Recently spirituality vs religion has been the focus of discussions about these two areas in our life. It is not spirituality and religion but spirituality vs religion. Spirituality has been contrasted with religion. Some have concluded that spirituality is better than religion. Others have gone to the extent of affirming that spirituality is better off without religion. Those who practice spirituality without religion are called SBNR for short. These four letters simply mean “spiritual but not religious.”
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Contrast Does Not Necessarily Lead to Opposition
But a saner evaluation of the topic under discussion may lead us to also put forth the idea that there is really no conflict between spirituality and religion although they are different. In fact we may even discover that they help each other in furthering personal growth. In this post I would like to say that genuine religion leads to spirituality.
Religion Is Preparatory to Spirituality
Religion is basically the attempt of human beings to reach God. To do this they learn who God is and what he has done, they examine the proper human conduct before this God, and they offer to God what they think is due him. In this way they think that they please God and are able to get his favor for their needs and requests.
When religion is practiced faithfully there comes a time when a person realizes that what he is doing does not add anything to the nature of God, that he cannot really please God by his own effort, that no matter how much he tries he falls short of rendering to God what is his due. When this realization comes to a person's life it dawns on him that life is meaningless if he continues to strive to please God and to do God a favor. Life becomes meaningless because there is no point in trying to please God who can not really be pleased by what we do. He is far more worthy than whatever we can do for him.
This is the time when such a person humbly tells God that whatever he may do for him is useless because he is worth more than whatever can be done for him either by learning more about him, following his laws, and worshiping him. He knows now that religion is ultimately useless in his attempt to reach God.
In this sense religion is preparatory to spirituality. Genuine religion leads a person to the realization that God cannot be pleased by what we think, say or do. This is because God is more worthy than whatever homage we may give him. And he demands more than what we can do for him.
Genuine Religion Leads to Spirituality
The task therefore of genuine religion is to lead us to spirituality. It is like a servant who conducts the child to the teachers in school. Once the child is in the presence of the teachers the task of the servant is over. In the same way religion conducts us to spirituality, a state of life wherein we realize our impotence before God and therefore we communicate with him as with a friend. Once we are in the realm of the spirit and are living in a truly spiritual way the task of religion is over.
I like that first line in the last stanza of the hymn “Lord Who at Your First Eucharist Did Pray”, written by William H. Turton in 1881. It says “So, Lord, at length when sacraments shall cease”. Turton obviously was referring to the life in heaven when we shall see God face to face without the need of symbols. Sacraments are part of religion. In heaven there will be no sacraments. There will be no need for religion. Some on earth have anticipated that state in heaven when we will have no need of religion. They live out a spirituality without religion. But it was religion which brought them to this state of spirituality. It was religion who led them to spirituality. Hence it is not a case of spirituality vs religion but religion leading to spirituality.
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