Spirituality principles, struggles, knowledge base and insights for the earnest seeker.

The Difference Between Religion and Spirituality

For a lot of people the words religion and spirituality are interchangeable. Indeed, most people do not understand the difference between the two. In this rather lengthy article, I shall try to explain some of the major differences between religion and spirituality, starting from the Beginning.

In The Beginning…

Knowing the difference between religion and spirituality frees us to explore who we are.

Every religion has an origin story. An explanation as to how and when that religion came to be. The origin stories of all religions are strikingly similar. The actors and the stage may differ but the backdrop and the story arc is familiar. It always begins with the world being in some dire situation. A situation characterized by sin, suffering and injustice of all kinds. Into this darkness, a child is born – almost always a boy. The arrival of this child has always been foretold. It is always said he would grow up to be a great hero who saves humanity from sin, suffering and ignorance. If this sounds familiar, it is because it is the origin story of almost all of the world’s religions.

Spirituality on the other had has no origin story. No one knows where, when or who started it. Most likely it started in antiquity and took many forms – from primitive animism to shamanism – before slowly evolving into the occultism and mysticism that we are familiar with today. The growth and evolution of spirituality has been very organic – spirituality has resisted being controlled by the church or state, even to this day.

Spirituality predates religion so much that many of the founders of religions themselves practiced some form of spirituality before going on to start their respective religions. There is so much evidence for the influence of spirituality upon the world’s religions that it would not be wrong to say that spirituality is the mother of religion.

Heroes and Saviors

Almost all so-called ‘modern religions’ originated from a single man. Be he Rama, Moses, Jesus, Mohammad, Buddha, Nanak, Confucius or any number of hundreds of men. Spirituality on the other hand has had no such founder. Spirituality grew from the insight and wisdom of hundreds of practitioners – many of whom are revered as saints and holy people.

The key difference between the heroes of religion and spirituality is the way in which they are regarded by their followers. The heroes of religions are often accorded a god-like status – believed to be perfect and free from sin. Spiritual heroes on the other hand are often regarded as nothing more than mortal men who achieved a high state of spiritual discipline through effort and sacrifice. In this regard, spiritual heroes are far more relatable than their religious counterpart.

Scriptures and Testaments

Both religious and spiritual people have had their experiences recorded in the form of books and scriptures. Religious scriptures are often written by third party authors – sometimes hundreds of years after the events stated in the text. Spiritual writings on the other hand are often times autobiographical, making them far more personal and relatable then religious text.

While religious scriptures are often regarded as being infallible by their believers, spiritual writings are often times taken to be only a form of reference and interpretation of the writer’s insight and view upon life.
Many believers of religious scriptures regard their holy books as being the literal word of God. Anyone who disagrees is considered ignorant, sinful or worst still, devilish and are declared ‘enemies’ to be fought. This is why almost all religious scriptures give rise to fundamentalism, which breeds extremism, justifying acts of terrorism. However this is not to say that all religious believers act in this way. There are vast number of believers who do not take their scripture literally and who lead very religious, peaceful and tolerant lives – accepting and even promoting diversity of beliefs and worship.

On the other hand, spiritual text are seldom regarded with such zeal. Perhaps it is because these texts are not seen as binding but simply as a guide – to be used as the reader sees fit.

The Grand Mission

All major world religions have a singular mission: to rid the world of sin. Sin is the single most universal concept found in all of the major world religions.

Praying for the forgiveness of one’s sin is a universal aspect of all religions.

Sin is generally described as a state of being impure or defiled in the eyes of God or is sometimes called a fallen state. Religions proclaim that they have a solution to return man to an idealized state of being in the favor of God or some higher form of being. Each religion claims that their solution for ridding man of sin is the best solution. Some religions even go as far as to say that theirs is the only solution and all other religions’ are frauds. Yet with all the cures that religion offers, the world seem nowhere near purged of sin then when religion was first conceived. To make matters worse, it seems even the holiest of men are capable of committing the most despicable acts of sin. This has led many to question the effectiveness of religion in freeing man of sin or even the supposed existence of sin itself. Some defend religion by saying that no one can be totally free of sin while alive and that the ideal state of liberation from sin can only be achieved after death.

Spirituality on the other hand makes no such lofty claims. The only claim spirituality makes is that man is not living up to his full mental, emotional and spiritual potential. Spirituality’s purpose is to enhance man’s mental, emotional, spiritual wellbeing and health to such a degree whereby he is able to withstand all challenges that life may throw at him. Spirituality claims it is able to do this without resorting to theological or metaphysical ideas commonly used in religion. This type of spirituality can be entirely secular – devoid of any religious affiliations nor even requiring a religious faith of any kind.

However, such is not the position of religion. Religion claims that the only way man can achieve liberation is to fulfill the purpose of his life, as dictated by the religion itself.

The Purpose of Life

The purpose of life according to religion is to live life in accordance to the ethical precepts of religion so as to be worthy of entry into some future promised paradise – either on earth or in heaven – or both. This is achieved through practicing good speech, deeds and worship. ‘Good’ here being defined by the teachings of each religion and can vary somewhat greatly between religions. By doing ‘good’ man is promised absolution from sin which then qualifies him entry into heaven, paradise, nirvana or freedom from the cycle of births and deaths. This is the ultimate purpose of life as prescribed by religion and every believer is expected to strive for it – with his mind, body, soul and even wealth.

The goal of spirituality is to bring out the best of humanity.

Spirituality on the other hand is far less metaphysical. In spirituality, there is no heaven or paradise that the spiritual aspirant strives for. Neither does the spiritual aspirant live in constant fear of sin. Spirituality’s only goal is to achieve a healthy state of body, mind and soul – one that would be resilient in facing life’s many challenges without being permanently affected by any crisis or event. An accomplished spiritual being is able to maintain the most positive outlook on life in the most negative of situations. He achieves this because this is what he has strived for – with no thought of reward either of the earthly or the heavenly kind. Achieving a strong developed spiritual state is reward in and of itself. The spiritual aspirant does not hunger for accolades nor some mythological paradise. He is satisfied being what and who he is.

Religion Plus Spirituality

True spirituality is secular. It does not need nor depend on any religious doctrine or faith. The power of spirituality is so strong that many religious people have been drawn to it. They are attracted to spirituality’s emphasis on personal growth and see it has something that can be used to enhance their own religious faith. Over the centuries, in all major religions, many men and women have combined the teachings of spirituality and religion to give rise to a kind of religious spirituality or more commonly known as mysticism.

Mysticism’s aim is to use spirituality to achieve personal growth to the extent that the soul or spirit of the believer is able to draw near to its object of desire – which can be God, the Divine Consciousness or Nirvana. This is achieved while the practitioner is still alive. Thus, in mysticism, liberation is achieved before death unlike the beliefs of the religious who seek salvation after death.


I hope I have managed to make the distinction between religion and spirituality a little clearer to you. It will help a great deal to know that all humanity share exactly the same spirituality although we may believe in different religions. While religions separates us, spirituality unites us. If nothing else, I hope you are able to understand that spirituality is not religion and that religion can be completely devoid of spirituality. The two can indeed be mutually exclusive.

Walk in Spirit

All images used are royalty-free courtesy of Pixabay.

A labor of love for the seeker – whoever you are and wherever you may be. May you find solace in these words.

Your brother in spirit

ben gill

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