Spirituality & Religion Are NOT The Same Thing

The awe we feel as we gaze up at the cosmos is universal. Regardless of whether you’re a person of faith or a die-hard atheist, as you gaze skyward on a starry, starry night, it’s hard-wired into you to feel awe.

To feel at once dwarfed and connected. Put in your place yet assured of your place.

That feeling? That awe? It’s spirituality.

Unfortunately certain words and terms — “spirituality” for instance — have been appropriated by “religion” and religious institutions. That sucks because nothing about the word “spirituality” says “religion”.

Our spirituality concerns itself with the human spirit or soul — both abstractions — as opposed to material or physical things (non-abstractions). My spirituality is not your spirituality and yours is not mine. It is as personal a thing as there is. It’s absurd to think that anything could codify such personal experience. But that’s what organized religion does — it takes the abstraction inside your head and tells YOU how to you should “do it”.

But, first, organized religion hijacks the abstraction before you even know it’s there. I went to Hebrew School from ages 6 – 14. At six, I had no idea what they were talking about when my Hebrew School teachers began to indoctrinate me in the collective mythology about Yahweh (what you all call “God” — that’s Yahweh’s job description, not his name). At six, we’re all just barely aware that we “are”. We haven’t really moved on to the more complex question of “why” we are.

But, religion wants to get its hooks in early — before your capacity to reason with shitty story logic is fully developed. Notice — the first thing religion does is take your spiritual questions and folds it into their mythology. Your answers lie inside their building, they tell you. They don’t mention — as they hold the door open for you — that their building was expensive to build and is expensive to maintain. The church is welcoming you in large part because it needs your money more than it needs you. In fact, if you just gave it money and never showed up, the church would still operate.

But take YOU away — your body, your soul, your checkbook — and that church will die. Buildings don’t build themselves and they don’t pay for themselves. For good measure, prayers don’t build churches either. The moment any religion “gets organized”, it stops being about the spiritual and starts being the very practical matter of “being”.

Like structures, organizations don’t build themselves and they don’t sustain themselves. Someone has to organize them and run them. The moment the church has two people working for it, there’s a hierarchy. And exclusivity — since those two people are now part of something everyone else isn’t. Churches are great at building community — for real. But they’re also great at building exclusive clubs. Us v Not Us.

Spirituality has no rules. There are teachings however — good ideas that anyone (believer or non-believer) can follow and (it’s hoped) live a better, more rewarding, more satisfying life. “Do Unto Others” for instance.

Doing unto others doesn’t need rules in order to follow it. It doesn’t need a church to tell me how to do it or where I should do it or when, or with whom.

“Do unto others” captures something essential about spirituality — the “freedom” of it. It is freeing to do things for the right reason rather than because greed has (once again) talked you into behaving like a shit.

How about that — the bible got one right: as surely as greed will bind you to earth, the Truth will set you free.

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