Spirituality and Religion

Spirituality and Religion

In recent years, it seems that a split has developed between spirituality and religion. This is particularly true in the west, where we often hear people say, “I’m spiritual, but I’m not religious.” We may even say it of ourselves. But what does it mean? Where does it come from? And ultimately, does it make a difference whether we are spiritual, religious, or both? Can you truly be one without being the other?

These are big questions, but I’d like to begin at the start by exploring where this (very 21st century) divide between spirituality and religion may have started. One argument might be that “organized religions” have come in for a lot of negative press over the last 25 years or so. When it comes to western religions such as Christianity and Catholicism, church attendances have been falling and there have been various unfortunate scandals. (Please note, my dear reader, that I am emphatically not writing this to criticize anybody’s faith or religion — I have my own, and I hold it deeply. I just want to explore, critically, why so many of us in the west are turning to Eastern-inspired spirituality whilst disregarding Western-inspired religiosity.)

If my own experiences of religion, which I relate in more detail in Meditations with Grandma, are anything to go by, it is perhaps the lack of true spiritual engagement that people perceive amongst some religious adherents that are off-putting. For example, I’m sure many of us that experienced a religious upbringing will be able to think of someone who attended the services, said the prayers, performed the rituals… and put approximately zero of the religious teachings into practice! In my case, that was something I observed in my own parents. I don’t judge or criticize them for it, but it is not an approach that I have ever been inspired to take.

On the other hand, the very word spirituality seems to offer us something so much more fulfilling than performing a litany of prayers. It is something that helps us to embrace who we are, not what others think we should be or should adhere to. It is an immediately personal connection to the Divine. There is, of course, a fine line here between realization of who we are and what we are all connected to and using spirituality as an excuse to do what we want, but that is a huge subject for another blog!

In short, spirituality and religion are two very different beasts. Can you have one without the other? Of course you can. Can you have both? Of course you can. Is there a universally correct balance of the two that everyone should adhere to? Of course there isn’t! Ultimately, whether we like it or not, we are all made to contain those sparks of pure consciousness and the Divine that we tap into through spiritual practices. Whether we arrive at them through ancient religious teachings or more modern, more secular spiritual teachings (such as, say, mindfulness) doesn’t matter one jot, as long as we’re not hurting ourselves or anyone else.