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RELIGION DEFINED

Before I give you my working understanding of spirituality I want to make a distinction between spirituality and religion.  While they are interrelated and overlap in important ways, it is useful to appreciate that fact that each means something different.

 There have been many surveys that ask people if they are spiritual and religious.  Many say they are spiritual, but not religious.  There are many reasons why people embrace the idea of spirituality and avoid identifying themselves as religious.  I will not address the many reasons for this distinction.

[For us who are baby boomers—I am a first year boomer—an interesting book that asks this question, i.e., religious or spiritual?, while looking at the spiritual quests of us boomers is Wade Clark Roof’s (1993) A Generation of Seekers: The Spiritual Journeys of the Baby Boom Generation, New York: Harper Collins Publishers.]

If you consider yourself spiritual, but not religious, let me suggest that you ask yourself why you say this.  My goal is not to “convert” you or to encourage you to return to the religion of your upbringing.  Rather it is to ask if there might be some vestiges of your earlier religious experience that might continue to play a part in your passionate embrace of spirituality.  In many dimensions of my life I have discovered that It is not useful to throw the baby out with the bath water.

 In thinking about introducing you to the terms, religious and spiritual, I decided to avoid academic definitions.  In my last posting I gave several more academic definitions of “spirituality.”  Now I will use ideas from two books that are more accessible, Religion for Dummies (2002), written by a rabbi, Rabbi Marc Gellman, and a Catholic priest, Monsignor Thomas Hartman and Spirituality for Dummies (2000), written by Sharon Janis.

Of religion Gellman and Hartman write:

You could say that religion is a belief, except not all beliefs are religious.  You could narrow that definition and say religion is a belief in God.  Well, that definition covers monotheistic religions, but it doesn’t cover the religions that believe in many gods (polytheistic religions) or religions that believe in a chief god and other, lesser, gods and goddesses (henotheistic religions).  You could say that religion is a way of behaving . . . .  You could say that religion is the belief in the truth.  But what’s truth?  Different religions have different understandings of what is “true.”

 Basically, the definition of religion includes all of these definitions: A religion involves:

  • belief in divine (superhuman or spiritual) being(s)
  • practices (rituals)
  • moral code (ethics) that result from that belief.

Beliefs give religion its mind, rituals give religion its shape, and ethics give religion its heart

 Sharon Janis begins her book speaking about both religion and spirituality and makes very useful distinctions as well.  She writes:

Although religion and spirituality are sometimes used interchangeably, they really indicate two different aspects of human experience.  You might say that spirituality is the mystical face of religion.

 Spirituality is the wellspring of divinity that pulsates, dances, and flows as the source and essence of every soul. Spirituality relates more to your personal search, to finding greater meaning and purpose in your existence.  Some elements of spirituality include:

 Looking beyond outer appearances to the deeper significance and soul of everything

  • Love and respect for God
  • Love and respect for yourself
  • Love and respect for everybody

 Religion is most often used to describe an organized group or culture that has generally been sparked by the fire of a spiritual or divine soul.  Religions usually act with a mission and intention of presenting specific teachings and doctrines while nurturing and propagating a particular way of life.

 Now that you have read these thoughts about spirituality and religion, again ask yourself if you are:  Spiritual?  Religious?  Both religious and spiritual? Neither religious nor spiritual? 

 On the next blog posting I will introduce some ideas about spirituality and religion that I find very compelling based on my own experience.

Posted in religionspirituality on 21 January 2010
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