What’s the Difference between Religion and Spirituality?

The concept and practice of spirituality is becoming more popular and acceptable these days. Many people, however, struggle with defining the difference between spirituality and religion. I will offer some fundamental differences between traditional religion, progressive religion and spirituality.

I also provide research on the trends of religion and spirituality. Additionally my own thoughts are included, as to the importance of traditional religions being more open to progressive spiritual concepts for their own sustainability.

What is Religion?
The word religion in Latin means: “to bind oneself, to commit oneself.” Religion involves offering duty, a commitment to God and its particular teacher/prophet, such as: Jesus Christ or Mohammad.

Religion is about morals and what’s deemed right or wrong by the religious leaders. The spiritual or religions teacher’s messages are interpreted by church leaders and created doctrines, for man’s understanding and use. These doctrines offer a moral compass, and dictate how people should conduct themselves in order to win favor of God and the religion in general. 

Traditional religion I believe, often stresses the importance of sacrificing oneself as a way to honor and live for one’s God. Religion offers rituals of worship and praise to their God. It is public and group centered in its orientation; designed to be a source of comfort and advice, through a supportive community.

Conventional religious organizations, offer a way and place to worship and praise their God. Providing a structure for connection and friendship. Likewise, offering inspiring and comforting messages, rituals and music.

The churches or temples are beautiful and offer a sense of awe and peace. Religion serves many people well, and reinforces the “group think” and connection need.

Systems, such as: governments, education, corporate and financial systems, have rules and ways the masses are to adhere to, in order for the system to function. These systems require the group to conform, so it doesn’t want you to be different or step out of the norm.

Beginning in childhood, we are condition to conform to family and group/system rules and order. On one level, this serves a purpose and is a means of maintaining order within the system. However, it can create subtle, yet powerful ways to control people.

I view traditional religion, as a system, having its own rules and group norms. Generally, religion, like most systems is about conformity to its group rules. It’s not really interested in you becoming self-actualized or liberated‒free. It often struggles with independent thinkers and people being “out of the box.”

In my opinion, the philosophy of many religious organizations advocates the belief: God, is out there somewhere. So you need a third party to intervene with your communion and communication with God.

Traditional religion is a structured institution, governed by hierarchy, which is mostly male dominated and oriented. Today some religious hierarchies remain blinded to the fact, that women are becoming more empowered and have equal merit in their wisdom and capabilities to be religious leaders.

Progressive religious organizations are ones that are breaking the old paradigm, and including women in leadership roles and worship services. They are in general more including, rather than excluding, and embrace the concept of unity, rather an separation.

What is Spirituality?
The origin of “spiritual” is the Latin word spiritus meaning breath. Breathing, is an essential element of human life. Therefore, spirituality like breathing, is part of the essence of living. Other words with this common root include inspire, aspire and to conspire which means to breathe together.

Spirituality is more personal and individual in its philosophy and formats. It takes a more holistic‒body, mind and spirit approach. With an emphasis on one’s well being within their connection to a higher power. It views the divine, is as much inside of each of us as outside of us.

It embraces and encourages three parts or aspects of life, for exploration and discovery:
1. Divine wisdom from a higher power and your own
higher self.
2. One’s connection and relationship to nature and the
universe.
3. The discovery of the true self.

I believe, spiritual seekers have interest in moving beyond their ego; with a desire to live more from their heart-center. Spirituality encourages exploration of the soul and seeks to ask, and more importantly explore life transforming questions, such as:
Who am I?    
What’s my purpose for being here?
What’s the meaning of life?

Spirituality allows you to have control of your own individual journey‒your purpose, beliefs and method. Like the spiritual masters and teachers of many traditions. A spiritually mature and confident person has released the “group think” ideas and mind-set.

They are independent thinkers and doers; sailing on their own spiritual destiny. They are comfortable and adaptable with both personal and group interactions. They have learned the art of non-attachment, so they are accepting and tolerant to the path of others. Additionally, they have no need to convince others of their own spiritual path.

Distinctions between Religion and Spirituality
In my view, a major distinction between conventional religion and spirituality is: Spirituality advocates inclusion, love and unity of all parts of us, our fellow humans, and the earth.

It views the natural world as sacred, and has a child-like curiosity of the universe, and our connection to all that makes up the universe. Spirituality sees the divine/God in all that is. In addition, there is equal honoring and value of both female and male in leadership and teaching roles

Many traditional religions are about fear and shame/guilt, promoting a fear of God/Allah. Advocating separation and exclusion, an “us vs. them” mind-set. If you aren’t of my faith and belief, you are not welcomed and I should refrain from interaction with you.

