For a long time now I have questioned the difference between religion and spirituality. I have always considered myself to be more spiritual than religious without really understanding the difference. I only knew that “organised” religion always left a lot of my questions unanswered because I had come across so many religious people who didn’t walk their talk. I know none of us are perfect, we are all doing the best we can with the resources we have available, but knowing and understanding that didn’t help to fill the void I felt I had in my life, Then I came across this article written by John N. Clayton and it was like a light bulb went on in my head!
I’m going to share portions of the article with you, because I know there are a lot of people out there who are going through exactly what I went through and asking the same questions I asked. My wish is that by sharing it with you will help to bring clarity and light into your life.
“Webster’s definition of religion is: “Any specific system of belief, worship, conduct, etc., involving a code of ethics and a philosophy.”
This may all sound rather mysterious and perhaps like a battle of semantics, but we would like to suggest that there is a major point to be made in the religion vs. spiritual area, and some dangers associated with it. A simple definition of religion is that religion is man’s attempt to reach God. Being spiritual is opening ourselves to God’s influence on our whole being. Let us draw some contrasts between these two definitions.
Religion focuses on what pleases man. Being spiritual focuses on what pleases God. Most of what we see religious people do in today’s world is the end product of what they think is appropriate to be religiously correct. Huge edifices are constructed, beautiful works of art created, beautiful music made, and marvelous words are said in the name of religion. People tend to judge churches by their size, location, and visibility in the community. A part of this judgment is how well the minister of the church entertains the membership. A good speaker can bring lots of people into the church as long as he does not offend and brings lots of humor and good feelings to his listeners. The mega churches of our day are groups that have learned this formula and do it well. I found this kind of artificial atmosphere to be especially repulsive, and atheism was and is an attractive alternative to all of the religious materialism that swirls around us.
Religion involves emotions and externals while spirituality involves the whole being. Religion tends to tell people to react to their emotions and express them visibly. In today’s world, there is an emphasis on wearing things that express our convictions and doing things that are ruled by our emotions. Preachers who can move people emotionally are looked up to, and religious services with great amounts of tears, emotional outbursts, and spirited responses are deemed to be the best. There are many problems with such approaches to God. One is that these services tend to produce huge peaks and valleys. A person is motivated to make a response by a capable preacher; and when the person is away from the positive reinforcement, they tend to crash. Another problem is that because the person is reacting emotionally to being in the service, their mind is not functioning on what is being taught. People like Jim Jones in Guyana, Marshall Applewaite in California, or David Koresh in Waco were able to get people to do incredible things which they certainly would not have done if they were not emotionally distracted.
Religion follows man’s standards while spirituality follows God’s standards. If someone were to ask me what the main cause of atheism is from my experience, my response would be that it is the hypocrisy of people who claim to be followers of God. When a person sees no difference between the way Christians conduct themselves and the way nonbelievers handle their lives, there is a compelling argument against the Christian system. The question is why this happens. The answer is that many of us who claim to be Christians are religious, but we are not spiritual. There is a huge practical difference.
Being religious involves following the accepted behavioral pattern of the religious group we are identified with. These patterns are determined by the leaders of the religious organization. It is difficult in today’s world to not hear of a religious group that is in turmoil over what is behaviorally acceptable and what is not. Everyone wants to know “what is your position on….” The focus is not on the individuals and their relationships to Christ, but rather on what the leadership of the religious organization is willing to condone and willing to condemn. This focus on organizational endorsement has sent the message to the average lay person that truth is a relative, dynamic, changing thing. The ultimate result of the acceptance of this message is that the religion has little or no effect on how the person lives. Even if lip service is paid to Christ and to the Bible by the leadership, the commitment is very diluted so that there is little effect on how people live or behave – even among the leaders.
We do not wish to imply that being spiritual is easy or that the choices that spirituality leads us to are always easily made. When an adulterous woman was brought to Jesus for judgment, He did not condone her immorality and in fact told her to “sin no more,” but His response to her accusers was to consider their own struggle with sin and focus on compassion, forgiveness, understanding, and sympathy. The Bible tells us how to be spiritual. The method involves a constant focus on attitudes and a deliberate adding of mindsets to one’s life.
“Add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness, and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity (2 Peter 1:5-7).”
I would hope that you continue to seek out Truth and not isolate yourself from believers and followers of Christ. I would hope that in the twenty-first century, the followers of Christ would get so free of religion and so into spirituality that no atheist or skeptic could justify their belief system on the failings of those who wear the name Christian.”
Reading this article has brought such clarity and insight into my life. I don’t have to grapple anymore with the guilt I felt because I didn’t follow religion the way I was brought up to follow it. I now totally understand, and am comfortable with, what my belief system is! I am now at peace……!
Make you think, doesn’t it?
Until next time………
Lots of love, light and hugs,