us. 

Quoting just1kasz:

I have found following this thread very interesting.  I am thinking about a post responding to several of the pervious posters.  In preparation for  writing that post, I re-read the editorial / opinion piece by Mr. Miller as posted by Punky.  I don't know if she edited any of it before posting, so I am only going according to what's written in CM.

 I find it full of flaws in thinking. 

 He seems to think he can tell us what people who identify themselves as "spiritual but not religious" (SBNR) believe, but he doesn't say how many people like that he has talked with about this very subject.

 He then goes on to say that SBNR believe they can have a better relationship than one that is "coerced via a large institution like a church".  Question for Mr. Miller:  Better relationship with whom or what?  

 What does he mean by "like a church"?  If he means organized religion, he should say so, because the only organized religion associated with church is Christianity.  And if he means Christianity he should be specific.

 But I would not assume that all those who describe themselves as SBNR are Christian drop-outs.  Perhaps as many of the posts suggested, SBNR are those who have found themselves disillusioned by the approach of the particular religion they acquired from their parents (if any) and any other religious institutions or people they may have come into contact with.

And what does coercion have to do here?  Membership in a church or religion is a matter (usually ) of free choice.  One is free to leave, to explore, to choose.  Even if a government or religious institution is coercing behavior or conversion, one can refuse and face the consequences (death, imprisonment) or one can go "underground" and practice in secret.

 I do not believe we are obligated to "fit into something handed-down to us".  Maybe as children our parents can "drag" us to some kind of religious education or worship service. On the other hand as adults, it is our responsibility to study, accept or reject.  Nothing including religion or spirituality is given to us on a silver platter.

 He is troubled that SBNR doesn't have a set of beliefs or practices.  He is still trying to put round pegs into square holes.  He then suggests that wanting people to have a set of beliefs is seen as old fashioned.  He next implies (with out saying why)that he feels old fashioned is better.  But why? And for whom?

Considering that he is criticizing SBNR people, it is a bit surprising that he then puts down "mega-churches". 

 I again question that he brings in Christianity and the Bible.  Some one SBNR could be Christian but could also just as easily be Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Native American, Buddhist, etc, etc.

 Again his main approach is one of assumption and implication.  He brings in the concept of sin as something that eventually leads to self-improvement implying that SBNR are not concerned with self-improvement.  I whole-heartedly disagree.  In my experience the people I have met who claim SBNR are very concerned with personal growth and self improvement.  He claims that SBNR don't take a stand.  I think that's ironic, because I think saying "I am spiritual but not religious" is a stand.  It is a stand that says I have a concern for the spiritual part of life but I do not identify with any formal religion.  I personally have no problem with that stand.

 Next he brings in modern science and seems disappointed that SBNR won't take a "literalist" view of the world.  So does Mr. Miller advocate "creationism"?

 His next paragraph makes no sense to me in light of what just preceded it.  Now he seems bothered  that the SBNR don't abandon their belief in the spiritual. Now it seems he prefers they accept a rationalist, materialistic view of the world.

 His next implication is that ONLY a rationalist and materialist world view promotes human responsibility to themselves and one another for their actions - and for the future.   This is totally false.  The rational materialistic approach is the least likely world view to promote personal responsibility to society and the future.  On the other hand both organized religion and spiritual approaches focus on personal responsibility. 

His final conclusion (exhortation) is choose between organized Christian religion or scientific reason.  This reflects that he doesn't even consider SBNR as a valid option.  And there are so many options available when it comes to religion.  First are all the well-known religions of the Western and the Eastern world, then there are the smaller less known or even broadly unknown religions.  One can be religious but not spiritual (ie keeping practices but not feeling connected to the Divine (spiritual)), one can be religious and spiritual (both practicing rituals and feeling connected spiritually thru them), one can be spiritual but not religious (and I let each one of you who chooses that terminology to tell how that expresses itself in your life) and there is also the possibility of not religious and not spiritual.

 This is just my response to the article.  It is biased, and poorly written.  I wouldn't be concerned about his opinions at all.

Kasz 



Atheist Mama?  Join us!

