Wednesday, August 17, 2005

What is the difference between spirituality and religion?

The word religion derives from the Latin religare, which means "to tie fast" or "to bind together." According to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, one definition of religion is, "a set of beliefs, values and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader." This would seem to suggest that religion is a subset of a larger rubric called spirituality.

Defining spirituality, however, is a bit like describing color to one who has never known sight. Perception will vary according to your beliefs. Of the myriad online resources attempting to answer the inquiry, "What is Spirituality?" a Unitarian Universalist minister offers this view:

Spirituality is being concerned with things of the spirit—the big questions of meaning, metaphysics, existence. Being spiritual is thinking about, wondering about, and exploring the deepest aspects of reality, values, morals, and meanings.

Spirituality is mis-defined if it is equated with super-naturalism, which tends to be the mistake I find when I hear people object to the word. Nothing about a search for values, morals, and meanings implies faith instead of reason, or emotion instead of intelligence. Spirituality can be all those things, and it is to some people, but not exclusively so.

After all, 'spirit' simply means 'breath,' as in 'inspire', 'expire' or 'inspiration.' Spirit is about being filled with life. It's about all the ways that we try to make sense of our living, and our attempts to make good from our lives.


Religion is the things we do that help us focus on the big questions.

The Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of the Tibetan Buddhist community, has said, "My religion is kindness." This statement, like his work in the world, broadens the scope of religion to embrace its spiritual essence: both begin with how we think, feel and behave.

from "the faith factor in healthy aging"

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