Religious vs. Spiritual: How Modern Religion Is Misunderstood

Religious vs. Spiritual: How Modern Religion Is Misunderstood
Photo by Greg Rakozy / Unsplash

When I was younger, religion was a huge part of my life. I went to church every Sunday with my family and had Bible studies at home. I believed religion was the only way to connect with God or find spirituality. But as I got older, I started questioning why I was doing things in specific ways.

Finally, I realized that religion is not the only way to connect with a higher power or find spirituality. This personal journey has been challenging at times, but it has also been advantageous. In this blog post, I want to share my review of a book I read (listened to a couple of times).

Book Review: Waking Up

20% of Americans describe themselves as spiritual but not religious. This number has been growing as religion becomes less and less important to people. I am one of those people. This is not to say faith could find those essential psychological truths in religious beliefs.

Is there a difference between spirituality and religion? In this book, Sam Harris explains how our world is riven by religious doctrine and how separating religion from spirituality is a perfectly reasonable—inserting two simultaneous truths.

One: is that certain spiritual practices—like meditation, for instance—can bring about an experience of profound well-being. And two: that the doctrines of religion are often damaging to this experience.

I think we can easily find evidence for both claims without much trouble. If you look at the world’s religious traditions, it is clear that many of them contain wisdom about how best to live and what sorts of behaviors lead to happiness and suffering. But, at the same time, these traditions also advocate innumerable irrational beliefs that often cause a great deal of needless human conflict. So religion is a mixed bag, as Harris says. But I would argue that spirituality—the practice of discovering one’s own most profound nature—isn’t a mixed bag at all. It is an unqualified good.

One of the things I love about spirituality is that it is not dogmatic. You have to follow no hard and fast rules to be spiritual. You don’t have to believe in anything specific or subscribe to any particular doctrine. Instead, spirituality is about your journey of self-discovery. It’s about finding your truth and living by it.

Person in smoke cloud
Photo by Josh Marshall / Unsplash

In the thirteenth century, the word "spiritual" became entangled with beliefs about immaterial souls, supernatural beings, and ghosts. As a result, the term "spiritual" took on a lot of negative connotations. Spirituality is about your journey of self-discovery. It’s about finding your truth and living by it.

On a spiritual journey, you may explore different religious traditions or practices. Or you may eschew religion altogether and focus solely on your inner experience. There is no right or wrong way to be spiritual. Most importantly, you are true to yourself and stay open-minded.

When we talk about the "spirit" of a thing, we discuss its most essential principle. So when we talk about spirituality, we are talking about what is most vital and alive within us. Spirituality is not something otherworldly or ethereal. It is not opposed to the material world. Instead, it is the very essence of who we are.

I am grateful for all the life lessons I learned as a kid attending Sunday school. So many Bible stories translate to everyday life, but it isn't essential if the 10 Commandments were shared with Moses from God's voice or not. A man mustn't steal.

The direct perception of the optic blindspot again provides a helpful analogy. Imagine that perceiving a bling spot will completely transform a person's life. The following image is those whole religions such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are predicated on denying the blindspot's existence. Their central doctrines assert perfect uniformity of the visual field.

Other traditions may acknowledge the blindspot but in poetical terms. Some teach the techniques so that one can see the blindspot for oneself, but only gradually.  The rarest group has seen the blindspot and then tried to help others see it for themselves.

The religious or spiritual path you choose is not nearly as important as whether you choose to live a life of truth or illusion. If you live a life of fact, you live a spiritual life, regardless of what label you put on it. On the other hand, if you live a life of illusion, then no title will save you.

The bottom line is this: religion is about conformity, and spirituality is about transformation. Choose wisely.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez / Unsplash

I think it's essential to be clear about the difference between religion and spirituality. Religion is a set of beliefs and practices passed down from generation to generation. Spirituality is about our journey of self-discovery.

I would like to hear about your own experiences with religion and spirituality. Do you think they are connected? How do you define spirituality? Leave a comment below or contact me directly if you want to continue the conversation. Thank you for reading!


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