How paramount the future is to the present when one is surrounded by children.  Charles Darwin

punky3175
by Punky on Oct. 5, 2012 at 6:11 AM
*standing up applauding*

Very nicely written and exactly what I was thinking as I read through this article the first time. Thank you so much for taking the time to type all of that out and share your in-depth analysis of this horrible article.


Quoting just1kasz:

I have found following this thread very interesting.  I am thinking about a post responding to several of the pervious posters.  In preparation for  writing that post, I re-read the editorial / opinion piece by Mr. Miller as posted by Punky.  I don't know if she edited any of it before posting, so I am only going according to what's written in CM.


 I find it full of flaws in thinking. 


 He seems to think he can tell us what people who identify themselves as "spiritual but not religious" (SBNR) believe, but he doesn't say how many people like that he has talked with about this very subject.


 He then goes on to say that SBNR believe they can have a better relationship than one that is "coerced via a large institution like a church".  Question for Mr. Miller:  Better relationship with whom or what?  


 What does he mean by "like a church"?  If he means organized religion, he should say so, because the only organized religion associated with church is Christianity.  And if he means Christianity he should be specific.


 But I would not assume that all those who describe themselves as SBNR are Christian drop-outs.  Perhaps as many of the posts suggested, SBNR are those who have found themselves disillusioned by the approach of the particular religion they acquired from their parents (if any) and any other religious institutions or people they may have come into contact with.



And what does coercion have to do here?  Membership in a church or religion is a matter (usually ) of free choice.  One is free to leave, to explore, to choose.  Even if a government or religious institution is coercing behavior or conversion, one can refuse and face the consequences (death, imprisonment) or one can go "underground" and practice in secret.


 I do not believe we are obligated to "fit into something handed-down to us".  Maybe as children our parents can "drag" us to some kind of religious education or worship service. On the other hand as adults, it is our responsibility to study, accept or reject.  Nothing including religion or spirituality is given to us on a silver platter.


 He is troubled that SBNR doesn't have a set of beliefs or practices.  He is still trying to put round pegs into square holes.  He then suggests that wanting people to have a set of beliefs is seen as old fashioned.  He next implies (with out saying why)that he feels old fashioned is better.  But why? And for whom?



Considering that he is criticizing SBNR people, it is a bit surprising that he then puts down "mega-churches". 


 I again question that he brings in Christianity and the Bible.  Some one SBNR could be Christian but could also just as easily be Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Native American, Buddhist, etc, etc.


 Again his main approach is one of assumption and implication.  He brings in the concept of sin as something that eventually leads to self-improvement implying that SBNR are not concerned with self-improvement.  I whole-heartedly disagree.  In my experience the people I have met who claim SBNR are very concerned with personal growth and self improvement.  He claims that SBNR don't take a stand.  I think that's ironic, because I think saying "I am spiritual but not religious" is a stand.  It is a stand that says I have a concern for the spiritual part of life but I do not identify with any formal religion.  I personally have no problem with that stand.


 Next he brings in modern science and seems disappointed that SBNR won't take a "literalist" view of the world.  So does Mr. Miller advocate "creationism"?


 His next paragraph makes no sense to me in light of what just preceded it.  Now he seems bothered  that the SBNR don't abandon their belief in the spiritual. Now it seems he prefers they accept a rationalist, materialistic view of the world.


 His next implication is that ONLY a rationalist and materialist world view promotes human responsibility to themselves and one another for their actions - and for the future.   This is totally false.  The rational materialistic approach is the least likely world view to promote personal responsibility to society and the future.  On the other hand both organized religion and spiritual approaches focus on personal responsibility. 


His final conclusion (exhortation) is choose between organized Christian religion or scientific reason.  This reflects that he doesn't even consider SBNR as a valid option.  And there are so many options available when it comes to religion.  First are all the well-known religions of the Western and the Eastern world, then there are the smaller less known or even broadly unknown religions.  One can be religious but not spiritual (ie keeping practices but not feeling connected to the Divine (spiritual)), one can be religious and spiritual (both practicing rituals and feeling connected spiritually thru them), one can be spiritual but not religious (and I let each one of you who chooses that terminology to tell how that expresses itself in your life) and there is also the possibility of not religious and not spiritual.


