The difference between spirituality and religion

By Nina Steele 

As we celebrate Easter, I thought it fitting to write an article about faith. I went to a Catholic school and so religion was present in my life from an early age. Even though my mother was never a practicing Catholic herself, she chose the school because of its reputation as a good school. Going to church and praying regularly became routine and I was happy until about 12 years ago, to call myself a Catholic.

Indeed, around 12 years ago is when I started seriously questioning my faith. I was becoming more and more uncomfortable about the idea that I had to pray to another being for my salvation and that my sins could somewhat be removed through prayer. It just no longer felt right. I do certainly believe in the existence of an entity bigger than all of us and that that entity is behind life itself. But I equally believe that the existence of that entity does not absolve us of personal responsibility and that we are ultimately the masters of our own destiny.

My quest for the truth led me to read books by authors such as Deepak Chopra and Eckhart Tolle and suddenly what they were saying in those books made sense. As the saying goes, ‘you know the truth when you hear it’ and the teaching in those books connected with me at a deeper level, deeper than anything I had come across before.

Going back to the idea of personal responsibility, I know someone who makes a point of going to church every Sunday, yet has always cheated on his wife. As unbelievable as it sounds, he believes that all he has to do, is get down on his knees and pray and all will be forgiven. He is not alone in being convinced that this is how the Universe works.

We often joked when I was growing up that the most wicked people tended to be the ones who went to church. The notion that slates can somewhat be wiped clean with prayer is deeply embedded in most religions and has led many people to hand over personal responsibility to someone else, not realising that we make our own life and that whatever we put out, we get back. Every thoughts and actions will eventually come back to us, one way or the other. There is no escaping that truth, which is why the idea of personal responsibility is so important for everyone to understand.

That is in essence, the difference between spirituality and religion. Spirituality teaches you to take charge of your life, while religion teaches you to put your faith in someone else. This to me is not only wrong but it is also dangerous and the sex scandal that has tarnished the reputation of the Catholic church shows the dangers of letting another flawed human being have power over you. The priests who abused their powers were put on a pedestal by churchgoers who saw them as men of integrity and closer to God than they themselves were. Not realising that those very priests were even more flawed than they were.

One positive aspect of religion is that it gives people a sense of belonging to a community and in a world in which individualism is so rampant, that is not a bad thing. But at what cost?

What both spirituality and religion have in common, is that they promote a life of virtue and that is of course a very important common ground. How to achieve that life of virtue, however, is what differentiates both concepts. If you believe that whatever you put out will eventually come back to you, chances are that you will steer clear of hurting other people and you will understand the importance of doing good. If however, you hand over responsibility of your life to someone else and wrongly believe that that person can save you from yourself, then you are in danger of believing that your actions and thoughts have no consequences. Not only is that bad for the individuals themselves, but it is bad for society as a whole, for the obvious reason that the more unhappy people there are in society, the more pain and suffering we will all end up experiencing.

As a childless person, I am still being told by relatives who are churchgoers that my husband and I should not give up on having children and that all it will take for us to conceive is prayer. They certainly believe in the notion that everyone is meant to procreate and that if you are unable to do so, then there must be something wrong with you. Thankfully, because of spirituality, I know better and understand that we each have different paths and that the key to our happiness is to embrace that path wholeheartedly and with courage. Had I still been going to church, chances are that I would still be chasing a false hope of becoming a mother and made myself and my husband unhappy as a result. Ultimately, our life is of our own making and spirituality teaches us just that.

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