Friday, March 12, 2010

Friday Five: "Religious" vs. "Spiritual" Smackdown

Well, not quite. But this week's Friday Five , inspired by Diana Butler Bass' thoughts on this issue, asks us to list five things we would classify as "religious," and five as "spiritual."
I've never really gotten a lot of the negative animus toward the word "religion," or the idea that there is a strong demarcation between "religion" and "spirituality." Etymologically, the word "religion's" Latin roots have the connotation of restraint, tying back, reliance; which I think is unconsciously reflected in society's current negative reaction to the word vis-a-vis "spirituality" -- that religion artificially restrains our natural urge for spiritual meaning and connection.

But comply with this week's challenge, I will attempt to tease out five things I would, if I had to, consign to separate "religion" and "spirituality" columns. It's not necessarily a value judgment, although in some cases I suppose it is; just sayin'.


1. Polity. How people who share a common faith organize themselves in terms of authority and function.

2. Church membership: Defining the boundaries of what makes someone part of, or not part of, a particular belief system or faith tradition within a belief system.

3. Creeds: Criteria of #2, as well as a response to threats to #1 or 2.

4. Church discipline: Not in terms of personal disciplines, or even the sort of mutual accountability that's part of a monastic community, but the general exercise of power by a religious group/leaders in that group to ensure conformity of behavior or punish members for perceived misbehavior.

5. Theology: The comprehenive system of belief and thought that holds a belief system together; the skeleton that gives form to the spiritual experience of a collective body of faith.


1. Spiritual experience: How we perceive the Divine in our lives and in the life of the world.

2. Prayer: Personal engagement with God , whether by oneself or as part of a group.

3. Spiritual discipline: The organized ways in which we both nourish and respond to the sense of the Divine in our lives: daily worship and prayer practice; meditation; devotional reading; almsgiving; and so on and so on.

4. Sacraments. Another intersection between the Divine and ourselves, through the agency of the simple stuff of everyday life: water, bread, wine.

5. Worship: How we create sacred space, as a faith community or as individuals, for God to move in, touch us, send us back out into the world.

I see a bit of overlap in some of these. Theology, for instance can be -- at least it is for me -- a means of engaging God in a personal way via my brain; spending quality time thinking about God.

And then there's a topic like evangelism -- something that my Good Do-Bee would say is a function of spirituality because at its best it's an outpouring of our own transformative experience with God, but that my cynical self says falls more into the category of religion because it usually degenerates into mere group dynamics -- trying to "win"; trying to get more members on the "team."

My guess is that my responses, as a church geek, look quite different than those of someone who isn't in the church. That would be an interesting study.


RevDrKate said...

Very thoughtful. I especially like S3.

Mompriest said...

If you take away the language you use and keep the premise, then your responses fall pretty close the common thinking about religion and spirituality. DBB says, quoting I think Cantwell from 1962, that religion in its original use meant "an experience of awe" otherwords what was once religion is now spirituality...because religion has become sytematized in to "beliefs"...

thank you for your great reflection here!

angela said...

You really use clean language for this and help me understand something I didn't. When I think about the bigger ideas of religion and the smaller, more intimate being Spiritual, I get it better. Very cool.

Mavis said...

Interesting post LC. I like the inclusion of polity in religion. An important component but can become limiting and inward looking in worst case scenario.

jill said...

Interesting. In our own journey, we've teased "church" and "faith" apart and our list is very close to yours. Many folks we know are maintaining a strong Biblical faith in God, but rejecting "church" as a human artifice ("restraint" as you suggest). This is an interesting conversation for church and non-church folks to have in these times.