CNN, notorious for the occasional less-than-academically sound article that makes eyes roll, recently published an opinion piece by Alan Miller titled, “‘I’m spiritual but not religious’ is a cop-out.” Complete with an incredibly stereotypical picture of a shirtless, beer-bellied, probably unemployed white guy with hippie dreadlocks praying on a beach, Miller’s article makes an unreasonably ineffective argument for why individuals who identify as spiritual but not religious represent “some of the most retrogressive aspects of contemporary society.” Highlights of Miller’s whiny, outdated and often offensive argument include his assertions that independence from religious institutions is falsely profound, and spiritualists are cowards of thought because they do not advance a positive explanation of the God question. It is difficult to decide where to start tearing down the ignorant and, ironically, retrogressive wall Miller has built between religion and spirituality.
Anyone or anything that is considered spiritual is simply relating to the human spirit or soul as opposed to material possessions. Interestingly enough, one of the highest commandments of the Christian God is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart … soul and … mind” (Mark 12:30). The apparent delineation of spirituality as an entirely separate entity from religion is a false dichotomy. Religion is intrinsically linked to the conception of the spirit and soul, and to criticize a population for consciously choosing a certain undiluted and inherently deeply personal aspect of religiosity is fundamentally inconsistent with the principles and values that we, as a progressive society, should vigorously defend. This isn’t just a question about freedom of religion; the very notion that our generation is increasingly turning to independent thought and personalization of belief in an arena that has been conventionally dominated by dogmatic, intolerant, one-size-fits-all perversions of texts that are aggrandized versions of Aesop’s Fables should be seen as a symbol of progress rather than an abdication of any sort of moral code.
What is most disquieting about the anti-spirituality argument is its attempted invasion of the minds of those who self-identify as spiritual and the attack that somehow their individual relationship to any sort of higher being — or lack thereof — is inherently less profound than the same relationship for Christians, Jews, Muslims or even atheists. But one of the most useless arguments in the history of man is one individual trying to convince another that his faith is wrong and his beliefs are flawed. This holds true for spirituality as well. The fact that nobody is committing crimes against humanity in the name of spirituality does not imply that these people do not believe just as strongly as the religious that their values are morally just and personally fulfilling.
Richard Feynman once said, “I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong … I don’t have to know an answer. I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things.” Miller’s premise that spirituality is false because it advances no single explanation for our existence and the unknown that accompanies that existence is laughably demonstrative of the irrationality of his entire argument. Why is his explanation the legitimate one when the nature of the question removes legitimacy from any answer? Spirituality is all the more powerful because it does not rely on any sort of fixed text or personified God to explain the grandiosity of existence; is that not the point of life? The message is this, Mr. Miller: leave our beliefs — or lack thereof — alone just like we do to yours. By the way, I don’t speak for all non-religious spirituals. But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it?
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Oct. 11 print edition. Sameer Jaywant is a contributing writer. Email him at email@example.com.