I’ve come to realize a simple distinction between religion and spirituality is: Religion tells you who you need to be. Where as, spirituality invites you to discover who you are and can be.

There are roughly 4, 200 religions today
Most people believe in only one of these and discount the other 4,199. There are over 7 billion people on the planet today and each one of us likely has a different perception and interpretation of what spiritually and religion means.

I believe the key is the realization that humans and all of life, for that matter are inherently spiritual. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.

Spiritually affirms there can be many paths to the divine and inner peace. It encourages the exploration of the metaphysical.

“Metaphysics” is the study or exploration of those things and phenomena which are “beyond-the-physical” realm. It’s our connection to all things seen and  unseen.

Spirituality does not necessarily need a building to connect with God and inner peace. Many spiritual people find connection with their higher power and to life in more natural and informal surroundings.

To promote one’s spiritual experience, ways of self-expression and connection with divine energy. Spirituality encourages, meditation, being in nature, participation in a yoga or other self-enhancement classes, and spiritual retreats, etc.. Even preparing and eating a meal can be a spiritual experience with mindful intention, thoughts and practice.

I myself enjoy and encourage my clients (if they choose) in exploring the teachings and wisdom of different spiritual masters and world religions. This makes for a more inclusive understanding and acceptance of others. Which is part of the ingredients of love and world fellowship.

Enlightened Beings
Teachers and prophets: Jesus, Buddha, Mohammad and Krishna were not of a particular religion. Jesus wasn’t Christian and Buddha wasn’t Buddhist. They were spiritually enlightened beings and teachers, who taught inclusion, unconditional love, acceptance, and higher divine truth and ways of being. Particular religions adopted each of these teacher’s as their own. As in Jesus Christ associated with Christianity and Mohammad with Islam, etc.

Jesus for example, was an independent thinker and doer. He was for everyone. He interacted with women, children, the poor and sick. He promoted power-with, not power over. He challenged Jewish law, and broke the Sabbath; he was a rebel/”out of the box.” Church/group leaders were threatened by him, and used their man-made laws to condemn him.

Jesus’ purpose was to offer humanity, a higher dimension of love, teaching divine/metaphysical laws and ways to live a reverent spiritual life.

A Trend Toward Spirituality 
The phrase “spiritual but not religious” has become widely used in recent years by some Americans who are trying to describe their religious identity. While Pew Research Center does not categorize survey respondents in such a way, surveys do find that the U.S. public overall appears to be growing a bit less religious‒but also somewhat more spiritual.

A study conducted by Pew Research Center in 2012 found that the number of Americans who do not identify with any religion has increased from 15% in 2007 to 20% in 2012. One fifth of the US public and a third of adults under the age of 30 are reportedly unaffiliated with any religion, however they view themselves as being spiritual in some way. Of these religiously unaffiliated Americans, 37% classify themselves as spiritual, not religious, while 68% say they do believe in God, and 58% feel a deep connection to the earth.    http://www.pewforum.org/files/2012/10/NonesOnTheRise-full.pdf

Changing Times
The latest survey of more than 35,000 Americans by the Pew Research Center in 2014, finds that the percentage of adults (ages 18 and older) who describe themselves as Christians dropped by nearly eight percentage points in just seven years, from 78.4% in 2007 to 70.6% in 2014. Over the same period, the percentage of Americans who are not affiliated with a religion has jumped over six points, from 16.1% to 22.8%.

Furthermore, the study suggests, that in some ways Americans are becoming more spiritual. About six-in-ten adults now say they regularly feel a deep sense of “spiritual peace and well-being,” up 7% since 2007. And 46% of Americans say they experience a deep sense of “wonder about the universe” at least once a week, also up 7 points over the same period.

Overall, 64% of religiously affiliated adults say they feel a deep sense of spiritual peace and well-being at least weekly, compared with only 40% those who are unaffiliated. Even among the “non-believers,” there has been a recent 5-point rise in the people who say they frequently feel spiritual peace (from 35% in 2007 to 40% in 2014).  www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/01/21/americans-spirituality/

To address this decreasing trend in religious affiliation. Some religious organizations and particular churches; are embracing progressive spiritual concepts into their organizational structure and worship service.

In closing
The concept of spirituality and its practice is growing, especially among younger adults. Research shows people are abandoning fear based doctrines and self- righteous authority figures within the religious structures. As a result, more people are favoring the exploration of a higher truth on their own. Spirituality seems to offer an attractive fit to this new paradigm shift.

As humanity is becoming more globally connected, people have greater exposure to spiritual traditions and ways of living from around the world. A sort of West means East encounter is happening.

