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Can You Really Separate Spirituality and Religion? Here’s What The Church Says!

Religion and spirituality are not necessarily polar opposites, but nor are they the same. 

Other than the attack on our health and our economy, this pandemic has also been challenging our faith. This has allowed some to set up new belief systems– while others have forgone believing in a higher power completely.

Perhaps you might have heard the line, “I now choose to be spiritual than to be religious.” But is spirituality and religiosity different, and if so, can we really separate them from each other? (Read: Christopher de Leon: “Healing from COVID-19 was a spiritual journey”)

Fundamental Difference

Photos from The Indian Express, Suwannar Kawila / Getty Images / Learn Religions, and Marcus Rodriguez / Flickr

Religion and spirituality are not necessarily polar opposites, but nor are they the same. 

Being spiritual is not a trend that the pandemic started. Spirituality, according to is “the broad concept of a belief in something beyond the self. It may involve religious traditions centering on the belief in a higher power but it can also involve a holistic belief in an individual connection to others and to the world as a whole.” 

Incorporating spirituality into healthcare, Christina Puchalski, MD, said that spirituality is the aspect of humanity that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose. 

Meanwhile, religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things. French sociologist Emile Durkheim said it is an institutionalized structure of religious beliefs and practices in the service of God or the supernatural one. (Read: 4 Spiritual Podcasts to Strengthen Your Faith)

With these, one can surmise that those who identify as being spiritual are people who live out their spirituality in the absence of the institutional church. 

What does the Church say?

According to the National Catholic Register, being spiritual can have two meanings: it can refer to the spiritual part of reality as in we have a body and soul and the other one is “operating in the world of ideas about religion without choosing any particular religion.” 

The second, which is what many spiritual people affiliate themselves to, is avoidance of connecting truly with God. 

James Martin, a Jesuit priest and editor at America, a national Catholic magazine based in New York City, says, “Being spiritual but not religious can lead to complacency and self-centeredness. If it’s just you and God in your room, and a religious community makes no demands on you, why help the poor?”

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI calls this a “dictatorship of relativism.”

“Every day new sects spring up, and what St Paul says about human deception and the trickery that strives to entice people into error comes true,” the Pope Emeritus said. 

“We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.” (Read: 7 Prayers When You’re Going Through Spiritual Warfare)

The Risk of ‘being spiritual but not religious’

Photo by Shahariar Lenin from Pixabay

“There are some who now seek to exclude religious belief from public discourse, to privatize it or even to paint it as a threat to equality and liberty,” Pope Benedict XVI said. “Yet religion is in fact a guarantee of authentic liberty and respect, leading us to look upon every person as a brother or sister.”

While there is no harm in being spiritual– especially if it is rooted in the belief that human beings have a spirit and a physical body– the Church warns that being spiritual alone loses one’s sense of community and moral obligation toward others.

Text By Yen Cantiga and John Caballes

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