Spirituality VS Religion

In [thread=322252]this thread[/thread], I said

and Eureka replied

I’ve started this new thread so as to not hijack that one. (Mods, if it belongs in IMHO, I’m sure you’ll move it as appropriate) I don’t venture into Great Debates that often, this is my first posting here, but I’ve just finished a two hour debate with Mrs. Stone about this very issue and I’ve come to realise that I have very strong opinions on the subject and want to hear possible other sides to the subject.

I am not saying that I think churches (ministers, pastors, priests, insert your flavor here) are devoid of spirituality, nor am I saying that people who go to church are unable to think for themselves.

Spirituality is ones personal connection to the spiritual world, the world of the non-material, the soul, the universe, all life, all existance, god.

Religion happens when someone tries to take something unique and special for one person and mass produce it for everyone else.

The layperson goes to church from a young age, hears a bunch of stuff from the minister, and absorbs most of it by rote. I’m sure most of them have some small unique connection to their spiritual life, but religion covers most of it up. They absorb their thoughts about life, morality, their relation to the spiritual world, and many other things from their church (as they also do from their parents, their society, etc.) How often do people question the things they think, and why they think them?

It may very well be that the minister is a spiritual person trying their best to bring the followers to find their own unique connection, their own spirituality, but it’s all too easy for them to use the sayings and teachings of their church as just words. For the layperson to not even realise there is more to it than just those words. To use the religion as a crutch and never think for themself. To not even want other people to think for themself because it would rob them of power inside the church.

Thus Religion, by it’s very nature, puts rules on thoughts and behaviour and it limits independent thought.

The layperson may be spiritual. The minister may be spiritual. The church may strive for spirituality. But the Religion is not spiritual.


Welcome to GD.

I think the OP is basically on the right track. I could nitpick various points, but I don’t think that would get to the essence of what you’re saying.

Perhaps I can add a point: Isn’t the major chunk of your beef with dogma, the requirement to think a certain way in order to be admitted as one of the group?

That’s my big problem with “Religion.” Another related point is the groupthink one encounters with any group, quite often more with larger groups.

Perhaps another point is regression to the mean. Individuals can be out there following a spiritual path, but I think it’s hard for a huge room full of 2,500 people to be following a spiritual path. I think the slackers might be a drag on the strivers. Sometimes not, perhaps. On the other hand, the rituals and simple lessons might raise the level of an otherwise non-spiritual populace.

One thing I often say to defend religion is that it plays a big (and quite often positive) role in the community. I truly think churches/temples/mosques/etc. are more community institutions than religious/spiritual institutions.

This will be my first try at any major entry into GD too.

Before I say anything else, I should point out that all Christians do not think alike. Beyond Cath/Prot differences, or Epis./Presbyt. differences, individuals in any given church will have completely different outlooks on life, theologies, places in their walk with God, etc. The same applies to any religion. However, for fairly obvious reasons, I’ll try to restrict myself to the religion with which I am affiliated.

Religion, or at least Christianity, is not an attempt to mass-produce spirituality. Christianity was started by one man, Jesus Christ, in that he had thousands of followers, up until the day of his death. After Resurrection, the followers were still there, not really their own religion, but instead a sect of Judaism that proclaimed their leader, Christ, as the Messiah. When Judaism as a whole did not respond to the call of Jesus’ followers, they took their message elsewhere, to the Gentiles. That point is where one could consider Christianity to be its own religion. Now, say you’re a Disciple. You have the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth. Are you not going to want to share it?

Now, back on topic. Jesus didn’t bring spirituality to the Jews; these are people with a great trust in God’s existence, Lucifer’s existence, angels, demons, etc. The attraction of Jesus was hope in a resurrection, and permanent freedom for Israel. In other words, spirituality simply wasn’t the point. Thus, saying that Christianity (I know, you said religion in general, but the example you gave was modern Ch.) desensitizes/destroys spirituality simply misses what Christianity is. Second, spirituality as you think of it today does not fit with the roots of Christianity, or indeed Judaism. Our modern mindset separates the physical and spiritual; the ancients often did not.

