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Spiritual or Religious

Katie Szilagyi, Columnist

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“Spiritual but not religious people are especially prevalent in the younger population in the United States,” Alan Miller of CNN’s Belief Blog said. Seeing as this seems to be the case, I decided to investigate what the difference between being spiritual or religious is.

According to Miriam Webster dictionary, the term religious is defined as “believing in a god or a group of gods and following the rules of religion,” while spiritual is defined as “of or relating to a person’s spirit; of or relating to religion or religious beliefs; having similar values and ideas; related or joined in spirit.” There are several different ways to define spirituality, while religion seems fairly straightforward. Writer Austin Cline’s article “Religion vs. Spirituality” defines each term a bit more clearly, in regards to real world application. He asserts that “Religion describes the social, public, and the organized means by which people relate to the sacred and the divine while spirituality describes such relations when they occur in private, personal, and even in eclectic ways.”

There are several issues which arise with the concept of spirituality. For example, there are those who believe spirituality is a cop-out, not a real form of belief at all. Alan Miller makes the claim, “The trouble is that ‘spiritual but not religious’ offers no positive exposition or understanding or explanation of a body of belief.” He later says, “At the heart of the spiritual but not religious attitude is an unwillingness to take a real position. Influenced by the contribution of modern science, there is a reluctance to advocate a literalist translation of the world.” John Wrench, a junior studying philosophy and religious studies here at Pace, wrote in his own blog, “the spiritual movement describes itself to me as agnosticism gone wild– an attempt to skirt responsibility and instead, introduce indecisiveness and a faux-intellectualism to ironically compensate for the lack of thought.” Furthermore, it may be that religion’s formation, and perhaps reason for thriving throughout generations, is that it attempts to create order out of chaos, while spirituality has less social requirement being that it entails a more individualistic perspective.

On the other hand, there are those who, for various reasons, would rather not identify with any particular form of organized religious thought. Alan Miller makes the point that “It seems that just being a part of a religious institution is nowadays associated negatively, with everything from the Religious Right to child abuse, back to the Crusades and of course with terrorism today.” In addition to such human rights concerns, there are several expectations which come with a religious institution, some of which an individual might feel are unnecessary or might be unwilling to follow. Best-selling author of Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert, writes in her own spiritual memoir that “I think you have every right to cherry-pick when it comes to moving your spirit and finding peace in God. You take whatever works from wherever you can find it, and you keep moving toward the light.” It is because of such aforementioned arguments that Austin Cline discerns, “the valid distinction is between spirituality and organized religion.”

Here at Pace, there are students of religious faith, students who identify with spirituality, and those who do not identify with a higher power at all. Senior philosophy and religious studies major, Qadry Harris, lives by the quote, “Be spiritual, not religious. Spirituality is the individual’s attempt to connect with the absolute, to come to grips with life’s most difficult questions. Religion is a man-made dogmatic institution designed to control the masses.”

Given that we live in a country which protects our first amendment rights to freedom of religion, any view of religion or spirituality cannot be considered any less than any other. However one chooses to believe is a matter of personal choice. Yet, neither religion nor spirituality is something which should be considered passively, for it is a lifestyle choice. One might want to consider, honestly, why they believe the way they do and whether they do feel they can live in accordance with that belief, no matter the final decision.

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