Is There A Difference Between Religion And Spirituality?
You don’t have to look far to find or hear a reference to a higher power. Whether it is divinity, source, god, universe, holiness or spirit the numerous names for ‘higher beings’ are abundant in self-development books, the go-to podcasts even Netflix documentaries. They’re all talked about in the same context but are they all the same? Throughout my own journey I have found these words are used interchangeably and while I felt connected to some of these words, others didn’t resonate with me. If they’re all the same then why do some feel different than others?
I wanted to dive deeper into what I perceive to be the differences between the two, in order to help me identify why I resonate with some and not others. Essentially, most words relating to a higher power fit into two main categories; spirituality and religion. So to understand why these often compatible words feel different, I thought about what I believe are the main differences between spirituality and religion and what those words mean to me.
Here is my personal interpretation:
- Religious beliefs – the worship, devotion, and commitment to God or other religious faith outside of yourself.
- Spiritual beliefs – a knowingness that there is an intelligence larger than yourself however that universal intelligence also exists within you.
Internal vs External
While religion is a devotion to something outside of yourself, spirituality is a devotion to yourself. Religion views the higher being as separate from yourself, giving the power to an external force and believing that dictates the experiences you have throughout life. There is a “I am separate from” stand between oneself and God in religion, as opposed to spirituality being “I am an extension of the higher power as is everyone else”. Spirituality suggests that every being is connected by the same universal intelligence that is within us all.
Acceptance vs. Punishment
It can’t be ignored that throughout some religions there is an element of fear. Are rules in religion obeyed because that is what one believes is morally right? Or are they obeyed because one is worried about the punishment if they were to sin? Often with fear for breaking rules comes judgment of oneself and with judgment comes guilt, a toxic emotion that is hard to let go of, especially if you are carrying around a belief that you have done wrong. There is a belief that only if we are good enough that our prayers may be answered. In spiritually if one does something that is perceived as morally wrong, it may be seen as being off the path of least resistance or a part of themselves they don’t yet understand. It is a love over fear approach with an emphasis on forgiveness. To many, this could be seen as an excuse to do wrong and not take responsibility for their actions however a spiritual approach to life is based on love and where there is love, there is no judgment.
Experience vs. Rules
Part of the dictionary definition of religion states it as an ’’institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices’’ meaning there are laws and moral codes to adhere to while practicing that faith. The rules and repetition around certain days, practices and Gods, symbolizes traditions that provide comfort and deepen commitment to the faith. Some may say this is black and white compared to the more diverse practices of spirituality. Spirituality is more ‘you write your own rules’. It has an emphasis on figuring out what works for the individual and an acceptance that everyone is different therefore one person’s path to consciousness will vary from the next.
There is an acceptance of all religions but at the same no rules, dogmas or end goals. One’s own unique path and spiritual journey is the goal. Certain philosophies say in order to be spiritual or pure one must overcome desire, pleasure or other basic human need. In spirituality there is no one right path to salvation, nor are any religions or philosophies seen as ‘wrong’. They all have their time and place.
So which One is the Answer?
While religion and spirituality have their different beliefs and approaches, they can also be interchangeable. It’s not about what is right or wrong and it’s not about one religion or philosophy being superior to another. It’s about keeping an open mind and practicing acceptance for what you may not believe yourself. People are not defined by their religion or by their spiritual practice. What counts is how they treat others that don’t necessarily have the same faith. While religion and spirituality have their differences, the essence of them is very similar: To become more connected with something larger than yourself in order to live a more meaningful, happy, healthy life. And regardless of what you resonate with, that is a beautiful thing.
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