So what does Christianity do for spirituality (since you asked)? First, Christianity says, “When we’re getting all spiritual, here’s what we’re actually doing.” God and his angels, says Christianity (and says me, FWIW), have more substance than we do. Our inability to see, touch, etc., God is a limitation on our part, rather than his. Thus, talking to God (praying) is most analgous to talking to someone on the phone, rather than conjuring up spirits. Second, Christianity makes firm statements not about where we should take our thought, but where it should start from. The Nicene Creed, Christianity’s most basic statement of belief, can be said to cover all Christians, Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox. Looking at the text, it does not say whether Jews go to Heaven, whether war is ever okay, whether our actions are Predetermined or Chosen, whether the Eucharist is physical or spiritual, etc. There are a lot of choices left to be made post-Nicea. And, of course, in the modern world, no-one is forcing you too accept it at all. (This was not always the case, but it is now).

Ultimately, for me, spirituality for spirituality’s sake makes very little sense. Without substance, it lacks meaning; it becomes about how I feel today, a subject which is important but not the most important. Christianity isn’t here to make people feel good; it is here to glorify God by making disciples of Christ, sharing the good news of Christ’s resurrection. How you Him is of secondary importance.

Sorry for going on and on. I’m a little tired.

It’s no surprise, then, that so often there is a negative connotation associated with the word “religion”, is there?

Thanks Earthstone for starting this thread. I have a different perspectove. I went through the organized religion thing and now would consider myself a spiritual seeker. I don’t go to church much although I still enjoy it occasionally.

I do see my own inviolvement in an organized religion as a nessecary part of my own spiritual journey. That may not be the case for everyone but I think it works that way for some.In my case I believe I had a very real spiritual experience. An encounter with the Holy Spirit. Because of the people I was around at the time I was drawn into their group. I consider that a pretty normal human occurance. Some people need a guide. A group or a minister. Someone they trust to point the way. They haven’t yet learned to trust their own communion with God and the Holy Spirit. They may just long for that feeling of spiritual family that comes with belonging to a particular group. One problem for me was that I wanted very much to believe that everything my group taught was correct and so I accepted it without a lot of questioning. Over time that has changed.
Some organized religion do demand that their members think and believe the same way they do. I’ve experienced one or two that are so dognmatic that they do indeed squelch independent thought and I consider them far away from anything Jesus taught and any kind of genuine spiritual seeking. It seems to be more about control, fear and a delusion of self righteousness. I see a lot of nasty things being done in the name of God these days.
For some it’s about the community. I can respect that. I know people who don’t want to delve into deep spiritual mysteries. They enjoy being part of a group that is doing positive work. They feel the spirit of God at work as they help each other and others. They raise their voices in song. They reach out together in prayer. They have a doctrine but they don’t examine it or question it much. Not because they don’t want to think but because the activities of the church meet their spritual and emotional needs.
I see a new growth in spirituality and open minded acceptance of other ideas. I think thats why you see the more dogmatic groups holding on and asserting themselves more tenaciously than ever. I encourage my friends and family who are church members to look at their beleifs and consider the validity of other ideas. Sometimes it’s only symantics and the use of unfamiliar terms that seperates us.
I object to this statement by eustachian≠fallopian

I’m not sure what you consider substance. I don’t go to church but I am aware that I walk with God every moment of every day. The only substance that matters is how are lives are transformed by the Holy Spirit and how that reflects in our day to day lives and our contact with others. In my reading of the words of Jesus that is exactly what he taught. Learn to commune with God through the Holy Spirit and let that communion reflect in your life, Certainly we all have days when we are more in touch with the spirit of God within us, than other days.

I think your assesment of the history of Christianity is a inaccurate. Where did you get the idea that Jesus had thousands of followers when he was crucified? Do you have any scriptural references for that. It wasn’t that Judaism didn’t respond. There was some disagreement among the disciples about whether Jesus should be preached to the gentiles. Paul specifically sought out the gentiles.
I can’t tell if you’re speaking for chrstianity in general or for yourself. Certainly the disciples thought that Jesus’ message was of utmost importance, but I see nothing to indicate they had “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”

I don’t have much respect for the** Nicene creed**. It was not an attempt at spiritual unity. More a consolidation of power. There were several conflicting teachings and a lot of confusion about what Jesus actually taught at that point in history. After the Nicene creed and the church becoming the official state religion there began a shameful and bloody persecution of those who dared to think and teach things contrary to church doctrine. Not contrary to the truth mind you, just contrary to official church doctrine.The Gnostics, who taught men to think for themselves and seek truth through the Holy Spirit were killed and driven into hiding while their vast libraries were burned. Thats exactly what the OP is condeming. Several forms of that kind of oppressive teaching continues today.
If you think the christian church and the nicene creed or even the bible were somehow sanctioned by God and Christ you are very much mistaken.

