RELIGION vs. SPIRITUALITY

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RELIGION vs. SPIRITUALITY

The main difference between Spirituality and Religion is the freedom to choose your own path towards enlightenment and ultimately, recognition of our Divine selves.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with many religions and belief systems, except that they are exclusionary and limiting. The main goals and ideals of most world religions are very much the same, but in most we are taught that as followers of a particular belief system, we are right, we will be saved and the others, well, poor unenlightened ones, they will be left behind. If we live by the book and do what we are told, we will one day (in our afterlife of course) attain spiritual unity or understanding with the Divine. Until then, we can only hope to escape punishment or notice or at best, be graced with a heavenly pat on the head for good behavior, from a judgmental god or deity.

Whether one chooses a spiritual path or the path comes to one through the heritage of one’s culture, religion is metaphor no matter what mask it wears. Religion is a metaphor for the finite mind to comprehend the infinite qualities of deity. This deity, at its source, is the same regardless of the mask.   Most of us are in despite need of healing and hope in all areas of our being: mind, body, emotions and spirit. For many of those brought up in traditional religions, vast and seemingly impenetrable walls around our true selves need to be knocked down, sometimes stone by stone, before we can gut-wrenchingly see that the walls are only an illusion keeping us separate from each other and from Spirit.

Most religions, while they contain many truths, are fear-based and deny the miracle of the Divinity in our souls. By doing so, they limit the amount of love we can give to ourselves, and therefore naturally, the love that we can give each other. Instead, we judge, we fear, we hold back – and we don’t even recognize that we are doing so, and thereby we deny the utmost beauty of life itself. However, we must come to realize with our logical mind that religions were originally created to help mankind deal with the great fear of death and dying and mortality versus immortality. Once we understand this premise it is easier to move beyond irrational response to spirituality through fear and to move on to a higher expression of love and divine connection.

There is no one who can tell you how to find your personal truth or your blazing, undeniable truthful connection with the Great Spirit. (God/dess, the Creator, the Infinite, the One, (or the Many) or whatever represents the Divine to you. We are abundantly blessed in the Western world to live without fear of persecution for exploring and expressing our spiritual beliefs, and we should make the most of this freedom. In choosing the paths which best express our personal truths and innermost beliefs, we honor ourselves and each other, and most of all, we celebrate Spirit.

It’s popular, especially in America, to distinguish between spirituality and religion. It’s true that there are valid distinctions between the two, but there are also a number of problematic distinctions which people try to make. In particular, supporters of spirituality tend to try to argue that everything bad lies with religion while everything good can be found in spirituality. This is a self-serving distinction which only masks the nature of religion and spirituality.

Ideally, spirituality emanates from religion, religion creates a safe, encouraging environment in which spirituality emerges and grows.  Religion is form: tradition, doctrine, rites and rituals. Spirituality is content: communion with the divine, seeing the holy in all creatures and objects. In reality, this is not always the case.  Religion gone bad results in the triumph of form over content resulting in rituals without meaning and the exaltation of dogma. Spirituality at its worst is mindless drivel, the egotism of the individual believer, even madness.

In the West, Augustine, Hildegard, Meister Eckhart and Dietrich Bonhoeffer are examples of individuals whose lives were balanced by the experience of spirituality discovered in the practice of religion. But not every person can find spirit in form. Some, like Thoreau and Emerson, eschewed established religion to pursue a universal understanding of truth. Others like Mary Baker Eddy charted other pathways to explore consciousness, in effect creating (though that may not have been their intent) innovative forms. One may be a spiritual person, living in communion with God, nature and one’s fellow beings, without the structures and formulae of organized religion. On the other hand, organized religion is not the ogre some freethinkers would have us believe. Many of the most sublime outpourings of love and faith have occurred within the sanctuary and teachings of church, mosque, zendo and ashram.  Where spirit is concerned, the forms cherished by the many may, but do not necessarily have to, lead to a life of spiritual fulfillment.  —

One principal problem with attempts to separate religion from spirituality is that the former is saddled with everything negative while the latter is exalted with everything positive. This is a totally self-serving way of approaching the issue and something you only hear from those who describe themselves as “spiritual.” You never hear a self-professed religious person offer such definitions and it’s disrespectful to religious people to suggest that they would remain in a system with no positive characteristics whatsoever.   Another problem with attempts to separate religion from spirituality is the curious fact that we don’t see it outside America. Why are people in Europe either religious or irreligious, but Americans have this third category called “spiritual”? Are Americans special? Or is it rather that “distinction” is really just a product of American culture?

In fact, that is exactly the case. The term itself came to be used frequently only after the 1960s when there were widespread revolts against every form of organized authority, including “organized religion.” Every establishment and every system of authority was thought to be corrupt and evil, including those which were religious — but of course, Americans weren’t prepared to abandon religion entirely. So, they created a new category which was still religious, but which no longer included the same traditional authority figures.

