Spirituality and religion are two different things. Understanding the difference can help you get in touch with and nurture your spiritual consciousness, especially if you have been hurt by religion.
What is the Difference Between Spirituality and Religion?
Spirituality is one facet of our human nature; religion is a group of beliefs and practices, not unlike a “how-to” guide, meant to help people express their spirituality and draw closer to their Creator, God, or the Universal Truth. In short, religion is meant to help you with your personal spiritual growth. It is your spiritual practice.
Definition of Spirituality
So what is the facet of our human nature known as spirituality? It is people’s innate desire, capacity and need to:
- find meaning in their lives;
- to feel fultilled, rather than empty;
- to find purpose beyond today or this world;
- to rise above the confines of the limited ego and all that is human and imperfect;
- to connect with their Creator or their true inner selves;
- to belong to something larger than themselves;
- to triumph over fear and futility;
- to sense the presence of a greater force or wisdom beyond their capacity for knowing.
All this and more is spirituality.
When people disengage from a religion that has disappointed them it may seem like a solution to their problem, but if they never develop a satisfying spiritual practice in its place, spirituality can be suppressed and wounds can remain unhealed.
Research on the Benefits of Having a Spiritual Practice
Suppressing healthy parts of our human nature does not usually benefit humankind. In addition, research confirms the many benefits of having a spiritual practice.
The Center for the Scientific Study of Religion (CSSR) researcher Dr. Christopher Ellison found that those who have a regular spiritual practice have increased life expectancy in the U.S. on the order of seven to eight years difference, even when controlling for other factors like smoking, age, gender and social class.
Dr. Andrew Weaver, in his research, finds that religion which brings adolescents in contact with a loving, merciful God protects teens from suicidality and depression. It’s like a safety net: they may sink and experience dark times but they don’t sink as deep as those who don’t have the net.
Problems with God vs Problems with Religion
Problems like feeling abandoned by God can hurt very deeply and this sometimes causes people to purposely suppress their spirituality. But like physical and emotional wounds, spiritual wounds do not go away just by distancing and suppressing this part of our nature. Spiritual healing can take place with the right effort in the right spiritual community.
On the other hand, for those who have a problem with religion as opposed to having lost faith in God, spirutality sometimes gets turned off inadvertently. They sometims conclude that they are better off on their own and a spritiual practice falls by the wayside. They reason that God loves them, they are basically good, they will die and go to heaven if there is one, and that is all they need to know.
But in truth, spirituality is meant to be expressed as we humans live and breathe, not just in death and the possible after life. If a person wants to run a marathon we expect them to train, to practice every day. If people wish to grow closer to God and mature in their spiritual awareness, it helps to have a practice, something they engage in purposefully, on a regular basis.
The ending of one’s religious affiliation need not be the end of the road for spiritual healing, spiritual growth, and spirutal expression. The key may be simply taking the first step.