I am a spiritual person. I did not choose to be one, it sort of adopted me. For most of my life I was agnostic, not committing to either side because frankly I just didn’t know. Then I had a heart problem that led to a near death experience. In that experience I stood in the presence of “God.” Felt the unconditional love and expanded into the Oneness of all things and the knowledge it brings.

After the experience was over I was a totally changed person. My family and closest friends asked why, but I couldn’t explain it very well. It took me about three years to feel comfortable again in the physical.

For me spiritually brought peace and understanding beyond anything I had known before. The “God” I know doesn’t require worship. He (actually “God” has no sex, neither do we when reentering the spiritual world) is my mentor, my guide and friend, I want to be like Him in every way I can.

I made contact with other spiritual people over the years and we hold meetings in small groups of 5 to 10. There are spiritual churches, but I have never attended one. Church for me would be social only. I believe churches have their place and do good works. I know there are spiritual people within the churches, but their numbers are few. I can tell immediately when I meet a spiritual person.

I meditate daily and rarely a day goes by without some spiritual experience. I can look into a flower and see “God’s” face. Not a face like ours, however. I am totally independent in my spiritually, but I like to meet with others of like mind. We don’t always agree on everything, but we do agree on God’s love for us and all of mankind regardless of anything.

There is a great deal more that could be said about spiritually, but this is enough for now.

thanks for shareing your story and your ideas.

I know spiritual people who go to church and quite a few that don’t. Whether someone attends or not seems to be incidental to the presence of the spirit of God in their lives.

Another chime-in in agreement with the OP.

In another recent thread (I think it was the ‘poll on what we Dopers believe’ thread) I put it this way: religion is to spirituality what taxidermy is to wildlife.

I heard this the other day:

“Religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell, spirituality is for those who have been there.”

Very true,

Luke 17:20: Jesus said:

The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

I agree 97% with the OP. (Nice OP btw)

I respect much more people who “build” their own religion in a way. People who feed wholesale on whatever someone else preaches them aren’t seeking their own “truth”… they are just sheep following the herd.

Naturally its easier just to fit in... and churches are communal events like someone pointed out.

As someone whose thoughts are at least partially encapsulated in the OP, I feel a need to respond. Having said that, this is not an area I feel like exploring at great length, so my contribution may be minimal.

I agree that active involvement in a mainstream relgion is neither neccessary nor sufficient to establish claims of spirituality.

In fact, I kind of like this “definition” of spirituality

However, as a person who does take part in an organized, somewhat ritualized religious ceremony on a regular basis, I am strongly opposed to the notion that spirituality formed outside of religion is better, more filled with thought or self-revelation, more worthy of respect.

The amount of time someone spends in church or in ritual tells one nothing about the amount of time or energy spent separately developing his or her own deep spiritual connection to God, the soul, the universe, etc.

Certainly there are “pew potatoes” and/or sheep in every congregation. Certainly my preferences in a church tell you something about the church I grew up in (Though it is worth noting that my brother, with a very similar environment in his youth, seeks a very different but still Christian church in his adulthood. (It may or may not be relevant that he is married and his wife is of a somewhat different but also still Christian background).)

Certainly spirituality is not the only reason people seek out religion, and some people find spirituality outside of religion. Religion and spirituality are not synonyms, but they aren’t antonyms either. One can be both religious and spiritual, or just one or the other, or neither. I just don’t like it when people decide that because organized religion is not their best route to spirituality, it is not (or should not be) anyone else’s route either.

Saying that individual spirituality is necessarily better than organized religion is kind of like saying that being a self-educated person is necessarily better than going to college.

(In fact, this is a pretty fruitful analogy when I stop and think about it.)

It seems to me that you are all using “religion” to mean specifically organized religion. In that case, sure, there’s a difference between “spirituality” and “religion”. I use “religion” to mean one of any number of beliefs within certain parameters. I see it as religion if you’re Catholic, I see it as religion if you’re the only guy in the world with your beliefs. I see no reason to make a distinction. In my view, therefore, there is no difference between spirituality and religion.

