“Religion is for people who’re afraid of going to hell. Spirituality is for those who’ve already been there.” – Vine Deloria, Jr. (1933 -2005), an American Indian author, theologian, historian, and activist.
Some friends and I attended a Deva Pemal and Miten concert earlier this week where I heard this quote for the first time. I’m asked a lot about the difference between religion and spirituality. This quote has a lot of wisdom to offer on the subject.
Religious and spiritual people are both looking for a path to god. How to define god becomes one of the first forks in the road.
Many religions see god as a being in heaven, a father image at times, both loving and vengeful. Religions have lots of rules to follow – each sect has its own rules and usually believes all other sects are wrong. The my way or the highway view. Most religions place emphasis on outer forms of worship – going to church or temple. Sin is a big deal. It’s critical you understand every rule so you don’t inadvertently screw up. Hell is always looming. Religion is about loving god and fearing and obeying god. To me the operative word in most religion is fear. Its why I dropped out years ago. Not my personal path.
The spiritual view of god is very different. God is omniscient and omnipresent and can be felt as a living presence in our own heart. Spirituality says there is no separation between the Creator and His Creation. You are god – me, too. We discover god inside through love. We each find our own way – our own personal experience of god. And, on the way, many of us find ourselves in the hell of seeing ourselves clearly – the illusions drop away – we stand naked and vulnerable. No rule book. Spirituality is not very concerned with a place to go to be spiritual – it’s more a way of life – the shrine is inside. To a spiritual person there is only ignorance in the world, not sin. No judgment – only acceptance. A spiritual path leads to the feeling that all religions are valid – many roads home.
“The essence of religion: Fear God and obey God. The essence of spirituality: Love God and become another God.” – Sri Chinmoy
Religion and spirituality do conjure up differences, but at the same time they are just two words. The boundary between religion and spirituality can be fluid. Rather than a debate between religion and spirituality, it might be helpful to remember they are both a path to god. Both paths can be walked well or not so well – it all comes back to us and our choices.