December 1999

Religion vs. Spirituality

"Religion is for people who believe in hell, spirituality is for people that have been there." -- author unknown

It is confusing and perhaps nearly impossible for some people to separate religion from spirituality. Yet, there is a very distinct separation between the two. Both are nouns, denoting a fixed concept. Both are intangible and must be defined through adjectives and actions.

Religion is a system of beliefs outlined within a particular doctrine. Religion is a tool for developing and nurturing spirituality. It offers exercises, inspirations, and guidelines for exploring the unseen realms of life. Religion is regimented and due to the nature of its structure, it can be viewed as something very concrete. There are reasons behind its methods. There are supporting documents behind every law. There are authoritative figures in its practice: those holding titles such as Doctor of Divinity or Ph.D.. Religion is learned from books, schools, classes, churches, and even by example. It is very organized and categorized. There is very little room for interpretation within a religious movement. Beliefs tend to be very black or white; yes or no; right or wrong. There is no in-between; no acceptable grey area. Religion provides us with a very sturdy outline of how we should behave within the context of relationship with our fellow man, our God, and ourselves. Deviations from the outline result in fallacy. Religion offers ways to make amends for deviations from the path, offers forgiveness for those moments of weakness, and continues to guide us along the most perfect pathway of righteousness in the name of itself, speaking on behalf of God.

Spirituality is a far less-defined modality. It is the epitome of intangibility. The most basic definition I can offer of what spirituality is, is this: the inherent knowledge of a force greater than or beyond ourselves; a sense of a greater existence and the eternal presence of our souls; a belief that this life is not all there is. The most significant underlying factor in our spirituality is faith. Faith is to know the things of which there is no certain proof. The existence of spirituality subsists by faith. While each one of us varies greatly in that which we claim as religious truth, spirituality remains a constant reality in each of our lives. The holistic model addresses the three distinct yet equally important aspects of our humanity: body, mind, and spirit. While religion is not a constant underlying factor or even a necessary ingredient for our survival, spirituality is.

There are those who claim that without religion, one can not know their spiritual existence. How can one be denied knowledge of a realm of their existence which is not as readily apparent, yet is as fundamentally important as the physical body? Spirituality is not something which can be taught, it is an experiential journey. It is a process. Religion offers ways, which may or may not work for everyone, to gain access to their rich spiritual heritage. While religion can be an encouragement and nourishment for spiritual development, it cannot bring to light that which one is not already to some degree, aware of.

Religion is an optional facet of our humanity, spirituality is not.

© 1999 Jennifer N. Ayers, Starr-Rhapsody Creations. No part of this article may be printed or copied without written consent from the author.

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