People are embracing and including several spiritual traditions into their lifestyle. There is a greater desire to know and understand our neighbor and ourselves, in relation to not just the world and God, but to the wonders of the universe‒our connection to all that is.

Spirituality, with its progressive concepts and teachings provides a vehicle to assist individuals toward one’s divinity.

I believe, if religions are to sustain themselves in the years ahead; it seems important for them to begin to embrace the concepts and ideas of spirituality.

Progressive churches of some religions are realizing the value of incorporating the ideals of spirituality as a way of connecting with people. While offering a more universal and holistic approach.

There is value in taking the productive love based concepts and teachings of religion and merging these with spirituality. Offering an inclusive, love and acceptance based way of assisting individuals on their journey.

After all, we are to expand the mind and open the heart. This is how growth and transformation happens on both the soul and human level.

I welcome your comments.

Are you curious and seeking more information or guidance with your spiritual journey? A gentle resource is just a phone call or email away. Please contact David Schroeder if you would like support with your spiritual concerns and journey. David offers life transition and spiritual growth counseling and coaching session’s in-person, by phone or Skype. Visit his website at transitionpathways.com. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength, a healthy and assertive way to help yourself and move through life transitions.

David Schroeder, LMSW, CPC from Grand Rapids, MI., is a licensed and spiritual social worker, certified life transition coach, and author of Just Be Love: Messages on the Spiritual and Human Journey. His practice, Transition Pathways helps people find healthy pathways to love, greater awareness and higher potential. David’s book, Just Be Love is available through his website: transitionpathways.com or through online bookstores: amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com.

Being Love in Everyday Life

Many people ask: How do I Be Love? A part of us makes the concept and practice of love more complicated than it intends and needs to be.  Love can be found and can be expressed in simple yet, powerful and meaningful ways. Smiling at a passerby, listening to a friend who’s stressed, offering a hug and saying thank you, petting a cat or dog; these are powerful expressions of love and caring.  In my book, Just Be Love I offer several chapters of where love can be found, yet it’s often not recognized or appreciated. Consider how nature and the universe displays infinite love, when we take a walk in the woods, sit by a stream, honor the rising sun, reflect with the setting sun, or stand, looking up at the night sky in awe at the parade of stars, or watch a gentle snow fall or rain. These are simple ways of Being, experiencing and living Love. They are expressions of love through the divine, and these examples are ways that ground us to the present moment. Life and love are found and experienced in the moment.

Love is Unconditional Giving. The act of giving, of our time, our talents, possessions, a listening ear, or a helpful hand; are ways of expressing and being love. To freely give without consideration of a loss is love without measure. St. Francis of Assisi said: “The greatest measure of love is love without measure.” Being in thoughts and expression of appreciation and gratitude is one of the highest forms of love and giving, and is a pathway to our own inner happiness and peace.

Love is Unconditional Receiving. Many of us can give freely, and it’s a way we feel loved, accepted and worthy. However, we might struggle, even avoid, receiving openly and freely; due to our inner wounded belief of feeling undeserving and unworthy. The struggle to freely receive without offering something in return is often the result of being made to feel guilt or shame, from past experiences. To freely and openly Receive, is to Give.

Being Love Calls us to Our Imagination, which is the soul/spirit of us, to dare to dream and live the childlike qualities and wonders within us. We are called to embrace and be love, for love is who we are. Love is the innocence of our being. There is sacred wisdom and strength in just Being.

Love is Being Our True Self. To be our true and authentic self, is to let go of outside opinions and judgment, of whom and how we should be. Judgment is the withholding of love, and the way of the ego, critical self.  Love is meant to be including and offer freedom. However, an aspect of love is about setting healthy boundaries with others as a way to prevent being taken advantage of and, is an act of care, concern and value toward the self.  It’s healthy to love myself enough to know when a relationship/friendship is hurting me, more than serving me. So out of love it’s important to set myself and the other person free from what’s no longer healthy and constructive. When I do what’s best for me out of love, I do what’s best for others. Accepting the other person, might not understand your decision and actions at the time.

When We Can Be Accepting, offering compassion and forgiveness to others and ourselves, we are being in the thoughts, energy and actions of unconditional love. Love should be one of our highest guiding principles in life. Love is not a condition to be obtained; it’s a certainty to surrender to. Love calls us to let go of our human ego’s will and surrender to the higher and wiser will of the infinite.

Being Love Means, I seek to keep growing and expanding in my openness and willingness to freely love to love. It’s important to keep learning and challenging myself, in order to be the best version of me. Being love invites the self to look for the good in others, the world and myself, and to view my experiences, especially the difficult ones, from the higher perspective.

