Relgion and Spirituality

Are they one and the same?


Published on Monday, June 6, 2005 by

The Answer to Religion in Politics: Spirituality

by Jerry Rose

What do you call a person who believes in God beyond the context of religion? He or she is intuitively aware of a supernatural force from which all order, including life, originates. He or she also recognizes the human propensity for manipulating spiritual wisdom into religious doctrines that promote ignorance, violence and exploitation.

The best word the English language has to offer with respect to classifying such an individual is spiritual. However, when you look up the word spiritual in your thesauruses, the first word that pops up is religious. The fact is, there is no word or term in our language that exclusively describes the millions of believers whose suspicions about religion are reflected in the message of one of the most popular books of our time- The Da Vinci Code.

In America today, the word religious triggers the image of the Bible Belt culture, while the word spiritual tends to be associated with the New Age culture of karma, chakras and mantras. What word or term would appropriately classify the millions of believers who donÕt identify with either of these two cultures? Since the words religious and spiritual are not mutually exclusive, the term religious-spiritual comes to mind. Accordingly, for exploratory purposes, weÕll place believers in God into one of three categories.

Those who believe outside of the context of organized religion will be called spiritual. Second are the religious and third, the religious- spiritual. How does one distinguish the religious from the religious- spiritual? To gauge your own opinion, consider whether you believe the following people to be spiritual, religious or both.

Osama bin Laden, a follower of the Muslim religion believes that God has appointed him to wage a holy war against all those who oppose his beliefs. He and his followers are religious people but are they spiritual? George W. Bush, a devout Christian who believes God has appointed him to spread democracy through out the world. He exploited the 911 tragedy and used blatant deception to launch an invasion that has maimed and killed countless men, women and children. He is also determined to uphold the sanctity of marriage by denying homosexuals the same rights as heterosexuals. His domestic policies are exemplified by his support of the profit appetites of big pharmaceutical companies at the expense of struggling senior citizens. He continues to promote the plundering of the earthÕs environment, ignoring or denying alarming scientific evidence. George W. Bush is a religious man but is he spiritual?

Martin Luther King, a devout Christian who dedicated his life to the non violent fight for equal rights as did Mahatma Gandhi of the Hindu faith. Both men were religious but were they also spiritual?

John Lennon was dedicated to stopping the Viet Nam war and to ŌGive Peace a Chance.Ķ His trademark song Imagine evokes us to imagine a world where there's no religion and all people live in peace. He wasnÕt a religious man but was he spiritual?

Having explored your feelings, consider the following characteristics which arguably set the two terms apart.

Religions are based on stories. The Jewish Religion is based on the story of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Christian religion adds the story of Christ. The Moslem religion is founded on the stories of Mohammad. Buddhism grew from the story of Buddha. The faith of the religious person is founded on the belief that the story of their religion is historical fact.

In contrast, the faith of the spiritual person is nurtured by what their religionÕs story teaches about man, God and their relationship. Whether their religionÕs story is fact, metaphor or a combination of both doesnÕt matter to them. Spiritual people enthusiastically embrace rational scientific knowledge, accepting evolution as the physical means through which God created all life. The religious person must categorically reject such provable facts because it conflicts with their religionÕs story that God created everything in 6 days, some 5000 years ago.

This acceptance or denial of rational evidence is a wide-ranging marker for distinguishing the religious from the religious-spiritual. For instance, we often hear religious people claim that allowing same-sex marriage would start us down a "slippery slope" towards legalized polygamy, incest and all kinds of other horrible consequences. Religious- spiritual people recognize that such fears are irrational and they themselves see no rationale reason why granting equal rights would threaten the sanctity of their own marriage.

Religions tend to provoke judgment. The purely religious believe that those who donÕt abide by their laws are inferior, misguided or immoral. The spiritual and religious-spiritual are non-judgmental and tolerant of other peopleÕs differences. They believe that all people have the same rights regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation. And finally, in the broadest definition, the religious believe their religion holds all the truth and answers.

In contrast, the spiritual and religious- spiritual see life as a God- given opportunity for discovery. If America is to ever be reclaimed from those who promote violence, ignorance and exploitation, a Phoenix must rise from the ashes of the Democratic Party. He or she will capture the hearts and mobilize the millions of believers who have no collective identity or political network. He or she may be of the Christian religion but their religiosity will be the antithesis of George W. BushÕs and in harmony with Albert EinsteinÕs who said: The path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.

Jerry Rose is author of the book "Faith in a Fishbowl."

His website/contact address is