Religion is a path to God. Spirituality is also a path to God. However, they have differences in approach.
“The essence of religion:
Fear God and obey God.
The quintessence of spirituality:
Love God and become another God.”
– Sri Chinmoy (1)
These are some of the main differences between religion and spirituality.
1. Experience vs. Belief. Religion usually entails adhering to a certain dogma or belief system. Spirituality places little importance on intellectual beliefs but is concerned with growing into and experiencing the Divine consciousness.
2. Fear vs. Love. Quite often religion takes the approach of fearing God. Religion is often concerned with sin, guilt and a concept of a God who punishes. The spiritual approach to God is through the path of love. This is a love where there is no judgement – only acceptance. Spirituality feels so-called sins are just ignorance based on a false belief of who we are.
3. Where is God? Often religion talks of God as being high in the heavens. At times God can seem far from the reach of aspiring humanity. Spirituality shows us that God is omniscient and omnipresent and can be felt as a living presence in our own heart. Spirituality says there is no separation between the Creator and His Creation.
4. One True Religion vs. Universality. Many followers of religion feel that only their path can lead to salvation. They have tremendous faith in their own religion, but at the same time, they feel other religions are wrong. Therefore, they can feel a necessity to convert others to their faith.
“All fanaticism is false, because it is a contradiction of the very nature of God and of Truth. Truth cannot be shut up in a single book, Bible or Veda or Koran, or in a single religion.”
Spirituality feels that all faiths are valid; like the analogy of many paths leading to the same goal. Spirituality embraces all the world religions, but at the same time, is not constrained by any religious dogmas or forms.
“We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. As different streams having different sources all mingle their waters in the sea, so different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to God.”
– Swami Vivekananda – from Speech at World Parliament of Religions (1893)
Outer Worship vs Inner Worship. Religion places more emphasis on outer forms and outer rituals. Spirituality is less concerned with outer rituals. Spirituality says that what is important is a seeker’s inner attitude. Through practising spirituality we seek to develop an inner shrine in our own heart.
One True Religion vs Universality. Many followers of religion feel that only their path can lead to salvation. They have tremendous faith in their own religion, but at the same time, they feel other religions are wrong. Therefore, they can feel a necessity to convert others to their faith.
Religion and spirituality do conjure up differences, but at the same time, they are just terms and words. Spirituality and religion can be interchangeable. The boundary between religion and spirituality is fluid. Rather than a debate between religion and spirituality, we could think of the difference between human religion and divine religion.
Whether religion is good or bad, really depends on how it is practised and lived.
Through following their religion, great saints have attained the fruits and realisations of a mystical approach to God. This includes Christian mystics such as St Teresa of Avila, St Francis of Assisi, and Sufi saints like Rumi, Hafiz and Attar. Each religion has produced spiritual seekers of the highest order.
- Human religion vs divine religion
- Is religion a force for good?
- Science vs religion
- Religious tolerance
- Religion and happiness