Spiritual, not religious?

May 8, 2010

So what about this one?  An intriguing discussion emerged on my last post involving the distinction between “spiritual” and “religious” as it pertained to our involvements with powers greater than ourselves. 

My experience is simply that religion is a human-contrived set of practices, disciplines, and rituals he uses to formalize his interaction with God or whatever he believes are non-human powers greater than himself.  Religion as I see it often begins with a genuine experience of some kind with the supernatural.  The person or people who had the experience then form some sort of discipline to practice or continue the connection and perpetuate the experiences for themselves and others. 



Religion seems to get a bad wrap.  Yet by the definition I have come to understand, most of us are in some way religious.  We do practice specific repeating activities to remain connected to the powers we believe in.  I have been involved in religious group who appear to practice religion only, with no clear sign of connection or involvement with a higher power.  The religion felt essentially empty. 

Yet God as I understand him, seems to reach me and make himself known to me in ways that are completely outside of the common disciplines that those who claim to represent him practice.  In other words, outside of the religious structure of many of those who claim to be his followers. 

It can all get complex, which I choose not to participate in.  God as I understand him is bigger than our mistakes, pride, and self-deceptions.  I find remaining humble and searching keeps a steady flow of interaction with God.  This to me is spiritual.  And I can get religious about it if I choose, which does not need to compete with my spiritual experiences.  Religion in fact can enhance my spiritual experiences as long as I do not put my disciplines (religion) proudly ahead of my interactions with God. 





  1. Hi Chaz,

    No doubt you’re right about religion being a human invention. The “textbook” explanation is that it is an attempt to placate the higher power, or, as you put it, to assure continued benefit from that power. I think the reason religion gets a bad wrap is that many practitioners put themselves in the place of declaring that their religion, and often theirs alone, is utterly correct. This lack of humility doesn’t inspire confidence in many of us.

    True spirituality often resides outside of structured religion. Religion may be politically powerful, but spirituality actually is powerful. I can’t pretend to know what God is, but it is certain that we humans are not the highest power on this or any other plane.

    • Thanks Steve…. very insightful.

      Placating the higher power… hmmm… thats interesting. Surely that is what many of us seek to do with our religious practices. Again, usually starting from a good and pure intent.

      And yes, the politicalness of it all. I contend that if any two people exist together in any environment, politics begin to form. So why wouldn’t they in our religious structures and institutions? All the more in fact given that our members are seeking be of services to our creators or deities. We are essentially “helping God out”, by creating these political structures.

      Yet any corporate endeavor where there is rank, authority, power, titles and wealth available will invariably become corrupt. And thereby undermine the original purpose and pure intent.

      I am looking at my Labrador Retriever in envy. His life is far less complicated!

      Thanks for reply.



  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Yancey @YanceyG. Yancey @YanceyG said: Spiritual, not religious? « Chaz' journey back.: So what about this one? An intriguing discussion emerged on my la… http://bit.ly/bDbNuj […]

  3. I like to pretend I’m very open minded about all religious and spiritual paths, but despite having worked on a good portion of my issues I’m still very skeptical, particularly when addicts or alcoholics opt for church-based recovery groups rather than 12-step programs. I know, rationally, that if it works, great, and AA doesn’t claim to be the only way, but I still feel like it might be an attempt to take the easier, softer way . . . BTW 67% voted internet addiction is real, 5% voted not, and 28% said “maybe” http://stark-raving-sober.blogspot.com/2010/04/is-internet-addiction-real.html

    • A church-based recovery group was not effective for me when I went through it. Maybe it was who I was at the time that was the problem. Who knows. That particular program had had great success at different times. But frankly, it appeared to me to be a bait-and-switch recruitment program for the denomination that supported it.

      Manned by many well-intentioned, but sadly naive and ill-equipped people who did not understand the realities of addiction. This may have been a non-representative sampling of this organization’s normal practice and results. But this particular one was not effective in my experience.

      So in the context of this discussion, it appeared to be an endeavor of a religion (human-contrived) that may or may not have resulted in a spiritual (God) experience. For me, I would say it did somewhat help me find a spiritual experience. Yet somehow, I got tripped up in the manipulations of man that were woven in.

      Thanks for your insights S-and-S!



  4. I think this was actually a really well-put post – delicately worded yet to the point. It IS a delicate and sensitive topic for many, but I definitely feel I fall more in the middle of this…spiritual and what I call individually religious (not a huge church goer, but I pray, I follow a few ministers I really like and believe in the Lord’s word). It is unique and personal for everyone, I think.

