The concepts of religion and spirituality can be quite confusing and are often misconstrued as being synonymous. While there is an element of similarity found within these two topics – a deeper understanding of oneself in alignment with an external force – there are various differences that should be identified. This article will help contrast religion and spirituality by looking at the traditional components of religion: doctrine or beliefs; rituals or ceremonies; and morality or sets of laws. It is through this article that you can answer the question of is religion and spirituality different.
1. The doctrine versus experience
All religions present with a specific doctrine or set of teachings which the followers believe in. Generally, if a member of the religion alters in their belief and begins ‘turning’ others he or she will be labeled a non-believer. In the more staunch religious societies, the non-believer may be excommunicated and cast out of the relevant religious group. Following the doctrine or set of beliefs is imperative to a faith as it provides a sense of oneness and brotherhood.
Spirituality differs from religion in this manner as there is not as much emphasis placed on the doctrine or teachings. Spiritual individuals rely on experience to create a sense of community instead of a doctrine; in fact, members of a spiritual group may differ in their religions. The primary aim of a spiritual individual or group is to attain a union with their God, but through a spiritual link and not the following of a teaching.
2. The ritual versus intimacy
Religions will present with specific religious ceremonies or rituals, the design of the ritual dependent on the religion – for example, a Catholic priest placing ashen crosses on an individual’s head at an Ash Wednesday mass. These rituals are utilized as a means of expressing a human connection with the divine God in a particular manner and for a specific reason. In certain religions, particularly the Catholic religion, a person is obliged to complete some rituals as a form of salvation. One form across many religions is that of baptism.
As with the doctrine, spiritual beings do not place great emphasis on rituals. Spirituality assumes that a personal intimacy with the God can be achieved through prayer and meditation – activities that are completely contrary to rituals. While rituals are completed in a group, meditation is a solitary activity conducted in silence.
As can be seen, the question of is religion and spirituality different has an answer of yes thus far.
3. The moral versus compassion
When pondering is religion and spirituality different regarding morality you should take into account the fact that religions present with a set of rules which their followers are required to follow, and this is generally set out in a doctrine (oral or written). For example, the Catholic Church has the Code of Canon Law and the Muslim faith has the Shariah Law. Hinduism is particularly unique in that the laws regulate behavioral conduct according to respective castes. An individual’s following of these laws will determine their morality as based on the specific religion – by following the doctrine you are moral, but deviating will label you immoral.
Instead of focusing on written law, spirituality places the central focus on human conduct and becoming compassionate to all beings in creation. The compassion is gained through acts of kindness towards all other humans and animals – a simplification of the love for one’s neighbor. Using this compassion you can realize a spiritual connection of the God and all creatures in existence.
Final words on the matter
As can be seen in this article there is a great difference between religion and spirituality. Religion is more structured than spirituality, but both assist in gaining an awareness of soul bringing a meaning to life.