Monday, 11 November 2013

Spirituality vs Religion

I've been contemplating more and more on the nature of spirituality and how it relates to religion.

Often the terms are used interchangeably. Sometimes we use the word religion to refer to any denomination or cultural belief system. We hear people saying I'm a very religious person or others declaring they are spiritual but not religious.

I subscribe to the latter expression, but the impact of that statement has slowly been sinking in to the point where the differences are not only clear but extraordinary!

Here's what I have come to...

Spirituality is the concept of something outside of ourselves, greater than ourselves. Its the acknowledging of a greater mystery to the universe than what confronts our senses. Its often a realisation that we are part of a much larger "something", and are intimately united in some way, by forces we don't understand. More often than not, spirituality is regarded as an extension or expression of love, love being the only universal "thing" that enhances life, brings peace, joy and health.

The desire for peace with the spiritual is a universal "ache", however that may be pursued.

Religion is a whole different thing. Many scholars will give different meanings etc, and I'm aware that this is basically my opinions, but what the heck!

For me, religion is a system or codes, rules and rituals used to define spirituality. It takes a particular way of understanding, based on sociological and cultural paradigms, supported by subjective experience, and even factors like geography and genetics.

Religion is extremely subjective and can be anything from an individual's personal belief system to an authoritarian system that uses various methods of control to unite a large demographic of people.

That all sounds a bit clinical, but its not hard to understand. We all want to have a tidy set of rules and beliefs that are considered right, healthy and normal, that will ensure our health and safety and secure our eternal destiny. Mostly we want other people to sort it out for us so we don't have to think about the hard questions and we'll shift responsibility on to the "priests" (scholars, elders, leaders, philosophers, intelligentsia etc)

In the end, religion controls. It wraps up and defines a certain way of seeing spirituality. It puts it in a tidy box, has a set of written codes that govern thought and performance, and a prescribed "way" of achieving the "universal 'thing' that enhances life and brings peace, joy and health".
The problem with religion is its rampant and horrific ability to turn into dogma, usually expressed through exclusivity and the driving force of acceptance into a superior or higher level of spirituality than all others.

So what to do? We all have a system of "religion" that we use to internalise and express our spirituality (even atheists have a religious process to define their non-belief in spirituality, but that's another story).
Our systems are based on our own deeply complex paradigms, and more often than not, forced into an accepted religious structure (by choice, by birth or by threat).

Religion can be OK, absolutely fine - IF - we understand it for what it is. If we realise its an artificial system introduced to attempt to describe something that is inherently beyond our senses. Christianity is just a religion, like Islam, Hindu, all the others, all with their highly complex systems of beliefs.

The key factor is the "FRUIT" - what is the result of belief in that system? Does it bring life, peace, joy?
Is it love?
LOVE is the one factor that every human being that has ever existed craves. Its the one thing that unites us, the one thing at the core of our identity, of all we are.

If your religion gets in the way of that - if it attempts to control your core yearning for love - begin the unraveling. Start to ask hard questions. Be brave and admit to yourself there may be a problem. Strip away all that is not love. Don't be afraid of turning from a system that uses subtle (or blatant) ways of control through threats of curses and eternal damnation.

Live with spiritual integrity. Learn to see the real fruit of all religious systems.


  1. Jim I have always had very strong and very personal spiritual beliefs- I am not religious and subscribe to no religion. My approach is a humanitarian one I suppose. When I was young I searched and attended many different churches and spiritual centers looking for something that aligned with how I felt.All that I encountered were limiting - they all had regulations and rules which disallowed a full expression of all the possibilities I believed in. So at the young age of 16 I made the decision to follow my heart and live how I thought I should encouraging all people to be the best they could for themselves and to work at being the best I could be. Not easy and sometimes I have forgotten to complete my practices of gratitude and acceptance. However I have been able to look at most situations compassionately and think about what is the best outcome for each individual involved and how can I help that happen. This is my spiritual path to be able to look at a whole situation and see the part we each play and to make the most of that. I am not sure how many people express their beliefs like I do as I have never sought to meet people with my belief set. I felt compelled to comment because I sense your struggle and it need not be so hard. Accepting my love of self and others helped me. Perhaps you can relate to this.

  2. Lovely comment thanks Alley.
    Yes its a struggle, lots of unlearning and letting go. ANd of course, not wishing to isolate myself from so many wonderful friends of faith as well.
    But of course, if they are true friends they will honour my journey :-)
    Love is the only constant - and its the only thing that brings life <3