Friday, October 5, 2012

Not spiritual OR religious

Alan Miller wrote an article for CNN called "'I'm Spiritual but Not Religious' Is a Cop-Out." I admit to having a hard time locating the main thrust of his argument, but it seems to be 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." Christianity, on the other hand, "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." He feels that spirituality is mere "fence-sitting," and the implication seems to be that Christianity is better.

Here he tries to clarify his thoughts based on the comments people have left, and talks more extensively (and disdainfully) about the "new atheism." He repeatedly describes atheists as angry, and possibly a bit whiny:

"The disenchantment with belief and a commitment to some wider authority has also had an impact on the self-described new atheists, who are furious that anyone could have the audacity to believe in something bigger than themselves.

"The group American Atheists describes anguish and toil as the 'first step' of 'coming out,' making the analogy with gays coming out the 'closet,' as though somehow atheists are oppressed today in America.

 "It strikes me that having an opt-out plan should have something more than simply a negative, whether it's a 'spiritual' one or a 'new atheist' negative. We live in an age where many are disillusioned with institutions and humans generally, yet not so evident is a positive alternative."

I admit that despite the clarifications, I'm still not sure what the heck his point is. He claims, "I don't happen to believe in a religious 'one true way' and in fact am not religious myself," and yet he seems to be arguing that atheism and "spiritual-but-not-religious" are somehow lacking an ineffable quality of positivity which can presumably be found in Christianity.

But here's the thing. Why should "an opt-out plan... have something more than simply a negative"? What if there is simply no positive to be found? There's no point in reaching for great spiritual truths if they're in fact all just myths. Fiction is fiction, and wishing for it to be real won't somehow transmute it into fact. Certainly we can admire the creations of historic Christianity, from Bach to Michelangelo, but the fact that many great works of art and literature have been based on the Bible still doesn't mean that the Bible is true.

And yet I don't see atheism as purely negative, either. Yes, all the word means is nonbelief in religion, so in a way it's a negative stance. But I would argue that there is in fact something enormously positive, and even empowering, about acknowledging that the Bible is just another collection of myths, and that the truth is not to be found in religion. Tossing off the shackles of ancient and outdated religious beliefs seems like a very positive thing to me.

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