Religion vs. Spirituality — How to Make Sense of Them Both

Humble Confidence: Statue of Jesus Christ, symbol of humble confidence.
Statue of Jesus Christ, a divine hero and the epitome of humble confidence. Photo by Sean Vivek Crasto (PD), via

The topics of religion and spirituality remain a highly confused mix.

Some religious people shy away from spirituality, not understanding what it truly means. Some spiritual people shy away from religion, thinking it’s all bad. There is some truth to both their viewpoints.

Both can become corrupted by ego and self-concern.

Virtually all religions start with some degree of spirituality.

Spirituality is, quite simply, the raising of an individual’s awareness to the point where they finally have free will. Up to that point, the only real free will they have available to them is whether or not to raise their viewpoint—to awaken as spirit, and to give up ego.

Religion is, quite simply, the organized collection of believers in a certain spiritual discipline, fashioned into rituals and codified into a set of rules or laws. But spirituality has that, too. The key difference between “religion” and “spirituality” as they are commonly thought of, involves outward appearances and inward reality.

Some religious people are deeply spiritual; they feel connected to God through love of the Heavenly Father and love of others. Some spiritual people are very religious, in that they follow strict procedures and rules to maintain a balanced life, but inwardly feel no love at all.

Procedures, rules and laws can sometimes be good to help a person find self-discipline that tends to subdue ego. They may have other value, but they can also become oppressive barriers to spirituality.

Feeling connected spiritually can sometimes be a lie and a distraction from true spiritual awakening. One person may meditate every day, but inwardly they may remain entirely selfish, thinking that they are moving toward a superior state that will make them feel even better. Underneath it all, they feel a selfish need for a supposedly “spiritual” connection. They are like a mime pretending to eat. They may smile at how delicious the meal must be, but inwardly their stomachs remain empty.

Yehoshua of Nazareth, also known as Jesus, did not come to start a new religion, but that is the effect of his efforts. He came to fulfill the promises of an existing religion—that of the Jews of Israel.

Jesus Christ told Simon Peter that he would be the rock upon which Jesus would build his church. “Peter” is a name which comes from the word for “rock.” And it was Peter who called out to Christ on that lonely night, “Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.”

And Christ said, “Come.”

It was Peter who stepped out of that storm-tossed boat onto the thrashing waves of the Sea of Galilee. For a moment, he stood on that water, very much as did Jesus.

One modern skeptic claimed that Jesus merely balanced on a block of ice. But how could anyone balance on a slippery block of ice and paddle out from shore some 10 kilometers through stormy waves? It’s easier to believe walking on water than that ice nonsense. And did Jesus pull along a second block of ice for Peter to stand on? Of course not.

Humble Confidence: Buddhist monk meditating with humble confidence.
Buddhist monk meditating with humble confidence. Phra Ajan Jerapunyo, Abbot of Watkungtaphao. Photo by Tevaprapas Makklay (CC BY 3.0), via

This incident refers to a miracle—a moment of spiritual intervention in the laws of nature. This is not spirit “breaking the law,” as if it were something evil. No. Quite the contrary; this is spirit fulfilling the purpose of all of physical existence—by growing to spiritual maturity as a child of God.

Some scientists reject such things, because they’ve been shackled with the wrong paradigm all this time. Instead of skepticism, they need to use restraint and humility, for only these lead to discovery. The heavily biased doubt in skepticism only gets in the way and trips up science.

The doubt in skepticism is particularly destructive, because it tends to feed ego, and in the situation where spirit needs to awaken, doubt is an act of closing the door on that goal. When Peter returned to doubt, he promptly sank, despite the proof of his spiritual action only moments before. Despite the continued proof of Christ’s spiritual action in rescuing Peter from drowning.

I’ve seen dozens of miracles. Like Peter, I still have bouts of doubt. But I know miracles are real. I’ve tasted them. I know what they are like and what is required. Getting to that state isn’t always easy, because we’re so well-practiced at things like doubt.

Science, for all its accomplishments, is still only looking for relative truths. Though science aims toward absolute truth, that is not its goal or destination. Science only uses Truth as a direction or vector.

Some scientists are so blinded by skepticism that they cannot believe tales of miracles. They attempt to explain them away with other possibilities. But that’s what they are—those other explanations—only possibilities in their imagination. They are not truth.

The world does not reveal all its evidence. Take for instance paleontology—digging up dinosaur bones, for instance. Of all the billions of hadrosaurs that ever lived, only a small handful were “lucky” enough to have their bones trapped in such a way that they were preserved for scientists to find, millions of years later. Some species may never have been so lucky, so we may never find out about them. They lived, breathed, procreated and died, yet we will never know anything about them. Yet, they did exist. The lack of evidence does not mean they didn’t.

The same applies to miracles.

Whether we’re talking about science or spiritual wisdom, we need to remain humble. We must remain humble to the truth, even if evidence no longer exists.

Most religion has forgotten its spiritual roots and persists only as dogma and ritual. A few of the parishioners—perhaps even most—feel the spiritual connection, even though they can’t put it into words. Christianity ran over the edge of the spiritual cliff with Emperor Constantine. What it gained in official sanction, it more than lost in its spiritual connection and meaning.

Most modern spirituality has lost its connection to actual spirit, wallowing in ritual or dogma of a different kind. Hollywood Kabbalah is but one example. Real Kabbalah (Bnei Baruch) has nothing to do with red strings or other physical “tricks.”

Today, religion serves a purpose in holding the wisdom handed down from thousands of years earlier. But the literal reading of scripture is just as much an abomination today as it was when Christ called out the biblical literalists of his day.

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