Spirituality vs. Religion

by Dan on August 17, 2009

spirit-vs-religion

Burke: You equated my spirituality with a belief in Santa Claus.

Cristina: You’re religious.

Burke: Spiritual. There’s a difference.

Cristina: Not to me.


Cristina Yang from Grey’s Anatomy is not the only person to equate the two.  In fact, there are members of all religions who treat spirituality as if it were an equivalent religious competitor.  You can even find books in the Christian section of Borders that say atheism or secularism is a religion.

Odd how “religion” becomes an insult even from other religious groups.

My beliefs about the universe have changed quite a bit in the last 5 years ago.  I’ve explored a number of religions, and found comfort in spirituality.

Of course my atheist friends said that I’d just traded one fairy tale for another.

Are they the same?

No, and I’ll tell you why.

Spirituality is based primarily on personal experience and understanding, while Religion is based on dogma.  Of course you’re totally encouraged to have a personal relationship with God in every religion, but you are very limited in ability to choose your own beliefs about this God.  In spirituality, there is no belief requirement, and no one will snub you for not believing the book they’re reading.

If you’re questioning which category you fall into, there’s an easy way to find out.  Take out your most prized book about God or divinity.  It could be the Torah, the Bible, the Koran, a Buddhist Sutra, or even a New Age Spirit Channeling.

When you open that book up, consider how free you are to say, “That paragraph makes sense, but the one after it is bullshit.”

If you’re reading the Bible, are you free to say that the books of John and Isaiah are true, but Matthew and Jeremiah are completely made up?

If you don’t have that luxury, you are neck deep in religion, not spirituality.

This is the reason why I don’t identify myself as a Buddhist or Taoist, even though those thought systems resonate the most with me at the moment.  If I’m reading the Diamond Sutra, I want to retain the right to disregard anything that doesn’t suit me, rather than take the whole volume based on faith.

Spirituality does not require faith in texts or teachers.  It only requires an open mind to consider the evidence in front of you.

Religion however, requires much faith, which ends up being the suppression of doubt.

Are there New Age people who are religious instead of spiritual?  Of course.  In any thought system you can cling to dogma at the expense of your own spiritual growth and enlightenment.  I see a lot of this in the Abraham-Hicks and Seth Books fan base, who treat every sentence in these books as confirmed fact.  When I read a paragraph given by a “channeled being,” I take each piece of content based on its own merit.  Just because I agree with Paragraphs 1-9 does not mean I will accept Paragraph 10.

Another test of your spirituality is to see how free you are to explore other traditions.  If you’re Jewish, are you ok with considering the claims of Jesus, maybe even talking to him?  If you’re Muslim, are you ok going to a yoga class where they have you connect with divinity using Hindu sayings?

If not, you’re neck deep in religion.  Someone is telling you exactly what to think, and you’re going along with it.  You have no filter on the message.  You just believe.

This isn’t to say religion is necessarily bad.  I think it’s a huge impediment to growth to be religious, but if you’re sure your religion is 100% correct, there’s no reason to look elsewhere.  However, for most people, there is at least a little discomfort with throwing your curious freedom away in order to agree with your pastor.

Spirituality is more about taking what resonates with you and discarding what doesn’t.  I believe that this gives you the strongest link to God, the universe, your higher self, or whatever you want to call it.

More to come on this later.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Stephen December 28, 2009 at 7:40 am

Spirit is amoral. Spirit per se is neither good nor evil. Hitler was very spiritual; he followed NO traditional religion; he rejected Christianity and created his own pagan religion in Germany; he often wrote about “spirit” (or “Geist” in German), and he believed he was doing “God’s work”.

You wrote: “Spirituality is based primarily on personal experience and understanding”

Okay, so if someone’s personal experience and understanding convinces him to commit genocide, is that okay with you?

2 Rose April 14, 2011 at 3:01 am

I like Stephen’s comment above. We need the Sprit of TRUTH. Every religion has a grain of truth in it that makes it attractive but there are different degrees of the truth. Just ask God to reveal to you the TRUTH, keep asking and He will. We need discernment of spirits every step of the way. Many who do things in the name of religion are not guided by God’s spirit of peace and love. Deception and confusion are footprints of you know who, clarity and truth are where God is. To know in one’s heart that the fullness of truth is in your religion is the greatest peace (after due diligence and much prayer first). Try it and see…

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