Spirituality and religion were once synonymous. In fact in the dictionary they still are. But recently they have parted their ways farther and farther away from each other. Instead of helping each other they are now in the position of fighting each other. Thus we have the phrase religion vs spirituality. They are now treated by more and more writers as antagonistic to each other. What factors have led to the growth of the distinction between spirituality and religion?
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The Growth of the Empirical Sciences
One factor which is not only coincidental but causal is the growth of the empirical sciences like medicine, biology, chemistry, physics, psychology, astronomy and their branches. These sciences have cultivated in people the attitude of the priority of experience. Everything has to be measured by human experience through the instruments that are constantly being refined, whether it is the microscope or telescope or other instruments.
In an age when these sciences were, as it were, in their infancy and adolescence, there was no clear distinction between religion and spirituality. But now people want to experience something even in religion. Failing to find the spiritual realities they want to discover in religion they turn to spirituality to satisfy their hunger for the things of the spirit.
More and more can no longer profess belief in a statement that has no meaning to their experiential life. They can no longer go through rituals which seem to them meaningless. And they rebel against a moral code which seems to them to stifle their personal growth. So they turn to spirituality that to them has no religion.
Increase in the Knowledge of the Scriptures
It is strange but true that the growth in the knowledge of the Scriptures, particularly Christian Scriptures, has also contributed to the parting away of religion and spirituality from each other. Beginning with literary criticism of the Biblical texts going to higher criticism new interpretations of the passages in Scriptures have been offered to the public. Entire passages have been construed to be Biblical myths. Creation did not really happen in six days but in six periods of time which may be millions of years each. The flood of Noah's time did not happen all over the earth but only in a particular place of the earth. These interpretations have eroded the belief of people in the Bible and religion. But they still long for something meaningful in their spiritual life. Thus they turn to spirituality as offered by the Eastern religions or by the New Age teachers.
The Relativity of All Things, Especially Cultures
The theory of relativity has not been confined to physics, as propounded by Albert Einstein. It has been adopted by ordinary people as they viewed the cultures of other people. Where before some churches have adamantly believed and taught that they were the only way to salvation, now they have acknowledged that other religions can also be used by God to draw men to himself. For many of the preachers of these churches salvation depends upon one's response to God's revelation, not upon membership in their churches.
Thus the appeal of religion as the safe way to gain eternal happiness has waned. Instead people now are experimenting with various techniques to gain this happiness here and now, not in the hereafter.
These three developments in our time, the growth of the natural sciences, the increase in the knowledge of the Bible, and the relativism present in our churches and cultures have helped to the parting of ways between religion and spirituality. While there are heroic attempts to integrate them again, the split seems to be final and irrevocable. It will be for a long time religion vs spirituality.
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