They called it Spirituality. Indeed, the creation of the category “spiritual” can be seen as just one more step in the long American process of privatizing and personalizing religion, something which has occurred constantly throughout American history.

It’s no wonder that courts in the America have refused to acknowledge any substantive difference between “religion” and “spirituality,” concluding that “spiritual” programs are so much like religions that it would violate the separation of church and state to force people to attend them (as with Alcoholics Anonymous, for example). The religious beliefs of these “spiritual” groups do not necessarily lead people to the same conclusions as organized religions, but that doesn’t make them less religious.

  This is not to say that there is nothing at all valid in the concept of spirituality — just that the distinction between spirituality and religion in general is not valid. Spirituality is a form of religion, but a private and personal form of religion. Thus, the valid distinction is between spirituality and organized religion.

We can see this in how there is little (if anything) that people describe as characterizing spirituality but which has not also characterized aspects of traditional religion. Personal quests for God? Organized religions have made a great deal of room for such quests. Personal understandings of God? Organized religions have relied heavily upon the insights of mystics, although they have also sought to circumscribe their influence so as not to “rock the boat” too much and too quickly.

Moreover, some of the negative features commonly attributed to religion can also be found in so-called “spiritual” systems. Is religion dependent upon a book of rules? Alcoholics Anonymous describes itself as spiritual rather than religious and has such a book. Is religion dependent upon a set of written revelations from God rather than a personal communication?

It is important to note the fact that many of the negative things which people attribute to religions are, at best, features of some forms of some religions (usually Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), but not of other religions (like Taoism or Buddhism). This is perhaps why so much of spirituality remains attached to traditional religions, like attempts to soften their harder edges. Thus, we have Jewish spirituality, Christian spirituality, and Muslim spirituality.

Religion is spiritual and spirituality is religious. One tends to be more personal and private while the other tends to incorporate public rituals and organized doctrines. The lines between one and the other are not clear and distinct — they are all points on the spectrum of belief systems known as religion. Neither religion nor spirituality is better or worse than the other; people who try to pretend that such a difference does exist are only fooling themselves.

Nearly everyone would say that they believe in a god or a power higher than themselves. Some people profess to belong to a specific religion, while others say that they are only spiritual. Obviously the concepts of religion and spirituality are fundamentally intertwined. There are differences between the two, though those differences vary depending on to whom you speak.

Religion ‘“is a human invention that centers on specific rituals and a set of stories that outline a basic moral code and belief system. Religions often, have a hierarchy of initiates, with those further into the inner circle leading the rituals for the general populace
Spirituality relates to the spirit or essential essence of humanity. People who say they are spiritual are working to grow and better this inner force. Religious people are generally spiritual people as well, but spiritual people do not necessarily have to be religious. They may work to attain a heightened spirituality through alternative methods.

To the outsider, the defining characteristic of religion would be its rituals. Every religion asks certain things of its followers. It may be praying at certain times or the day or week. It may be eating or abstaining from certain foods.   It could be studying from a specific text or even learning certain songs or chants.  Spirituality though is a little harder to recognize.  Today, with the rise of New Age philosophy, many people try to attain a lighter spiritual state, through meditation, chanting, prayer or contemplation.  These practices are also espoused by certain religions.

Religion is a social force for unity within a group. A religion is often referred to as a community of believers. It strives for uniformity of thought and action in its members. At the same time, it provides these members with a community for spiritual and physical support. Most religions have charitable arms that distribute food and clothing to needy parishioners.  Spirituality is an individual phenomenon.  The Deists of the Enlightenment may be the first large group to describe themselves as spiritual but not religious. As secular society became more supportive through national unity and social programs, the need to be belong to a religious group lessened. Many people prefer a more individual approach.

Religion and spirituality both refer to man’s desire to find inner peace or god, regardless of the terminology they use; Religion employs literature and rituals in its worship whereas spirituality uses personalized prayer and meditation.  It would seem to an outsider that religion may seem all about ritual, while spirituality avoids anything that can become meaningless through repetition.  And rituals of religion are meant to foster a community of believers that provide both spiritual and physical succor to it members while people who consider themselves to be only spiritual are generally left to their own devices.

Kathy Kiefer

One thought on “RELIGION vs. SPIRITUALITY

    Building Quality Friendships - Dreaded Beautii said:
    June 7, 2016 at 4:04 am

    […] weren’t going to discuss religion.  I’m talking about things involving spirituality. Here’s an interesting post on what the difference is between spirituality and religion.  Spiritual growth is a personal and individual process.  However, it is influenced by external […]

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