Can You Just Be Love? After all love is all you really are.  Questions to consider: What are some ways you can Just Be Love?  What would cause you to be more fearful and resistance of loving and accepting someone for who they are?  What could you do for yourself to release this resistance?   What would be the benefits of this for you and your relationship with others?

Feel free to leave a comment.

David Schroeder, LMSW, CPC from Grand Rapids, MI., is a licensed social worker, certified life coach, and author of Just Be Love: Messages on the Spiritual and Human Journey. My practice, Transition Pathways helps people find healthy pathways to love, greater awareness and higher potential.  My book Just Be Love is available through my websites: transitionpathways.com  or  justbelove1.com Also available through online bookstores: amazon.com , barnesandnoble.com

Forgiveness: Moving Beyond the Injustice

Forgiveness is one of the most powerful healing tools we have for reconciling and moving beyond from the hurts and wounds of life. It’s also a profound act of love and acceptance, especially self-love. For when we forgive another person or ourselves for a wrong doing, we set ourselves free and we benefit the most from the forgiveness. Despite the healing and liberating power of forgiveness; for many of us, the act of forgiveness is one of the most resisted and thus difficult acts we can offer to others or ourselves.

I’ve come to appreciate the only reason we have forgiveness, is because we make something matter. When we make something matter, we create an intense emotional charge within us. So an unjust “cause” done to us creates a strong “effect”, often having lasting emotional, physical, social and spiritual “effects” on us. The act of forgiveness helps to lower the emotional charge and intensity within us and helps liberate us from the painful experience.

Forgiveness is not about excusing the offense or saying/believing it didn’t happen. Forgiveness is not really about the offender, it’s about the one who is affected by the cause, the one holding on to the anger, resentment, grief. Being trapped in resentment, anger, depression, grief; waiting for the offender to take responsibility and ownership of the hurt toward us, is giving away our own power, inner peace and freedom. The more we can take charge of our own healing without an expectation that the offender needs to say something to us, or do something for us, the more empowered and liberated we can be. The quote by Lewis Smedes speaks volumes about the importance of forgiveness: “To forgive is to set the prisoner free and to discover that that prisoner was you.”

Forgiveness is an act of love, and love is freedom. To forgive is to be free and a way to love. Forgiveness means to go beyond our wounded ego self, in order to free the self. The willingness to go beyond the wounded self is to rise as love, to let go of what no longer serves us, so in time we can be restored to wholeness. 

Perhaps you’re not willing and/or ready to forgive someone. That’s okay and where you are currently at. Forgiveness is not something to be forced upon or to do out of guilt, if you are not ready. One should be open, willing and accepting in order to truly forgive. Human nature is such that, we are all at different stages of willingness and readiness. If this be the case, at least consider the importance of reconciling within yourself how hanging on to negative perceptions, create toxic emotions of anger and resentment leading to paralyzing beliefs and resulting self-defeating behaviors. How all this can affect many areas of your life in ways that are not helpful to you.   

I offer you the possibility and opportunity of considering a process I call “inner reconciliation.” Inner reconciliation is a way of reorienting our perceptions and beliefs about the experience and ourselves within the fact that our life has been disrupted either mildly or severely by a wrongful act toward us. Our ego defenses and beliefs often says: “They wronged us/hurt us and so let’s stay mad, bitter resentful, etc, that way we have a sense of power and control; since we didn’t have power and control during the offending experience.” Our anger, resentment and such, become a lens through which we see ourselves and the wrong doing. Its destructive thinking, beliefs and behaviors we create as a way to keep feeding our hurt and pain, in order to keep it alive and justify it. This is only hurting ourselves now, within the fact that we were hurt by someone in the past. This is unfortunately how victim energy and behaviors begin to take root, and if not tamed and reconciled can become our way of life.

Like grief, forgiveness is a process and takes time, willingness and commitment toward moving beyond what has hurt us and seemed unfair. When we can change our perception and belief about the experience, we begin to change our world and the way we interact in it. The process of forgiveness, like moving through any change we experience in our life, is an inside job. The job and empowerment of moving through what I call the 4 R’s: Recognize: who and how I am being with my current perceptions, thoughts, beliefs, feelings/emotions and behaviors. We can’t change or move beyond something unless we acknowledge it and tell the true to ourselves about ourselves. Reconcile: The willingness to resolve the inner pain and torment. Release: To let go of what no longer serves and benefits us. This offers space for healthier and more empowering possibilities to enter into your reality. Reframe: Is to now choose to see the painful experience, yourself and the offender, in a different and more constructive way. To see the glass more full than empty. This creates the willingness and courage to construct a more positive and affirming belief about yourself, within the unfortunate experience.  

