To Be or Not to Be: My Take on the "Spiritual But Not Religious" Choice
For sometime, I wanted to write an article about the "spiritual, but not religious." Most of my attempts to reflect on this spiritual identity never made it to paper or read as rambles about my beliefs. I eventually came across Alan Miller's post on the CNN Belief Blog a few months ago. Miller's article, "My Take: 'I'm spiritual, but not religious' is a cop-out," moved me from reflection to action.
Miller calls for the "spiritual, but not religious" to make a choice. He sees the "movement," a term he finds problematic, as reflecting a generation of individualism. Miller writes,
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.
I found this statement to be true, but upsetting. I agree that "my" generation is self-obsessed. We create our identities via Facebook, Twitter, and even blogs such as mine, deleting and blocking at will what we find to be offensive or wrong. We advertise ourselves constantly, marketing our physical, intellectual, and fun qualities to have friends, mates, employers, and strangers "follow" and "like" us. Our lives center around how we "feel" and the world must contort to accommodate our feelings, exploiting the larger good for our personal sensibilities.
I am an active participant in this self-centered phenomena, there is no denying that fact, because who doesn't enjoy a little ego stroking? I agree with Miller that there is a growing tendency to boldly and loudly state what is wrong with an institution without offering solutions. It is as if we believe that the historical formation of the world should shift in a second because we have a problem, but would rather abandon it for something new than work for change. Yet, Miller's comment unsettled me, because 1) he's talking about me and 2) I read it as the culmination of a call for a simple "this-or-that" world.
In an individualistic plea, common to my Western generation, I wanted to shout, "Not me, Miller! That's not me!" After calming my reactive sensibilities, I realized that I might be the exact person Miller discusses. I have struggled to identify my beliefs since I was in middle school. For many years, I proudly announced I was "spiritual, but not religious." Then something about that expression did not sit well with me, so I resorted to keeping silent. If questioned, my response was "I don't know."
I was at such a loss that even the term agnostic bothered me, because I did not want to be viewed as an unintelligent, toss-my-hands-up, take-the-easy-way-out "spiritual" person. This perception of agnosticism was routinely implied when people would take my lack of response as an opportunity to label my beliefs. This labeling and categorizing, what I believe is a human need to understand the world, is where I take issue with Miller's call for a decision to be made between "a belief in God and Scripture or a commitment to the Enlightenment ideal of human-based knowledge, reason and action." (Please note, I am glancing over the obvious Christian slant of his article, because Miller is clearly focused on disaffected Christians.)
D. Ashley Campbell has a B.A in Religious Studies, and is beginning a master's program in Religious Studies. She currently resides in Chicago, IL and works for an interreligious organization.