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'I'm spiritual but not religious' is a cop-out
October 1, 2012 at 7:59 AM

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

 

Replies

  • LindaClement
    October 1, 2012 at 11:28 AM

    Honing it or ??? LOL

    Quoting LucyMom08:

     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

     


     


  • Chillisarah
    October 1, 2012 at 11:28 AM

    I do not have a religion and I consider myself deeply spiritual.

  • Chillisarah
    October 1, 2012 at 11:29 AM


    Quoting Chillisarah:

    I do not have a religion and I consider myself deeply spiritual.

    oh and I don't believe in any gods...

  • Iconoclast
    October 1, 2012 at 11:30 AM

    That question is the first thing that came to mind for me when I read the article.  It seems that the need to mold a person's thinking is most important to religious people. 


    Quote:

    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.

    Only that information which is forced upon the people by priests, popes, and their interpretation of the word is correct and true; all else is Satan.  Sounds like brainwashing to me.

    Funny thing is that when you speak to any religious person their first statement is about their personal relationship with Christ. I guess those are just words. ((shrugs))

    Quoting punky3175:

    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

     


  • ms-superwoman
    October 1, 2012 at 11:33 AM

    I find it funny when one person tries to tell another what they are...

  • blackcat1o2
    October 1, 2012 at 11:33 AM
    I think this guy probably should have tried interviewing some people with these beliefs before writing an article on them...
  • mikiemom
    October 1, 2012 at 11:39 AM

    Mind boggling isn't it.

    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

     


  • motherslove82
    October 1, 2012 at 11:43 AM
    I find this to be comical. Jesus was spiritual, but not religious!

    Religion is the belief that you can only join the club if you believe exactly what they believe and follow their rules. I believe in a relationship, not a strictly adhered to set of steps.

  • radioheid
    October 1, 2012 at 11:47 AM

     As God has given each of us a soul and free will, our paths through life will be as different as the patterns of snowflakes. Why, then, would such a Creator give us a strict set of one-size-fits-all rules?

    I give God more credit than that.

    To proclaim a profound understanding of God based upon basic knowledge of a single book of Jewish and early Christian history is tantamount to claiming doctoral mastery of medicine based upon the knowledge acquired by reading a single book discussing the history of treating indigestion.

    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

     

  • kenleespice
    October 1, 2012 at 11:52 AM

    spiritual is something that comes from within and doesn't even have to include a god,on the other hand religion is a made up practice

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