"The moral task of man is a process of spiritualization."
Many people believe religion and spirituality are interchangeable terms. While it is true that spirituality is a vital part of religion, the two terms are quite different in the scope of their meaning. For example, consider this spiritual encouragement quote from the Christian mystic Meister Eckhart: "The moral task of man is a process of spiritualization. All creatures are go-betweens, and we are placed in time that by diligence in spiritual business we may grow liker and nearer to God."
Why would Eckhart refer to the process of growing liker and nearer to God as "spiritual" rather than "religious" business? We will be better able to understand what he meant once we explore the difference between religion and spirituality.
What Is Religion?
At its most fundamental level, religion is an organized, formal system that was created to help human beings understand the mysterious, as well as govern, maintain control, and instill a sense of morality among its followers. Religion often adheres to some kind of dogmatic belief system of worship which provides a framework to the relationship we have with the universe and that which we perceive to be divine. For most people, the word religion refers to their dedication to a particular institution, specific doctrine, or set of tenets. In some cases it may also signify devotion to a certain religious leader. Religion can be said to be the practice of specific sacred rituals.
What Is Spirituality?
Spirituality stems from a sense of mystery and the belief that we are all connected to each other and to the universe. Spirituality extends to all facets of a person's life, and is most often a chosen path, while the same may or may not be true of religion. Spirituality is an intensely personal practice focused on loyalty to justice, compassion and personal ethics. Spirituality is less concerned with intellectual beliefs, but rather emphasizes personal growth and the experience of divine consciousness within. True spirituality is something that can only be found deep within the self.
Spirituality exists whenever we struggle with the question of how our lives fit into the grand scheme of things even if our queries never yield specific answers or initiate personal practices such as meditation or prayer. We face spiritual issues every time we ponder the origin of the universe, why we are here, or what happens when we die. We become spiritual when we allow ourselves to be moved by values such as beauty, love, or creativity that seem to reveal a meaning or power far beyond the world we see.
Can Religion and Spirituality Be Reconciled?
An increasing number of people around the globe identify themselves as being spiritual but not religious. It seems that human beings as a species share a common desire to search for meaning in an often mysterious world. Though some reject the idea of organized religion, they nevertheless remain invested in what they deem to be spiritual pursuits. Some of these people may have had negative experiences with religious institutions or leaders causing them to forsake formal religious organizations, and instead embrace individualized spirituality.
It has been said that religion is for people afraid to go to hell and spirituality is for those who have already been there. Ultimately, both religion and spirituality aim to guide the individual towards the ultimate goal of finding meaning and purpose in life. Religion is a path to the divine, as is spirituality. Although they are vastly different in approach, the two need not be at odds. At its best, religion is spirituality in community.