One popular idea is that there exists a distinction between two different modes of relating with the divine or the sacred: religion and spirituality. Religion describes the social, the public, and the organized means by which people relate the the sacred and the divine while spirituality describes such relations when they occur in private, personally, and even in eclectic ways.
Is such a distinction valid? In answering such a question, it is important to keep in mind that it presumes to describe two fundamentally different types of things. Even though I describe them as different ways of relating to the divine or the sacred, that is already introducing my own prejudices into the discussion. Many (if not most) of those who attempt to draw such a distinction do not describe them as two aspects of the same thing; instead, they are supposed to be two completely different animals.
Religion vs. Spirituality
One clue that there may be something problematic in this distinction comes when we look at the radically different ways in which people actually try to define and describe that distinction. Consider these three definitions drawn from the internet:
- Religion is an institution established by man for various reasons. Exert control, instill morality, stroke egos, or whatever it does. Organized, structured religions all but remove god from the equation. You confess your sins to a clergy member, go to elaborate churches to worship, told what to pray and when to pray it. All those factors remove you from god. Spirituality is born in a person and develops in the person. It may be kick started by a religion, or it may be kick started by a revelation. Spirituality extends to all facets of a persons life. Spirituality is chosen while religion is often times forced. Being spiritual to me is more important and better than being religious.
- Religion can be anything that the person practicing it desires. Spirituality, on the other hand, is defined by God. Since religion is man defined, Religion is a manifestation of the flesh. But Spirituality, as defined by God, is a manifestation of His nature.
- True spirituality is something that is found deep within oneself. It is your way of loving, accepting and relating to the world and people around you. It cannot be found in a church or by believing in a certain way.
These definitions arent just different, they are incompatible! Two define spirituality in a way which makes it dependent upon the individual it is something that develops in the person or is found deep within oneself. The other, however, defines spirituality as something which comes from God and is defined by God while religion is anything that the person desires. Is spirituality from God and religion from Man, or is it the other way around? Why such divergent views?
We can better understand why such incompatible definitions (each representative of how many, many others define the terms) appear by observing what unites them: the denigration of religion. Religion is bad. Religion is all about people controlling other people. Religion distances you from God and from the sacred. Spirituality, whatever it really is, is good. Spirituality is the true way to reach God and the sacred. Spirituality is the right thing to center your life on.