In my own life, I’ve had many opportunities to practice forgiveness in what seemed at first, an unjust cause. I offer two experiences. One, was my wife of twelve years wanting a divorce, at the time it didn’t seem fair and not my choice. I was hurt, angry and frustrated. In time, I came to a place accepting her choice and let go of making her responsible for my feelings and behaviors within the stress and change. She made her choice out of self-love and what was best for her. I also had a choice of how I would move through it and who I wanted to be within a difficult situation. The choice of hanging on to anger, sadness and resentment and such, would only take me down a self-destructive and unfulfilling path. Through accepting the things I could not change, forgiving her and myself, and empowering myself to change what I could, which was only myself, this allowed me to change my situation from the inside out and move on in my life, and be a better version of myself and a father. Years later my ex-wife and I are friends and get along well on behalf of our sons and grand children. 

Several years ago, while driving my car I was hit head on, by a driver who was attempting to pass the car in front of him. The driver of this car was ticketed for failure to yield the right of way and his insurance company settled with me. Several months after the settlement, this man decided to sue me for mental harm. It was amazing that it ended up in a jury trial. I was in disbelief and just dumbfounded how I could be setting in a courtroom on trial for something I didn’t cause. Fear, anger, and uncertainty filled my days waiting for the court appearance and the verdict. I was found not guilty. A part of me with its voice inside me, understandably wanted to turn around and sue this guy, and many people suggested this. But another voice inside said, let it go, just let him be, he’s an old unhappy man, no need to put more fuel in the fire. I had compassion for this man and his struggle with needing revenge and justice, while not acknowledging and accepting he was in the wrong. He taught me, you never win a war – with war. So I forgave the error. In his need to get back at me, he was unaware of what his anger and resentment was doing to himself. I was at peace and moving on with life.

This man was after all, another teacher and opportunity for me through this difficult life experience. Through his actions, he was offering me the opportunity of learning and practicing the gift of moving beyond the injustice and my wounded self, toward acceptance, compassion and forgiveness.

You see, when you realize we have choices within difficult, painful and unjust experiences to see the offender as the threat and the enemy or the teacher and the opportunity. Depending on how you view it and think about it, is how you will experience it. What we think about we bring about.  When we can accept and understand that our experiences are really our teachers and opportunities to practice acts such as: acceptance, compassion and forgiveness, we take the high road with love, creating the willingness and commitment to move beyond the hurt, and learn the lesson for soul growth and self-mastery. Is this an easy task to get too? No. Is forgiveness a liberating and life changing act to engage in, that offers higher meaning? Yes, for sure. Life isn’t meant to be easy, it’s meant to be meaningful.

Questions to consider: Why might you struggle with forgiveness?  What would be the benefits of forgiveness for you?  How does acceptance and willingness aid the forgiveness process?  Feel free to leave a comment, share your answers to above questions, and/or share your experience with forgiveness.

 

David Schroeder, LMSW, CPC from Grand Rapids, MI., is a licensed social worker, certified life coach, and author of Just Be Love: Messages on the Spiritual and Human Journey. My practice, Transition Pathways helps people find healthy pathways to love, greater awareness and higher potential.  My book Just Be Love is available through my websites: transitionpathways.com  or  justbelove1.com Also available through online bookstores: amazon.com , barnesandnoble.com

Enhancing spiritual esteem

Enhancing Our Spiritual & Self-Esteem
Offered through Rock Valley College Community Education

Explore the importance of understanding, accepting and working with our spiritual and emotional self.  We will explore  5 key areas of our inner self and the universe, and how these areas impact our relationship with ourselves, our earthly world, and the spiritual universe.  Class offers stories, metaphores, insights, discussion, and tools.  Helping you increase your understanding and growth of the dynamics and choice between your human and spiritual self.  ” The road to your soul is through your mind” 

Topics include:

  • Our Resistant Ego and Our Surrendered Spirit
  • The Need for Approval & the Rejection of the Self
  • Building Our Emotional & Spiritual Bank Account
  • Accepting & Living with the Continuum in the Universe & Within Ourselves 
  • Celebrating the Uniqueness of the Universe & Ourselves  
Instructor: David Schroeder, LCSW, CPC
Class location: Rock Valley College  3301 N. Mulford Rd. Rockford, IL
Day/Time: Thursdays Oct. 20 & 27  6:00 – 9:00pm
Fee: $50.00
Pre-registration through Rock Valley College Community Education
815-921-3900 or online @rockvalleycollege.edu/onlineservices
For more class info. call or email David @ 815-238-4521 or david@transitionpathways.com