Religion, what is it? Spirituality?

Spiritual people often say that they don’t like ‘religion’. They want nothing to do with religious organizations. What they usually mean is, as far as I can gather, that they want nothing to do with Christian organizations, or dogmas. Every other religious organisation is just lumped in the bag of ‘bad’, without the person having prior experience with the organisation.

As a definition of religion this is an old one: those who gather in a church, believing in the same God… In fact it’s a uniquely Christian invention – and within Christianity only protestant Christianity (old school protestantism) really fits the bill.

For instance Judaism: a person is a Jew simply because their mother was a Jew. What they believe, what organisations they are members of, whether they go to Shul (the synagogue). A religious Jew isn’t defined by what they believe either – but by whether they observe the rules of behavior in orthodox Judaism – and to what extent. Of course there are shared beliefs, but one can be an observant Jew without sharing them.

Protestant Christians follow the definition rather precisely (or they used to), especially here in The Netherlands. You belong to a certain group of protestant Christians if you have vowed to believe in the dogmas of that group, pay your membership dues and go to church most Sundays.

But Roman Catholics are different. For the church those born to Roman Catholic parents are themselves, by definition, Roman Catholic. A person has to actively do something to get out of that lock in: like writing the arch diocee that you don’t want to be a Catholic.

I hope it is clear from this that the label attached to religions is dependent on culture. These days it is becoming more and more common for people who call themselves Christian to also be interested in mandalas, for instance. American Christians don’t gather based on their specific Christian beliefs (who cares whether God left us free will or not?). Instead people mostly choose their church on practical considerations.

So if all that is true – why do people in the alternative spiritual scene hate the word ‘religion’ so much? Anybody care to explain?

9 thoughts on “Religion, what is it? Spirituality?”

  1. Nicely put! However i do think there is a differnece between (organised) religion and religiousness. Many spiritual people do have religious feellings but don’t care to belong to any organisation. In this i agree with you that this goes mainly for christian organisation, and in a lesser degree for organisations with a christian “heritage”.
    To answer the question what religion is I think you have to differentiat between organised religion (like churches, etc.) and the feeling of religiousness. Might this be a topic for a new post?

  2. I think a lot of us came from religious backgrounds or had a bad religious experience, and we just got a bad taste in our mouth. There were so many rules, so much to live up to, never really did fit in, shoved down our throats. Personally I do feel like a very spiritual person, but religion gives me nightmares. Do this, don’t do that, oops you sinned, go straight to hell, do not pass go do not collect $200.

  3. As a child I was never taught or pressured into any religious beliefs by my relatives, but I did go to church with my friends on Sunday mornings if I happened to stay over on a Saturday night. What turned me off to religion during those experiences?

    Church was painfully BORING.

    There were too many rules and not enough explanations for those rules. “Do this, don’t do that.” “Well, why not?” “Because it’s wrong and God will get mad.”

    Very little of anything made sense to me. For example, God loves us but will throw us in fire if we don’t live up to His expectations. A childhood friend of mine used to tell me how she would stay up all night overwhelmed with worry because she was afraid of going to hell. Shouldn’t religion support well-being instead of causing panic attacks?

    Yes, I used to be very resentful toward the Christian religion for trying to feed me a very warped and manipulative spiritual teaching. But I’ve been over it for a long time now and have been blessed to find spiritual teachings of love in the form of books, people, and experiences. So while I now don’t count as someone who hates the word religion, I can understand why there are many people out there who do.

  4. Thanks for this thought. Many christians most likely get rid of religion discussions because it always attracts divisions. Here in the Philippines that is very sensitive issue since we have at least 80 different religions. Our country is the most religious nation in the world. Instead, we call us christians because it sounds neutral.And it is really fit because the disciples was tagged as christians after Christ resurrection. Besides, religion is just a man’s ingenious invention. It was not made in heaven. What was made by God is relationship. Thus, christians should have a better human relationship than non-christians, otherwise they are the whole christianity in shame. A true religion is in the hearts of every man. Love your neighboors as you love yourself. Kindness, Action, Virtues and Character. My previous mentor from kamja has something to tell on this subject.

  5. I think enough replies have said why people do not like religion–they reacted to it when they grew up. If I recall correctly (‘IIRC,’) the etymology of religion has something to do with reading. Then in a way it is has more to do with reading. If people knew more about what it meant maybe they would not make a such judgement about it; I just use it as a synonym for spirituality, Philosophy, mysticism, esoterism, magic, and (though I did not know it was about reading) mythology, mythography, etc…. they are all synonyms and people’s opinion of the rest probably widely vary.

  6. The biggest problem with modern religion in my view is the its institutionalization. Once the form is more important than the content real spirituality is lost and with it the idea of religion: the term stems from the Latin ‘religare’ – which means ‘to bind back’. But today nobody bind him-/herself back to a higher purpose by vowing to belief some unquestioned dogma…

  7. As a young child attending a mid-western Catholic school, I remember feeling as if I was being forced to live under some enormous dark cloud. The religious beliefs that were recited to me daily held no sense of belonging for me. I was unable to wrap my mind around what I was being told, and I was unable to make sense of the anguish that religion brought to the lives of those around me. Church became an intimidating setting, a place filled with fear and doubt, rather than a place of joy, admiration and praise. I remember the looming thought that one lifetime was all we got, one short, unexplained, often miserable lifetime and it either lead directly to heaven or directly to hell. This was a very damaging way for a young child to view the world, a world that I later discovered holds so much beauty and so much joy.

    Although I am now convinced that there is room for all belief systems and that no one religion or spiritual theory should reign sovereign, I was unwilling to simply accept what had been recited to me as a child for absolute truth and I encourage others to explore in the same fashion, to maintain an open mind, to re-think everything they have been trained to believe and to seek and to find their own truth. I encourage others to find a truth that comes from their heart, one that makes sense to them, both body and soul.

  8. Spirituality means living from the heart. Heart is the key. The sacred heart of Christ is the key .When heart is pure God is indeed in. It is natural when a person is centered in heart, dogmas of religions cannot be followed. His living is authentic and without premeditation. Others can follow his ways but he doesn’t follow anyone’s. This is why spiritual people no longer need Religion

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