Sunday, January 31, 2010

Religion VS Spirituality.

A friend of mine recently wrote to me bringing up an interesting question, one that I believe a lot of people struggle with today. What is the difference between Religion and Spirituality? One of the biggest differences I noticed right away in really giving this some thought, is that one is a LOT easier to explain than the other! There are probably an infinite amount of ways to describe the differences between the two but I think one of my favorites is of my own creation. Leave it to me to come up with something involving food.

First of all, before we get into that though, I'd like to explain my concept of spiritual structure. Over the years, I've come to view the varying stages of spiritual development as a kind of process of phases. like life stages. To me, there is an ideal progression of growth that should happen among people in order to eventually reach our full potential spiritually. Mind you this is based on my own life experience, so take it as you will.

The Seeking Stage:

I hesitate to call it this because all of our life is a constant state of seeking, trying to understand the things around us. For some of us though, it wasn't always that way, there had to be a beginning to that journey. Something usually happens in a person's life to make them begin to question the world around them, and how they fit into it. From there, they begin to ponder what their purpose is and in the process of figuring out that purpose, begin to focus on the concepts of good and evil.

This may not make much sense at first glance but when people start thinking about purpose, they usually reach the conclusion that embracing concepts of good and avoiding things that are evil will lead to some kind of enlightenment, an awakening of purpose. The question from here then becomes, what is good? What is evil? This leads to stage two of the spiritual growing process.

The Religious Stage:

At this point, a person is on a quest, a personal mission, to find their purpose in existence. They've conceptualized that the best way to realize this purpose is to find the right diet so to speak. We eat and exercise in specific ways in order to mold our bodies into the shape we desire. On the quest for purpose, people end up doing the same thing. Through years of social programming, people identify with the concepts of good and evil. A diet of good will lead to a better understanding of life while a diet of evil will produce the opposite result.

So, people begin to research diet plans, in this case, different religions, trying to find a good fit for them. They look for texts and doctrines that line up with their own personal ideas of good and evil, rituals they can live with following, and they latch on. In most cases, the truly seeking person will drink everything a religion has to offer like life giving water, desperate to learn everything they can for the purpose of doing the right thing, so that they can understand their purpose.

At a certain point at this stage of development, the road forks though, and one of two things happens. The first thing that can happen is that the religion is as far as a person needs to go in order to feel as if they are fulfilling their purpose in life or are on the only road they need to be on in order to get to that fulfillment. Some people will tell you that this is stagnation and not something that is good for spiritual development, I disagree. A person's path is their own to walk and there can be many reasons why a person latches on to one religion and chooses only to grow within the confines of that religion. They are too many to go into at the moment though.

The second thing that can happen at this stage is that at some point, a person feels that they have gained all that they can from their religion. I myself often say that the reason I am where I'm at now is because I simply outgrew Christianity. Not only that, but sometimes a person figures out that they can no longer hold to some of the guidelines of a religion because they find that along the way, their own spiritual ideas have begun to conflict with the doctrines they have chosen to follow. This, leads a person into stage three of the spiritual growth process.

The Universalist Stage:

Still believing that religion is the key to understanding purpose, people will start to embrace the idea of simply accepting all religions. They'll treat religions like a buffet, going to each table and getting some of this and some of that. The reason religion is still so important at this stage is that it provides a person with needed structure. They still believe that they need to be led and taught by theology but have reached a level of understanding where they are open to embracing many different theologies.

This too can either be the stopping point of the cycle or the next step. A person may find that they are satisfied exploring the different religions of the world, taking from them what they will and throwing the different concepts and ideas into an organized structure. At this stage, a person generally reaches the conclusion that good and evil are not entirely black and white. They often will come to this conclusion by observing others who are good people but may not fall into the preconceived notion of "good" they they've come to believe over time.

At some point in this stage, a person may begin to question the relevancy of religion all together because they find that they themselves and the people around them fall in to way too many categories to fit any religious mold of good, holy, or righteous. So, instead of focusing on what makes people so different, they begin to explore what makes human beings the same. Instead of focusing entirely on their own individual purpose, they begin to question the purpose of mankind as a whole. This is when the doors begin to open for the next stage of development.

The Spiritualist Stage:

This is where it gets complicated and also where there will be hundreds of thousands of different ideas regarding the meaning of a Spiritualist. For me to get through this, it will be best and easiest just to share my own concept of the word. At this stage, a person throws away association with religion all together. Instead of treating themselves to the buffet, they start to focus on the gardens where all the different varieties of foods came from. They realize that the fields from which religion sprang are far more vast than simply exploring the religions themselves.

At this stage, the concepts of good and evil do not exist, at least not in the conventional meaning of the words. A person generally simply accepts that everything that happens in existence, does so for a reason that ultimately is for the betterment of society and individuals. The spiritualist learns from everything, embracing science and refusing to reject things such as common sense.

The focus on purpose also tends to fluctuate a little. For me, my purpose has become simply to experience life. The journey is what is important and I have realized that understanding my purpose isn't as important as understanding *with* purpose. Researching everything, finding the connections between everything. Deity also loses some meaning at this stage and as a personal belief, I think that most people who call themselves spiritualists have come to understand that we are all possessive of deity like qualities. We either are like gods ourselves or are all part of some kind of living universe/deity.

So, basically, the main difference between spirituality and religion in my opinion is that religion is man made while spirituality is a naturally occurring concept built into the consciousness of humanity. One could say that the various types of religions in the world are all mankind's way of expressing this natural spirituality. I've often been criticized for saying this, but I also believe that none of these religions are wrong or right, good or evil, they are all just a means to a personal end. As human beings, it is up to use to decide how we wish to express our spirituality and up to us to find what chimes with our own personal morals and ideas.