Spirituality vs. Religion

One of the classes I’m taking this session is called “Spirituality and Mental Health.”  It’s an on-line class, so everything is done through response to online questions in a community forum.  The first question from this class was really interesting, and I thought I’d post the question and my thoughts here.  So here we go.

The question was:  “What is spirituality?  How is spirituality different from religion?  Can a religious practice be without spirituality?  Can spirituality be practiced without a religious vehicle?”

And I responded:

In the book “The Heart of Christianity,” Marcus Borg (2003) quotes a woman sitting next to him on an airplane saying, “I’m much more interested in Buddhism and Sufism than I am in Christianity.” When asked why, she replies, “Because they’re about a way of life, and Christianity is all about believing. I don’t think beliefs matter nearly as much as having a spiritual path and following a way.”

Right here, this woman has defined a fairly common answer to the difference between “spirituality” and “religion.”

In that great theological film Dogma (1999), the self-proclaimed forgotten disciple Rufus explains that “humanity took a good idea and, like always, built a belief structure on it.” When Rufus is questioned on the value of beliefs, he replies, “I think it’s better to have ideas. You can change an idea. Changing a belief is trickier. Life should be malleable and progressive; working from idea to idea permits that. Beliefs anchor you to certain points and limit growth; new ideas can’t generate. Life becomes stagnant.”

Michael Yaconelli writes in “Messy Spirituality” (2002) that “Spirituality is not a formula; it is not a test. It is a relationship. Spirituality is not about competency; it is about intimacy. Spirituality is not about perfection; it is about connection.”

While I am firmly entrenched in the idea of Christianity, my observation is that most faiths are rooted in spirituality or a desire to be in relationship with something greater (a deity perhaps?) than oneself. We might look at contemporary religion and say that spirituality has been perverted or that there’s a pluralism that isn’t true to the core idea of spirituality. This has certainly been said recently and often about the Christian and Muslim faiths. However this argument is anything but new. It was in the early 1500s that Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door and began telling people that the Catholic church had it wrong, was too caught up in corruption, had walked away from real spirituality, and that true faith called Christians to a personal relationship with their Creator.

In my opinion, both spirituality and religion exist and can be exclusive of one another. However, I find it difficult to see how it’s possible to be complete in faith without both.

4 thoughts on “Spirituality vs. Religion

  1. I’m bored, and sick at home and decided, “Hey, I wonder what nonsense Bob has been up to on that page I never look at…” Leave it to your littlest blacksheep sister to argue with the one “churchy” blog you’ve got on the recent blogs page. Who else would you expect? As you know, I think I’ve always had a difficult time buying into the whole religion thing, partly because I feel it was somewhat shoved down my throat until I was old enough to understand the word ‘Rebellion.’ hee hee. However, I have never doubted the fact that I feel in my heart that there has to be something out there, that we’re not all just floating around aimlessly. I was raised Christian most of my childhood life, and have studied several Eastern religions, both of which I have found bits and pieces that make a little bit of sense to me in my life. However, I do think there is a difference between Spirituality and Religion. Due to my experiences and confused beliefs, I must say that I am somewhat spiritual, as in I believe that there is something greater out there, guiding us in a nonchalant way, and I definitely believe in Karma, you screw up, your gonna get it back. Religion on the other hand, makes me think of organized religion, telling when to pray, what to pray about, and what percentage of your paycheck you need to give every month. B, I expect you to have plenty of arguments for EVERYTHING I have to say about the subject. I don’t find it necessary to be in a relationship with whatever that greater thing is, I find it necessary to be in an honest relationship with myself. I can understand how it may be tough to be religious without spirituality, but I absolutely consider myself to be somewhat spiritual without religion. For a while now, I have considered myself to be agnostic, but who knows, maybe one day I’ll find something that may change my outlook on organized religion. As for right now, I LOVE that I can talk to my big brother without thinking of him as a pastor, but I am also very aware that at anytime, if I required it, I could hold a perfectly comfortable conversation with Pastor Bob as well.

  2. I agree with George; only I like to think of it in reverse giving religion the shaky foundation. That without spirituality religion is a big muddy hole with no substance.
    In addition, I believe there is spirituality in all relationships, not just those seeking a higher power. There is a flow, a give and take, a balance to all relationships that requires a spiritual connection along with the personal connection if the relationship is to delve beyond the surface.
    And for Kat, you should simply consider yourself ahead of the curve. That for you it is not necessary or perhaps even welcome in your life for the rules to be laid out for you. The spirituality you experience in yourself and the world around you is in some ways more true than some church going religious types ever experience.

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