Substance: God’s creation of all things from nothingness.
Substance: God bringing his people out of slavery, to give them a place to live.
Substance: Jesus’ teaching.
Substance: the Son of God hanging on a cross, his glory utterly defiled, so that the rebellious people (meaning us) could be reconciled with our Father.

cosmosdan, I have so many problems with what you are saying, I don’t even know where to begin. Okay, Nicene Creed. You seem to think that God stopped working after Jesus died, or something like that. We have a council of people, trying to summarize what they believe, and you want to spit on that. Fine. But you’ll have to justify that a lot better than you have thus far.

Jesus having thousands of followers? The most obvious example comes with the feeding of the five thousand (Luke 9:10-17), where five thousand people turned up just to hear Jesus speak. If only 2/5 of these people actually accepted Jesus’ words, we have thousands of followers. (I would assume that more of them did then that. Of course, there were probably followers who were not there at the time, so one should add some more.)

If the Holy Spirit were merely some spirit who showed up on the scene a couple decades ago and started saying, “I’m going to transform some lives”, I would never follow him, even if he did transform lives.
Substance: God’s been here forever. He’s all powerful. And he loves us all. There are many ways to transform lives, including self-help books and therapists. Neither of these are worthy of worship.

Similarly, merely talking to the spirits, or being in a special relationship with the universe, has little or nothing to do with Christianity. Christ called for Christianity with the command, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16). Woah! So then, the whole purpose of Christianity is to tell people the Truth? Yeah, pretty much. Contrary to what many people here seem to claim, Christianity is not a cover for spirituality; it’s a movement to follow/believe in Christ.

I would maintain that we’re all supposed to be followers of Christ. I think that’s in concord with Jesus words in Mark 16. That doesn’t go well with the idea of being a spiritual sojourner, looking everywhere and blazing a new path. Since Jesus is the “light of the world” (John 8:12), what path can be greater than one that follows him? Forget the spirits.

As a side note, Mark 16 also justifies the Gospels (the name means Good News) and the letters of Paul and Peter. They clearly tried to clear up confusion in the early church, making Christ’s followers more confident in their faith. Of course, Jesus refers constantly to the Old Testament, so I think we can say that Christ has given his blessing to the entire Bible.

When two beliefs are in clear conflict, one or the other belief is false. Or both. Either way, being willing to say, “Fine, you can believe that, but you’re not a Christian if you do” isn’t cold-hearted. It’s simply realizing reality. This should not be seen as support of murder.

All right, perhaps I view religion on a less spiritual level than others in this thread. The substance, as listed above, is the vital part. Christianity would not be Christianity without Christ’s sacrifice.

Nice OP. Timely, as well.

I have just been called a bigot in another debate (not on this board, of course! :)) because I feel very strongly that some faiths or sub-faiths within Christianity are actually a cancer. I have to admit this is true - I am bigoted.

But my problem is this - any faith that says ‘we have the only answer, all other faiths and anyone not like us are evil and wrong and they’re all gonna pay some day’ is not Christianity to me, and sure as hell isn’t spirituality. And it strikes me that if your religion is so dodgy that you have to sell it to others rather than let others find it themselves and welcome them when they do, then likewise.

How this ties in to the OP is that I have no issue with spiritual people or even non-Evangelical Christians or Muslims or Buddhists or whoever. How they believe is their business, and I respect their faith in this time and place when not having faith is so easy. I have a problem with any religion that forces itself onto people, codifies how it’s belivers behave, and has punishment in store for non-believers.

And that to me is the difference between Religion and Spirituality. Religion must grow or else it dies, hence the need for all religions to be somewhat evangelical and to keep their members within the fold. Spirituality is a personal response to the divine and the sublime and grows or dies within an individual.

My 2 cents. YMMV.

Great. We’re back to spirituality for it’s own sake. I just can’t be reconciled with the idea that being spiritual is better than actually believing something. And if we believe something, we believe that a view contrary to that belief is wrong. See, God was pretty specific that there was no-one else like him; all other spirits are insignificant at best. It’s a part of the complete claim of the Big Three. So yeah, I’m willing to say that the Bible is right whenever it conflicts with the Quran. I would expect a Muslim to say the exact opposite.