 This is just my response to the article.  It is biased, and poorly written.  I wouldn't be concerned about his opinions at all.


Kasz 

Posted on CafeMom Mobile
LindaClement
by Thatwoman on Oct. 6, 2012 at 3:04 AM

The order or the definitions isn't their correctness rank, dear.

Graven is a synonym of engraved. They mean the same thing.

Quoting little.worthen:

Actually you are


graven image
noun
1. an idol.

This is from dictionary.com
The first definition was out of my websters dictionary at home.
It says graven IMAGE in the scriptures



graven image
n.
An idol or fetish carved in wood or stone.

n
(Christian Religious Writings / Bible) Chiefly Bible a carved image used as an idol


This is from thefreedictionary.com


hEnglish - advanced version
graven image
n : a material effigy that is worshipped as a god; "thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image"; [syn: idol, god

This is from dictionary.babylon.com


Do you need any more?


Quoting LindaClement:

I think you're mistaken:

graven past participle of grave (Verb)

Verb:
  1. Engrave (an inscription or image) on a surface.
Quoting little.worthen:

Okay. I figured it out. Coins and almost any ENgraved image is okay. You are confusing GRAVEN image with ENGRAVED image.



A GRAVEN image is: a carved idol or representation of a god used as an object of worship.



An ENGRAVED image is: to cut or carve a text or design on the surface of a hard object.



So since I don't worship my money, I'm not breaking the commandment...




Quoting LindaClement:

Your truncated version missed (skipped over, discarded, erased) the rest of it:

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

Quoting little.worthen:

It says no graven image in the likeness of heaven... That doesn't include presidents or birds or presidential monuments or buildings...





Quoting LindaClement:

It's unfortunate that you find that confusing. Yay, you're forgiving. Does that mean that when people hurt you, are you're eager to hear all about their feelings in that moment?

I frankly don't care how perpetrators are feeling, and if they're feeling bad about what they did, my entire answer to them is 'good.'

I have better things to do with the inside of my head than hold grudges --I don't forgive people for them (often, I don't even tell them about it, because it is genuinely none of their business), I forgive for me. I let things go very easily. That's not a god's fault, it's my own personal choice --life learning, wisdom and all that. Considering the incredible frequency of lauded vengeance in the Christian bible, I'm amazed that you attribute your forgiveness to anything related to it.

It doesn't say anything at all about worshipping them in the first commandment that mentions graven images, it declares that you shall not own any.

What it has to do with is taking an a la carte approach to which of the rules you'll claim are 'eternal' and which 'don't count' now.

Quoting little.worthen:

The entire first part of everything you said.... I have no clue what your talking about.. In sorry that sorry doesn't mean anything to you. Thank goodness God is a lot more forgiving than you..







And yeah I have money. I don't worship money.. Unfortunately you have to have money in the world to buy things so... What does that have to do with anything?








Quoting LindaClement:

I have heard of saying sorry, and it makes me angry.

For this reason:

You're a perpetrator, and you've hurt someone else... so the reasonable and civilized response is supposed to be 'here's how I feel.' ('I feel so terrible, I'm SO sorry!')

So?

Seriously?

When someone does something that hurts me, what I do NOT give a shit about is their feelings, not in the moment and not later. Don't care. Don't want to know. Seriously: stop changing the subject.

Fix it. Stop it. Don't ever repeat it. But, really just stop talking about your feelings.

You really don't handle or have any coin currency?

Quoting little.worthen:

Well IMO we are going to sin no matter how hard we try not to because we are sinners. But that doesn't mean sin all you want. Have you ever heard the saying sorry only means sorry if you try not to do it again?









And no I don't own any sculptures or anything like that. i have a peice of wood on the wall that says "i believe in Christ." but thats all. i also dont go anywhere or do anything on Sunday except go to church. When we get home we have dinner which is a frozen crockpot meal, and once in a while we will play scripture memory (it's like regular memory where you match pictures but the pictures are stories from the bible and when you find a match you have to learn bout the story that goes with it)










Quoting LindaClement:

So, you believe this:

??

