When browsing mainstream media, it is unlikely that the terms ‘spirituality’ and ‘religion’ will come up very often. However, they are still something that we can come across, so it might be useful if we knew how to differentiate between the two; even though they share some similarities, they still are vastly different.
What do they have in common?
The notions of religion and spirituality are oriented towards the same thing –belief in the otherworldly and/or the divine. People who identify as either spiritual or religious both believe in the supernatural and the otherworldly. This is where most of the similarities between the two end, and the differences begin.
What is religion?
When we say religion, we think of a large, organized group of people, who function as a community. They usually have priests or other officials with ranks who perform certain services. People gather publicly and practice in designated places, to show their love for the divine. These traditions are quite old and date back to as far as history can record. The rules that are enforced in these communities are usually strict and rigid, without a lot of changes being made.
What is spirituality?
We talked about religion, and its organization, rules, laws, and hierarchy. Unlike religion, which relies on the community, spirituality is focused solely on the individual. Each person is free to express their belief in the divine in any way they see fit; this is usually done privately, and it is why spirituality has such an intimate context. It is unclear when the notion of spirituality originated in history, but it became hugely popular in the ’60s, in the United States. All forms of discipline and authority were being questioned, and spirituality presented itself as a way of expressing one’s belief in a ‘higher power’, without declaring oneself as a member of any institutionalized organization.
How does religion view spirituality?
Many religions treat people who declare themselves as spiritual and believe that ‘there is something’, as frightened people, who are afraid of choosing a side and showing commitment to their beliefs. Spiritual people are also sometimes viewed as those that wish to be religious and believe, but only within their comfort zone.
How does spirituality view religion?
Spiritual people treat religion(s) as organizations run by people, with far too many rules, gatherings, and hierarchical details. They see this as a threat and believe that it can distance the members of that religious group from the divine entity they actually believe in. People who are spiritual consider their own relationship with the divine entity to be a lot more immediate and intimate, without any boundaries and stepping stones.
Is one better than the other?
This can never be objectively judged. Just like faith, both of these notions are subjected to the habits, wishes, beliefs, and other characteristics of an individual. It would also be a mistake to make a big difference between the two; they both go towards the same goal, they just present different means of getting there.