    • Thanks Jolene…

      Yes, if there is one topic that is very personal for everyone, it is their beliefs (or non-beliefs) around religion and spirituality…. and no real fixed definitions.

      Wars have been fought over less. Glad we can simply discuss!



  5. As others have said, a very insightful and thought-provoking post with which I have to say I agree entirely. For me, spirituality and belief is 100% personal and any attempt to organise and put hierarchies and power with that kind of thing seems to be missing the point. That is why I love being in AA, because no one has ever told me what to believe or what to do. I had to find it myself, and therefore it came a lot easier.

    • R-in-London…

      Glad you are finding some enlightenment. It is a fascinating journey, isnt it. Mine is unfolding in some amazing ways. I find forecasting pointless because I never know what is next. My journey has led me back to beliefs I once held closely to on a largely religious basis. But now, they seem so much more simply real. It is so much simpler to follow what we feel is real, rather than trying to force ourselves into a religious system that feels unnatural.



  6. I’ve been busy moving and going to school now so haven’t read you in awhile. This was well done. I did the church recovery thing too; your term ‘bait and switch’ was it exactly—I got very little out of it—plus it was weird—they actually had shirts and things with their name on it and were even trademarked-egads!

    Anyway, I find it amazing how transformative the 12 steps have been for me (though haven’t been to many meetings since I moved) even with the ‘watering’ down that has happened over the years to the fellowship, like some meetings wanting to leave God out of it; that to me would be like going to a restaurant, the table is all set, but there’s no dinner.

    One of the reasons I left the large church I was attending was because it was becoming too orchestrated, too much like an organization instead of a fellowship. The other reason was because I felt it was more about being entertained, than being transformed. My purpose for going to church is to be with other believers, to be equipped to share my faith, and the biggie “to love others.”

    The church I go to now is pretty basic (but sermons are always intelligently done, yet unassuming)—no bells and whistles. Truthfully, though, I still feel closer to God when I am in nature or just alone meditating. I tend to judge other Christians more harshly than I do people that don’t espouse to any particular belief—in fact they are the ones I need to practice loving the most. ):

    • Cyndi… $5 and a box of cornflakes says we went to programs of the same organization. Mine too encouraged us to wear the logo’d (trademarked) gear at outings.

      I better stop there. I can easily slip into resentment and mockery, neither of which are on my list of desired characteristics in my recovery.

      I have experienced similar things in Churches. Where they start as something organically genuin, then evolve and morph into Corporations full of a lot of noise and just plain stuff. Largely aimed at what feels like entertainment. And sustaining the organization and structure seems eventually to supersede the actual work of the gospel and value of the community of believers.

      I think this is a natural human error. What organization is immune from what I term, “purpose-drift”? None that I know of. Including many AA groups. Even with the traditions to help us avoid such temptations.

      Glad to hear you found a good group of believers to chill with. I find so much power in a simple but authentic fellowship and gathering. We really do not need to help God out by providing our human contrived flash and dazzle. God much chuckle.

      Thanks for the reply.



  7. Well said! I know this must seem really odd (like don’t others get it too?), but it is so refreshing to hear another believer ‘gets’ the weirdness of it, as you say:

    “Where they start as something organically genuine, then evolve and morph into Corporations full of a lot of noise and just plain stuff. Largely aimed at what feels like entertainment. And sustaining the organization and structure seems eventually to supersede the actual work of the gospel and value of the community of believers.”

    …”contrived flash and dazzle” and what a terrific expression, “purpose drift”.

    Thank you for your thoughtful response.

    • No problem Cyndi…. I dont mean to be critical of church in a mocking way. I am just trying to express what I find difficult about many church environments. I have experienced many good environments too.

      Thanks again for your replies.



  8. Interesting post. Religion can bring out the best and worst of an individual. People have killed in the name of God and have also fed thousands.
    Spirituality seems to be more philisophical, and open ended versus religion seemingly more organized with no room for interpretation.
    Just my thoughts.

    • Bob… nice to hear from you.

      Funny how when I am exposed to a lot of religion, I sometimes feel that it is confining and narrow-minded. Yet, the completely open-ended nature of what is often referred to as spirituality also can leave me uncomfortable. I find often it is non-commital and un-accountable.

      It would be nice if we could simply fabricate a set of beliefs to our own liking and comfort. But does that mean we have discovered truth? I think not.

      For me, I believe there are eternal truths. Some may not be easy to accept or comfortable.

      This is no simple thing. Thanks for contributing to the dialogue.



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