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Spirituality vs Religion: 11 Differences (With Pros & Cons List)

by Aletheia Luna - Apr 29, 2022 Copyright © 2012 - 2022 All Rights Reserved

To set things straight, I’m not in either the “religion is evil” or “spirituality is nonsense” groups.

I’m that weird outlier who’s hanging out on the outskirts holding up a sign that says “BOTH are good and BOTH are bad folks.”

As someone who was raised in a fundamentalist Christian faith (and kissed that goodbye years ago!), and has been on the spiritual-but-not-religious path for over a decade, I find myself in the middle. I often straddle the line between religiosity and spirituality knowing that each has its own strengths and weaknesses.

Sure, I can understand why people either hate religion or elevate spirituality (and vice versa), but I’m not interested in perpetuating division – our world has enough of that already.

There is a lot of beauty and depth in both religion and spirituality, and before we “throw the baby out with the bathwater,” I want to offer you, dear spiritual sojourner, some food for thought; something to meditate upon and contemplate.

Firstly, this article will explore the differences between spirituality vs religion for the sake of clarity, but it will also touch on a third path which I believe is necessary for us to evolve and find peace as human beings.

Table of contents

  • Spirituality & Religion Definitions

  • What is Spirituality?

  • What is Religion?

  • Why We Hate Religion & Think Spirituality is Woo-Woo

  • Spirituality vs Religion: 11 Differences (With Pros & Cons)

  • The Third Way: Mysticism

  • What is Mysticism?

  • How to Unite Spirituality and Religion in Your Life (Without the Ugly Dogma)

  • Final Words

Spirituality & Religion Definitions

As I explored in my previous article entitled “what is spirituality,” I define spirituality vs religion in the following ways:

What is Spirituality?

The word “spirituality” comes from the Latin word spiritualis, which means, “breath; of the spirit; air.” (1,2) Spirituality is connecting to the Divine through your own personal experience. It is primarily concerned with finding, experiencing, and embodying one’s true spiritual nature.

What is Religion?

The word “religion” comes from the Latin word religionem, which means, “respect for what is sacred, reverence for the gods; conscientiousness, sense of right, moral obligation.(1) Religion is connecting to the Divine through someone else’s experience. It is primarily concerned with believing in, following, and obeying the rules created by a certain Deity or spiritual teacher.

Iconic singer David Bowie famously described spirituality vs religion in the following brilliantly irreverent way:

Religion is for people who’re afraid of going to hell. Spirituality is for those who’ve already been there.

Why We Hate Religion & Think Spirituality is Woo-Woo

In the words of Nietzsche, the well-known German philosopher who essentially prophesied the crumbling of religion in the West (“God is dead”):

What do we do with a human God, when we turn to God, precisely because we’re disgusted by mankind?

This kind of statement perfectly summarizes the kind of (rightfully justified) cynicism and disillusionment that we carry toward the popular patriarchal notion of a white dude sitting in the sky, judging all our actions.

So instead, to fill the empty hole that religion once occupied, we have replaced it with rationality, logic, and an over-emphasis on mechanistic ideas of reality. Science has become the new God, or what is known as “Scientism” – a word popularized by Austrian economist F. A. Hayek in the early 20th century.

In a society that values science as the new word of God, spirituality or anything metaphysical (that can’t be directly, empirically, “proven” by the scientific method) is seen to be woo-woo, fluffy, or worse *gasp* … “pseudoscience.”

And yet, regardless of where we stand as a species, we all have an innate drive to seek something higher and greater than ourselves – whether that be God, Enlightened Consciousness, our next-and-best consumerist purchase, or a dogmatic belief that Science is the only “true way” of seeing the world.

I don’t believe that we’re done with religion or spirituality yet – in fact, I believe that we’re not only craving these paths as a species, but we need them.

Religiosity, spirituality, and devotion to something Higher than the ego are basic human needs and intrinsic human qualities. Yes, they have most certainly caused tremendous evil in this world (I’m speaking mostly about religion here), which is undeniable.

But can’t they be salvaged?