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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 (31-40):
punky3175
by Punky on Oct. 1, 2012 at 11:16 AM
1 mom liked this

This should've been my first question when replying to your post: Why do I need church or a religion to have a relationship with God?

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

 

MamaJess9
by Bronze Member on Oct. 1, 2012 at 11:16 AM
I agree completely. It seems she only wants to group others so she can feel like she knows how they believe about all issues. Life is much more complicated than that.

If someone wants to believe "a little of this and a little of that", who is it hurting? Why should anyone care?


Quoting Veni.Vidi.Vici.:

I disagree with her.

Am I wrong to assume that people are taking control of their lives, their beliefs and their own personal dogma? It seems to me that she is interested in placing people into secular societies in order to hold people to their personal beliefs, choices and way of life. Faith doesn't require an audience.

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angelachristine
by Bronze Member on Oct. 1, 2012 at 11:17 AM
2 moms liked this

I think religion is a very personal thing and it's not my place to say someone is identifying themselves incorrectly. If someone wants to say they are spiritual but not religious then fine what business is it of mine to say they are not?

Personally I am an atheist so maybe I'm not as invested as some. I believe in live and let live. You respect my beliefs or lack thereof and I will respect yours. I guess that's somewhat of an anomaly but oh well. 

Stephanie329
by Platinum Member on Oct. 1, 2012 at 11:20 AM
Agreed. Although the phrase "spiritual but not religious" makes me eyeroll a tiny bit (I try to cut that out as I am WELL into adulthood now).

It's probably better then my saying: "um, er.... I'm a believer in God, just not in organized religion".


Quoting Veni.Vidi.Vici.:

I disagree with her.

Am I wrong to assume that people are taking control of their lives, their beliefs and their own personal dogma? It seems to me that she is interested in placing people into secular societies in order to hold people to their personal beliefs, choices and way of life. Faith doesn't require an audience.

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LucyMom08
by Gold Member on Oct. 1, 2012 at 11:21 AM
3 moms liked this

 So having a personal relationship with God, and seeking him out yourself, on your own terms (and with no one forcing you to do so) is something that Satan is controlling?

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

 

LindaClement
by Linda on Oct. 1, 2012 at 11:21 AM
4 moms liked this

But lots of people are.

They like the feelings of being connected to the entire universe, and that there is something else 'out there' or possibly 'in here' ... but object to the bureaucracy that's grown up around religion.

I think what I object to the most about the OP commentary is the position that it's an either/or function. There are, truly, a thousand different places to stand on this issue, and straddling a fence is only one if the person involved hasn't really let 'organized religion' go.

LindaClement
by Linda on Oct. 1, 2012 at 11:22 AM
2 moms liked this

Ha ha ha...

Stop being logical. You're not going to fit in :D

Quoting LucyMom08:

 So having a personal relationship with God, and seeking him out yourself, on your own terms (and with no one forcing you to do so) is something that Satan is controlling?

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

 


MamaJess9
by Bronze Member on Oct. 1, 2012 at 11:22 AM
3 moms liked this
My issue with this is, it takes humans to interpret all those "rules". Even if they came from God, they had to be translated and recorded, and through the years re-translated, by humans who are fallible. The Catholic church has many rules that are never mentioned in the Bible at all! Who came up with them? Humans.

I would never judge someone who has read the Bible and lives according to what they believe the Bible tells them. However, what happens when that person cannot find a church that interprets the Bible the same way?


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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LucyMom08
by Gold Member on Oct. 1, 2012 at 11:24 AM

 Sorry, it's a character flaw...I've been working on it ;)

Quoting LindaClement:

Ha ha ha...

Stop being logical. You're not going to fit in :D

Quoting LucyMom08:

 So having a personal relationship with God, and seeking him out yourself, on your own terms (and with no one forcing you to do so) is something that Satan is controlling?

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

 


 

LindaClement
by Linda on Oct. 1, 2012 at 11:25 AM
6 moms liked this

I suppose it has to do with whether or not you believe the 'rules' have ever had anything to do with that god.

Lots of people believe in the idea of god/creator ... but not the words people have built up around it.

... including a lot of people who don't believe at all in anything to do with Satan, demons, evil or hells.

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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