Do you own any engraved images? You know, like on quarters or sculpture or anything?

You do no work of any kind on Sundays?

(p.s. 'contrite' means 'repentant' so it's hard to imagine how to do one without the other...)

Quoting little.worthen:

No, the law of sacrifice is gone because Jesus's atonement replaced it. It doesn't mean you are automatically saved because Jesus died for you. Jesus made it so it was easier for sinners to repent but they are still responsible for any and all actions they make. You still have to follow Gods laws. Which a lot of them are common sense but not all of them. Keeping the sabbath day holy is a commandment, one of the most important but tons of people go to stores, or whatever and don't even spend 5 minutes thinking about God.. People who don't follow the commandments and don't repent with an honest and contrite (sp?) heart will be held responsible for their actions. The rules like the one I mentioned above may sound minuscule or small to you, but they are not to God, or he wouldn't have commanded it in the first place...











Quoting LindaClement:

Sooo... the OT 'laws' have been set aside because the rules are eternal?

Quoting little.worthen:

Which IMO is exactly what satan wants you to think.













God is strict. God is the same yesterday today and forever.













I care because I love all of Gods children and it literally gives me nightmares when I think of how many people are so far from the truth about God and his gospel and I pray that everyone will find their way. I'm just glad God is gracious enough to give people a kind of second chance on the other side.. I'd still like to see everyone safe and sound in this life though














Quoting SunshneDaydream:

Actually, it's more like we believe in God, but don't believe he or she is so strict and arrogant as to say "believe exactly this or you will be punished".  We believe God is more open-minded than that.  

And regardless, why do you even care what others believe?

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









just1kasz
by Member on Oct. 6, 2012 at 3:56 PM

I can't tell if this is going to thread to the post with the letter to Dr. Laura but if not, this in in reply to the letter to her.  and the question about picking and choosing. 

Orthodox Jews who accept the Old Testament (our Torah/ Tanach) as the Word of G-d and valid for all time, do not pick and choose which laws to follow.  We have in addition to the Written word, an Oral tradition from G-d to Moses and down the ages thru to the Orthodox rabbis of today.  This Oral tradition elaborates on the laws and how they are to be kept , as well as which ones are not kept now because we don't have the Temple or the Sanhedran.  Also, other than the 7 noahide laws (only some of which are in the 10 commandments) , The Torah was given to the Jews that they should be a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation"  Non-Jews are not expected to keep all the commandments found in the Torah.  There are some they may keep and others they are forbidden to keep.  Today's Christians are not Jewish and are not expected to keep the Torah.

But FYI:  The prohibition against clothing of mixed fibers is only for a wool and linen mix.  And yes this law is observed today by Orthodox Jews and No it isn't binding on non-Jews.   These laws; which some find bizarre and picayune, often have some ethical purpose behind them.  Whether we understand the purpose is less important than keeping the law "because G-d commanded".  Keeping laws simply because G-d commanded shows humility, gratitude, love and awe of G-d. 

And yes there are those who keep certain laws because that is what they were taught and they haven't thought anything thru or they do much as rote practice.  But even this keeps them connected to G-d and to their Jewish heritage.  Thru continuing to keep G-d's commandments maybe they will eventually come to a greater appreciastion of G-d and his comandments.

The Torah includes G-d's laws for the non_jew.  These are passsed down thru the Oral tradition as the 7 Noahide laws.  They were actually first given to Adam, then after the flood they were repeated to Noah.  Since the flood killed all the people except the family of Noah, all the world's inhabitants of today are descendents of Noah.  The descendents of Abraham thru Isaac were separated out to be "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." 

There is much more that can be said on this subject, but more on that later.

Kasz

 

 

just1kasz
by Member on Oct. 6, 2012 at 4:00 PM
1 mom liked this

And to frogsalad:

Thanks for your comments, and I stand corrected re rational materialists.   

Punky :  Thanks for the applause.

Kasz

SmileSayCheese
by New Member on Oct. 6, 2012 at 4:04 PM
You can absolutely be spiritual, and have faith, and not be involved in organized religion. That's what I'm assuming the author is talking about.
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