See, if you don’t believe the Good News, you’re missing Christianity completely. (As I explained above, the spreading of the Good News is the basic purpose of Christianity). That good news includes Jesus saying that he’s the only way, rather than just the best way. Judaism has the Old Testament, saying that Yahweh is the only way. “They’re all gonna pay someday” is completely irrelevant. And I would never expect someone to say, “Jesus is our Lord and Savior” if they have never heard of Jesus.

Religion is a group occurrence. I don’t think that makes it any less valid than spirituality. In fact, I would say it makes it more valid, for the same reason that it’s more valid when a panel of experts reaches a conclusion than when a pundit reaches a conclusion. Certainly, it’s worth listening to more carefully.

Spirituality without substance is “meaningless, a chasing after the wind”.

(Ecclesiastes quote, repeated about various activities throughout the book.)

I’ve felt very confused about the difference between spirituality and religion. I often put myself in the group who likes to say that I’m spiritual and not religious. My religious path began in the Catholic Church when I was a kid. I enjoyed Sunday school. I felt comforted believing that there was some omnipotent being that was in the heavens that loves me. As I grew a little older, I got bored going to church. I didn’t understand some of the deeper spiritual nature of some of the sermons. I also found that I didn’t agree with many of the fantastic claims that the priest talked about.

I liked Indygrrl’s quote: “Religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell, spirituality is for those who have been there.” As a teen, I lived a number of years in my own hell (feeling disconnected from the world). I won’t go in to much detail, other than to say I suffered from clinical depression for a long time. I thought more than once, if there’s a god, why I’m I suffering so much.

I will fast forward to the past ten or so years. I’ve moved beyond my depression. I feel much better, thanks. I read a lot about religion and about ways to become more spiritual. I explore and appreciate those aspects of the world that cannot be seen. I value and try to practice ways of loving others, forgiveness and understanding. I can be a spiritual being without a minister telling me how to be spiritual.

Here’s where I come full circle. I recently joined a Unitarian Universalist church. I’ve also participated in a couple Christians retreats (as difficult as that’s been with all the dogma and Christ is my hero emphasis). When I go to the UU church, I tap in to my own spirituality and mingle with others as they grow their own spirituality. By gathering with other people who want to grow spiritually, we, perhaps create something larger and more wonderful than we could do on our own.

Perhaps that’s the difference between individual spirituality and religion. Individual spirituality means that a person feels connected to the world. Religion, can act as a guide to help individuals become more spiritual and share with each other. As a group, we can achieve positive things that one person can’t do on their own.

It’s possible to be spiritual and not follow a religion. It’s also possible to be religions and not spiritual. Some religions groups have much to offer its members. Some secular institutions can also bring people together to and achieve great things that are spiritual in nature. Yes, we can also do it on our own. I’m realizing that for me to feel more connected to the world, I want to share my spiritual views. Something that gives me comfort is that no matter what path I take, I will ask questions, do my research, and, in the end believe what makes sense to me.

I don’t belong to a religion and I used to think the same as you do about religion and spirituality, but I’ve realized that religion is not the antithesis of spirituality. I’ve met and talked to many people who belong to highly-organized religions and, as far as I can tell, they are deeply spiritual. Their religion provides a context for their beliefs, an opportunity to share and to learn with others who are not *identically-minded * but like-minded, and who share the desire to become more spiritual.

Yes, there are problems with religions, but there are problems with any group or organization: political, cultural, academic, sports, economic, each of which has a hierarchy and stated objectives.
Can you be a good citizen and still belong to a political party? Why don’t you think for yourself?
Can you be a good professor and still belong to a university? Why don’t you teach the way you want to?
Can you be a good athlete and still belong to a team? Why don’t you play an individual sport, without a coach, and without belonging to any sports association?
Can you be a good worker and still be an employee? Why don’t you work on your own?
Can you be a good business owner and still have employees? Why don’t you run your business on your own?

All of the above are false dichotomies.

Groups continue to exist for many reasons, and not all members of a group have put their brains on hold. Groups always have leaders and followers, and, usually, the leaders were once followers.

If you feel that you have special insights into spirituality, then, of course, share your insights, or not … :wink:

You might attract some followers, or even become a reluctant Messiah …


I’ll save a complete reply until after work. I don’t think you’re talking about substance. You’re talking about structure. Doctrine. Dogma.

That is not the substance Jesus advoicated.