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Religious vs Spirituality: Which Are You?

Religion vs. Spirituality

In the church, there are certain combinations of words that are coupled together frequently. Praise and worship, tithes and offerings and grace and mercy are some examples. What I want to discuss, however, is another set of words that are often paired with each other. Unlike the examples previously used they don’t always complement each other. On the contrary, they have sparked debate and conversation among believers for years. These are two different terms that have been used interchangeably with each other, but upon deeper studying one can see there are as many differences between them as there are similarities. The duo vernacular I am referring to are Spiritual and Religious. With that said I’d like to propose a question-is there a difference between being religious and being spiritual?

Because of the complexity and depth of this question, more thoughts have been spawned while in pursuit of trying to answer my original question. I’ve always believed once someone “found” religion they would simultaneously find spirituality as well. Most religions have some sort of reading material associated with it so the follower can know more about it, and/or know how to conduct him or herself according to the standards of that religion. So, theoretically, through the reading (which is a requirement or expectation of religion) shouldn’t or wouldn’t a person’s level of spirituality increase in the process?

To answer these questions and also understand how the terms Spiritual and Religion relate with each other we have known what their individual definitions are. According to Merriam-Webster, Religion is defined as:

1 a: the state of a religious <a nun in her 20th year of religion> b (1): the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2): commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance. 2: a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices 3 archaic: scrupulous conformity: conscientiousness 4: a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.

So what does that mean? Well let’s start by looking at this definition. We see it involves the act of worship, which may suggest a physical action such as singing or prayer. But let’s look at the second definition for a moment. The words I want to zero in on are “institutionalized system.” For any institutionalized system to be functional or successful, its instructions, mission, rules, and/or agenda must be understood by the members of that institution. One effective way the understanding of religion can commence is through the distribution of the material associated with it. More specifically, through the teachings, discussions, and spreading of the content of the appropriate text. (There are various religious books, such as the Bible, Quran, Lotus Sutra, etc. that are utilized for this process). What these books do is ensure the attitudes and beliefs mentioned in definition #2 are adopted by its readers. It also serves the purpose of making religion systematized. Although there are multiple religions in existence, each one has a standardized arrangement of instructions so its members can, or should, share similar behavioral traits with each other. Last, it is the accumulation of these actions that lead to the “conformity” as mentioned in definition #3. All in all, a major staple of religion are the rules that govern its followers, when he or she decides to confirm, or join, a religion.

But it is those written rules, the idea of conformity and other viewpoints that contribute to the negative stigma some people associate with the term religion. Various people believe the institutionalization of religion has been misused to push numerous agendas, such as control. Other people are under the belief the true interest of religion is generating money, which becomes a higher priory than the spiritual well-being of the members/followers. The last point to be made is how some people view the presentation of what religion entails. The positive aspects of religion, such as love, compassion, and equality, are often overshadowed by what many perceive as the “negative” aspects, such as consequences, punishments, and contradictions. A part of living under the umbrella of religion is the idea that the follower is obligated to obey the rules which govern that denomination. If that doesn’t happen, one would run the risk of being punished by the God he or she serves. In the eyes of those who are critical of religion, it’s the promotion of punishment and condemnation that makes people accept religion in their life. Their participation is fueled by fear. Last, it is a common belief that some church going folks can get so caught up in laws, rules, positions, and rituals of their religion that they forget a primary benefit of attending service in the first place – making themselves a better person. Some leaders and members may have a habit of ignoring their own sin/short comings while condemning others, and they treat the members of the church in a way unbecoming of their title. In other words, they can’t see the forest for the trees.

Let’s change gears a little bit and talk about spirituality. Being spiritual is defined as:

1: of, relating to, consisting of, or affecting the spirit : incorporeal <spiritual needs> 2a : of or relating to sacred matters <spiritual songs> b : ecclesiastical rather than lay or temporal <spiritual authority> <lords spiritual> 3: concerned with religious values 4: related or joined in spirit <our spiritual home> <his spiritual heir> 5a : of or relating to supernatural beings or phenomena b : of, relating to, or involving spiritualism : spiritualistic

Spirituality is a different ball game. The definition for spirituality isn’t as clear cut as it was for religion, but we can still break it down. But the first thing I want to point out is what it doesn’t say. It doesn’t mention anything about institution. Therefore, spirituality, standing alone, does not incorporate a systematic architecture. Now for the definition break down. The first thing to note is the word incorporeal, which means without body, form or substance. So we now know spirituality deals with an intangible force. Definition #1B mentions the word ecclesiastical, which means part of the church, and not secular, or worldly. Altogether spirituality is a sacred entity related to the church or (and higher power) while encompassing religious ideals in the absence of organizational structure. But what role does spirituality play in the lives of the believer? Where does it originate from?

Spirituality focuses on the intimacy of the relationship with the God a person serves. It is, for some, a form of liberation from organized religion. It is a way where one can still enjoy being in God’s presence without dealing with the “politics” of the church, mosque, temple, etc. However, people who tend to classify themselves as “spiritual” are often accused of ignoring some of God’s rules and following other ones to suit their own personal interests. For example, some people who fall in this category would choose to not attend service on a regular basis, or give money in church. For some believers, not having a set of rules or boundaries present in their lives them leaves them with the option of making their own rules, or at the least, allows them to make the determination what’s worth following and what’s not.

Now that we have addressed both religion and spiritualty, back to my question - is there a difference between being religious and being spiritual? I would like to vote yes, there is. I believe that the spirituality of a person’s faith deals with the relationship between the person and their God, while the religious aspect keeps the person, and their spirituality, balanced with a set of governing rules and guidelines provided by the chosen religion. I also believe that even though there is a difference, a person can definitely be both. When I was younger, I used to go to church because my parents made me. At that time, I was living a religious life, but was spiritually empty because I wasn’t getting anything out of the service. Now that I am older, I have developed, (and still improving) my own relationship with God. Consequently, because of my desire to grow spiritually I want to go to church more often. So to me, I am spiritual because I have a relationship with God, (which mostly revolves around following the scriptures of His holy word) but I’m also religious because of the doctrine I follow in the world of Christianity, such as simply attending church regularly or paying my tithes. The only question left to ask is which one are you?

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