Religion and Spirituality are the same, right? Regular readers of my blog will know the answer to this, but if you’re curious, or a new visitor, let’s discuss it…
There’s bound to be some confusion going on regarding these two concepts. It’s easy to see why this would be the case because you’re going to find there’s a considerable amount of overlap in the definitions, but the differences are important and significant. Let’s go a bit deeper and see if we can make more sense of things.
Religion, by definition, is a collection of beliefs, set out with specific patterns and symbols that define how it (the religion) is practiced. These patterns and symbols can become extremely diverse and reflect an entire world of beliefs. There are thousands of different religions in the world today, and that’s a good thing, because diversity of beliefs empowers perfectly imperfect human beings – all of us – with the latitude to find the path that works best.
Religion might be easier to understand if you think of it as an outward expression of your faith journey. It has more to do with what you’re doing to express your beliefs – your practices – and tends to involve contemplation or worship in unison with others.
Spirituality is the inward, personal journey. Someone spiritual seeks a deeper connection with the mysteries of the universe and explores more fully their place within it – this can happen within a church but is not exclusive to it. The path toward spirituality seeks to understand and be concerned with the human spirit or soul as opposed to tangible, material things like a book or a tool.
Followers of a spiritual path or travelers on a spiritual journey look to understand themselves as well as the reasons behind why they do something, and to connect to something larger than themselves. It’s a broad concept with many aspects to its definition and can include relating more to people’s thoughts and beliefs than their physical bodies and surroundings. Spirituality encourages inner reflection and is often, but not exclusively, practiced alone.
Let’s explore how these can be woven together:
Religion is Born from Spirituality
When you go back to the origins of any religion, you’ll find the spiritual at the core of it. Sadly, this is what sometimes gets lost over time. People get caught up in the rules and established learning path of their belief system and forget that at the heart of their practice is a more profound truth. For this reason, sometimes, religion is seen by some to have no spiritual component at all – and that’s simply not true.
You Cannot Experience Spirituality or Religion without Love
When practiced correctly, you will find love at the core of both practices. Religion tends to put the focus of that love on the god-figure or deity, both in the love this deity has for the world or in the love expressed for the world through the practice of this belief.
Even religions without a god or deity at the central core (and there are many without) encourage loving practice. In spirituality, this love also involves love of yourself, again typically manifested in ways designed to express love to those around us. Love in practice encourages actions and attitudes that create a positive atmosphere – one of kindness, acceptance,truth,study,comfortable,guidance and unity – that can be extended to our fellow human beings, on a deeper level, and that also includes effort and ongoing work.
Both Religion and Spirituality Explore Truths
Religion typically already has these truths written down somewhere, and spirituality focuses on the process of discovering truth for yourself. These beliefs are not mutually exclusive. The religious person will want to study these truths to understand how they pertain to their own life, giving them a spiritual-involved journey that is similar, but not identical, to the spiritual person.
While there are many more aspects to both religion and spirituality, it’s their importance in your life and from your frame of reference that really matters. Whether you’re more comfortable in a religious setting or would prefer to practice your spirituality through a more personal lens and a unique path, you’ll find an emotional and even physical benefit to both.
Many people are more comfortable with a prescribed religious path, including guidance on when and how often to practice their principles. It can be easier to follow a pattern of teaching, knowledge and enlightenment that’s been pre-defined and experienced by others and that gives access to trusted teachers, than to strike out on your own. There’s nothing wrong with doing this – it provides comfort and peace to a great many people.
There’s also nothing wrong with wanting to choose your own path, or even to develop a custom path that better resonates with you, your spirit, and your level of growth. As you grow and learn, your spiritual path can be flexible and develop along with you. You’re able to tap into the experiences of others in addition to leaning into your own experiences. Realizing your personal potential can be very empowering – discovering that you can find the answers to the big questions in your life is amazing and affirming. Setting yourself on the path of discovery gives you latitude to keep exploring, to keep learning, and to deepen your spiritual practices as you walk the path.
Having a belief system is integral to personal growth and development and leads to better mental and even physical health. So, don’t be afraid to explore the deeper truths and what they mean to you – no matter which path you choose to follow.