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Spirituality vs Religion

Updated on March 19, 2014
Photo by Karl Bitters
Photo by Karl Bitters | Source

To many individuals spirituality and religion are one in the same. But on the other end of the spectrum, a handful of individuals believe that these concepts can be distinguished from one another. In extreme cases, some of these individuals are even willing to divide these concepts all together to create a lifestyle all their own. As individuals attempt to become more spiritual or more religious, or perhaps both, it is important that they understand how these concepts differ and how they coincide with one another, despite what conclusion they may arrive at in the end. More importantly, it is important for these individuals to realize whether or not it is even possible to divide these concepts without losing out on some aspect of their faith.

Initially, for just about anyone, no matter what their faith, it is safe to say that the concepts of spirituality and religion seem to blend together. Perhaps it is not so much that they actually blend together, but that the key differences between the concepts is not something that is consciously thought about until they are brought up. In order to distinguish the concepts from one another, it is essential that one look at the differences and the similarities between each of them.

Before we get to that however, I think it is important to discuss the concept of the supernatural. The term “supernatural”, quite obviously, refers to phenomenon that are believed or said to exist outside of the natural world. While in American culture, the term supernatural has a somewhat negative connotation in that in lends itself to horror and science fiction; it doesn’t change the fact that it refers to basically anything that can’t be explained by natural laws. Whether or not an individual believes in the supernatural is a different story all together, but the concept itself seems to be rather static and easy to grasp. The concept of spirituality, on the other hand, becomes quite tricky to understand and differentiate. I believe that the supernatural can exist without the concepts of spirituality and religion. Spirituality and religion both refer to the supernatural, which will be discussed later, but if supernatural entities or forces exist, it doesn’t matter if individuals believe in them or not, they are going to continue to exist.

Spirituality, believe it or not, is a relatively new concept. The term spirituality arose out of the 1960’s during revolts against many forms of organized authority, including organized religion (Cline). Unprepared to drop religion and faith altogether, this new category of spirituality was created in order to give “rebellious” individuals an outlet of faith without the pressures and conditions of organized religion and authority.

With that being said, the concept of spirituality has grown vastly since then and can include people with varying degrees of “faith”. The idea of “faith” in this situation is what makes the concept of spirituality so intricate and difficult to define concretely, simply because each individual that defines themselves as “spiritual” has a differing view of faith. The big question: Faith to what? Well, the way I see spirituality, is having faith to one’s self and being concerned with the wellness of one’s own soul. The outlets that each individual uses to maintain one’s self are unique to them and them alone. Perhaps those outlets reside in nature or in knowledge. One individual may feel that nature brings them closer to God, yet they don’t associate themselves with a specific religion. But yet, another individual may feel that nature is an entity in itself, so they turn to the outdoors for their spiritual needs despite lacking a belief in God at all. I believe that both of these individuals can be categorized as “spiritual”.

Lastly there is the concept of religion. Religion, unlike pure spirituality, is organized and structural. By definition, religion is simply a body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices (Religion). While it would be ignorant to say that religion is not personal and unique to each individual, people of a specific religion are expected to follow certain guidelines set by the authorities or the texts of that given religion.

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I’d also like to mention a few things that I personally believe distinguish religion from spirituality. From my understanding, religious followers often seem more outward than individuals that classify themselves as “spiritual”. By this I mean that religions generally emphasize practices such as prayer, dance, song, etc. to express their faith. Contrastingly, purely “spiritual” individuals seem to accept their faith as something personal within themselves and emphasize one’s inner attitude. I also feel that religious individuals seem to focus on a more punishing god, whereas spiritual individuals seem to focus on a more loving god (if it is focusing on a god at all). Religions define certain acts as being sinful or blasphemous, and these acts are viewed as being punishable by god. Furthermore, religions set these guidelines oftentimes to guarantee an acceptance into some-sort of afterlife. Spiritual individuals, conversely, seem to look for ways to improve their life in the present day through ethical and productive means.

Now of course, it can be said that certain spiritual individuals practice faith outwardly through meditation and things of that nature, and certain religious individuals may not express their faith outwardly at all. Certain spiritual individuals may also adhere to restrictions to preserve their place in the afterlife, and some religious people may be more concerned with their well-being in the present day. While there is definitely two ends to the religion-spiritual spectrum, and a given individual can fall anywhere on that line, there is no clear cut division of the two. The distinction between the two is quite fuzzy, yet the transition between them is fluid. While this is an important point to recognize, but it still doesn’t address whether or not the concepts are dependent on one another.

As far as dependency is concerned, I’m convinced that spirituality can exist without religion, although I don’t think spirituality can exist without the belief in the supernatural. Individuals can very easily have faith and beliefs and categorize themselves as spiritual without the institution of religion, but even people that are spiritual in the slightest sense of the word have faith in forces beyond themselves. Whether those forces come from a god, nature, or whatever else…That is irrelevant. It seems impossible to imagine spirituality without some connection to supernatural forces. While spirituality seems to depend on the supernatural, religion seems to be largely dependent on both spirituality and the supernatural. In one of our very first lectures it was even suggested that “animism”, or the belief in spirits or souls that inhabit all creatures and objects, is the basis for most human religions (Kohler). This idea of animism could not exist without the supernatural. Faith seems to be like a sort-of pyramid, with the concept of supernatural forces at the base, followed by spirituality in the middle, and religion at the very tip.

The simile of the pyramid seems to express my views quite nicely, but I don’t believe spirituality is any better than religion or vice versa. Before these concepts were even brought up in class, I have always viewed religion and spirituality as sort-of inventions of faith to help people find meaning in life; inventions to help guide people through life and give individuals a basis for making decisions and dealing with the stresses of life. Whether an individual classifies themselves as spiritual, religious, or none of the above, everyone is going to gravitate to some sort of faith to get through life. Spirituality and religion are the inevitable results of this aspect of human nature. At the end of the day, each of these concepts is open to interpretation and whether or not they can exist without one another is up to each individual to decide for themselves, but more often than not, these concepts are going to coincide with one another as a whole to help individuals create a sense of security, comfort, and completeness.

REFERENCES

Cline, Â Austin. "Religion vs Spirituality." About.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Dec. 2011. <http://atheism.about.com/od/religionnonreligion/a/spirituality_2.htm>.

Kohler, Peter. "Urban Legends." About.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Dec. 2011. <http://urbanlegends.about.com/library/faq/blfaq-animism.htm>.

"Religion." Dictionary.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Dec. 2011. <dictionary.reference.com/browse/religion>.


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    • Logos831 profile image

      Logos831 5 years ago from somewhere, ca

      Well written and thought out hub. You laid out some good distinctions between those who call themselves "spiritual" and those who call themselves "religious" in what they practice.

      I think though there is more to it than as you said, religion and spirituality being a " sort-of inventions of faith to help people find meaning in life; inventions to help guide people through life and give individuals a basis for making decisions and dealing with the stresses of life".

      I view a religion as a worldview- a system of a set of truth claims about how the universe, including humanity, operate. Your definition seems to me to fit more with someone who reads horoscopes or something like that, to get guidance and advice in their life and getting comfort through that. But I enjoyed the article nonetheless, voted up!