Spirituality Without Religion: An Attack On The Atypical

by The Reply Blog

Alan Miller, special contributor to CNN.com’s Belief Blog, posted an attack against spirituality and those who seek spiritual enlightenment without any particular affiliation to mainstream religion.

Spirituality as a concept is pretty hard to define in a few sentences.  It’s something one searches for.  An exploration of the soul.  Spiritual practices take on a myriad of forms such as contemplation, prayer, meditation, or any number of unregulated practices that appeal to those who don’t follow the tenets of organized religion.  In his article, Miller mounts an attack against the spiritual movement which “highlights the implosion of belief that has struck at the heart of Western society.”  Yikes.  Sounds aggressive.

In his defense of religion, Miller asserts that being associated with organized religion has garnered a negative connotation of late.  Of course it has.  Churches and organized religion have let us down.  The riotous scandals of the Catholic church left everyone reeling in disbelief.  The huge, lavish buildings and the vaulting ceilings of wealthy churches make us question the values of religion.  Being surrounded by all the trappings of power and authority can’t help but elicit our natural mistrust of big business.  The passing around of woven baskets into which we are pressured to fling money feels more like another fee on our cell phone bill than a charitable donation.  Somewhere between Jesus and the Pope, all of those things that make a worldwide religion such as Christianity seem so beautiful has become muddied.

Miller sees unorganized spirituality and its reluctance to adhere to hard and fast rules as weakness.  If you’re not taking a stand, then you’re not standing for anything, his thinking suggests.  Yet that opinion resides at the heart of everything which is wrong with religion today: primary religious institutions take to many positions.  It’s the root cause of countless conflicts worldwide.  Planting standards in the ground and proclaiming with absolutism who’s right and who’s wrong is all that organized religion knows how to do.  There’s no compromise.  There’s no ebb and flow, only sturm und drang.

Implied within Mr. Miller’s arguments is the link between morality and religion.  The two are not related, something that even current political debate has yet to figure out.  Right and wrong isn’t learned at church, nor are non-churchgoers unable to figure out right and wrong, or unable to make commanding, objective, thoughtful decisions about complicated issues.  Although I am not a part of any spiritual movement, I have known people who have been.  Those people were free thinkers who felt chained by mainstream religion.  They refused to be held to a core set of beliefs that they couldn’t make sense of, that felt wrong to them, or which they outright disagreed with.  Spirituals have chosen to untangle the knot of morality and religion—too long thought to be braids of the same rope.  In its place they have recaptured the freedom to discover things for themselves, not to be force fed the same rigid doctrines accepted by previous generations.

The passive descriptions Miller uses to outline what people in the growing spiritual movement are seeking out perhaps sums it all up best.  Spirituals want to “experience ‘nice things’ and want to ‘feel better,'” says Miller.  These are things that do little to incite inspiration or transformation, he accuses.  Doesn’t sound to me like people engaging in spirituality are doing everything possible to prod along the implosion of the heart of Western society after all.  That would be a darn big transformation, something that spiritual people aren’t very good at doing, according to Miller.

In today’s fast paced society of Olympian obligations, constant conformity, and dwindling identities, maybe all people want is the sincere simplicity of feeling better.  We shouldn’t have to suit up and make sure we have cash in our wallets to do that.