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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 (61-70):
FrogSalad
by Sooze on Oct. 1, 2012 at 5:18 PM
1 mom liked this

Same here.  I'm not sure I would call it a cop out, but more of a coping mechanism until I got over my negative associations with the word atheist. 

Quoting caito:

When I was an agnostic but afraid to come out as one, I said I was spiritual but not religious. For me it was a cop-out, it was a way to lie to myself until I finally accepted my agnosticism, and finally my atheism.

Others can do what they want. I don't know how their brains work.



Atheist Mama?  Join us!

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

TCgirlatheart
by TC on Oct. 1, 2012 at 5:20 PM
1 mom liked this
Well said.

Quoting LindaClement:

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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ambertreas76
by on Oct. 1, 2012 at 5:21 PM

I'm not religious.  I am spiritual.  I believe in God. One does not need to have religion to be spiritual.

just1kasz
by Member on Oct. 1, 2012 at 5:31 PM

I am spiritual and religious.  I am constantly seeking ways to improve my character and my relationship with others, and I am constantly seeking ways to improve my relationship with the One Universal G-d.

I do not put anyone down for their religious beliefs or practices or lack thereof.  I accept that in all walks of life, in all races, in all nationalities, in all religions there are good people and bad people.  The bad people do not make the religion bad, one has to look for the core of good within.  If it is not there in x perhaps it can be found in Y.

I was raised liberal/ middle of the road Christian, but left it gradually beginnning in my teens(because I couldn't accept certain standard Christian beliefs).  The world of organized religion within Christianity is huge...a great range of practice and belief from strict dogma to nothing specified.  But that was not the home of my soul.

My soul and I came home 30 years ago to ultra-Orthodox Judaism.  My beliefs are the ones taught thru ancient, and traditional Jewish philosophy.  My daily actions in all aspects of my life are governed by the 613 commandments given by G-d in the Torah (Old Testament)and elaborated on in the Oral Torah.

I also believe that anyone who finds their childhood or family  religion lacking should explore other religions and this includes Judaism...but part of exploring Judaism for a person who is not born Jewish is learning about the 7 commandments for the Children of Noah.

Judaism does not seek converts (though it is possible), so I am not proseltyzing.  Judaism does not think it is the only "right"  "true" religion.   Judaism says, "All the righteous have a share in the World to come.

Kasz

 

brandydesiree
by Member on Oct. 1, 2012 at 5:35 PM
I am spiritual and not religious. And not for some self elevating reason.

I was raised united pentacostal. It was a very strict religion, with a lot of rules. It seemed everything was a sin. However, I always questioned every rule. I wanted to know why it was wrong. It wasn't wrong, it was some man's personal conviction was placed on a church, and it stuck. I don't believe in denominations. I believe that everyone's path to heaven is different. I dont need some man standing on a platform, telling me what to believe right and wrong.

I believe in God, I do not know that I believe in Jesus. I pray to God, I have faith in him, but I am not religious, I'm spiritual.
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AdrianneHill
by Platinum Member on Oct. 1, 2012 at 6:02 PM
1 mom liked this
I think he's am angry atheist because trying to argue the spiritual out of someone is even harder than reasoning them out of religion. He's angry that he had to punch at fog with his arguments with "these people" because they weren't so easily swayed from believing in something ephemeral as they are when believing in something specific with set rules and boundaries
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SunshneDaydream
by Silver Member on Oct. 1, 2012 at 6:03 PM
2 moms liked this

I'm spiritual but not religious?  So what?  I don't think I'm "closer" to God, or more "pure" in my beliefs, I just plain don't like organized religion and it's never been a fit for me.  Why do people care so much about this?

SunshneDaydream
by Silver Member on Oct. 1, 2012 at 6:08 PM
1 mom liked this

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


SunshneDaydream
by Silver Member on Oct. 1, 2012 at 6:10 PM

Try "open minded" next time.  ;)

Quoting LilyofPhilly:

When I hear that phrase I think "flake".


butlerro1013
by Bronze Member on Oct. 1, 2012 at 6:12 PM
1 mom liked this

this article pretty much sums up the entire problem of organized religion for me: that there's only one correct way to believe, everything else is selfish and wrong.  @@

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