The Fundamental Difference Between Religion and Spirituality

What is the difference between religion and spirituality? Is there a difference and what does it really matter? So many people are born into a religion and never stray outside a very narrow view of life.

Fundamentally, those who seek “God” whether is be through religion or a more modern day spirituality all have the same goal.

There are fundamental questions about life that puzzle all of us. Where do we come from? Where are we going? Why are we here and what is the true meaning of life?

I believe that we are all born with this desire to answer these questions for ourselves.

The challenge is that if you live your life based on someone else’s rules you will never discover your own true journey.

What is Religion and What Has It Really Done

Religion can loosely be described as the formalized ideas held by a group of people to define their understanding of God and their relationship to the creator and creation.

In some shape or form, religion has been present in human civilisations since the beginning of time.

Throughout history cultural development has been inextricably linked to people’s view of the world and their relationship to the mysterious and the unknown dimension of life that we’ve come to call God.

Religion has taken on many different forms and many different views in many different cultures.

The one common idea is that the religion will collectively value, uphold and even impose a set of beliefs which they consider the path to God and ‘the truth’ about this mysterious, yet ever present force of life.

Along with religion, came a certain level of power – especially for those who ‘made the rules’ and who were believed to be appointed by God to rule the people. In the early Christian church, the religious leaders were also the politicians and they ruled by fear, violently imposing their ideas upon the people.

You were told what to believe and how to behave in virtually every aspect of life. There was absolutely no room for really getting to know God, because those who claimed to know God were the only one who could speak to God, and be spoken to by God.

Some of the earliest meaning of the word religion comes from a Latin interpretation that means ‘to bind’ – and bind it did, keeping people tied to silly ideas for centuries.

Religious ideas have been developed and refined for centuries and is almost exclusively designed to keep people from stepping out of line and ‘being different’ or being themselves.

All Religions Are The Same?

With countless religions all over the world it may sound strange to say that all religions are the same. While every religion has their own ideas, practices, rituals ec. what they all have in common is searching for that human connection to the Divine.

Our desire to connect with our creator is built into us. Different religions call God by different names and they all claim that their God is “the one and only”.

I always had a huge problem with that. How do they know that their God is “the one and only” ? They would usually answer that question from their own rule book (their holy book) and fail to see the irony of their answers.

The major religions of the world have more in common than they would want to believe. While they all worship some earthly incarnation of God, they all really just call God by different names.

Aldous Huxley wrote The Perennial Philosophy in 1945 and he examined the commonalities between all the different religions in the world.

All religions are the same because there can be only one God or Creator or Source – we don’t all come from different places based on our religion!

The difference then is in what we call the Source, how we try and connect to it and how we interpret age old writings about our interpretation of this Source.

Spirituality vs Religion – Knowing God vs. Knowing About God

The fundamental difference between spirituality and religion is that religion is based on knowing ABOUT God, while spirituality is based on KNOWING God on a deep personal level.

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

There’s a big difference between knowing about God and knowing God.

Knowing about God is about intellectual knowledge and relying on the testimonials and experiences of others, while knowing God is a deeply personal and ‘inner knowing’ that you are indeed connected to God.

This is a personal relationship to God and an insight that you don’t need to go to a special building to find God, but that you simply have to look deep within yourself.

It means that you don’t need some special person with a college education to lead you to God, but that you simply have to turn inwards to find divine guidance.

It’s been said that you can’t get wet from the word water.

That is a strange idea but it is very true for many people’s spiritual journeys. Until and unless you dive in and make personal contact with God by turning inwards and following your inner guidance your life will always be dictated by other people’s ideas.

These ideas are mostly designed to keep you thinking and acting like everybody else. Religion is all about group consciousness and the individual is forsaken for the sake of the group.

That is why religion often spirals into ego driven ideas. Being a “good person” becomes the driving force and how good you are is determined by your contribution to the group.

This could be financial contributions, giving your time or services or even self sacrifice.

Worshipping an AvatarSeeking an Avatar(s) Teachings
Focus on external aspects (Church,Temple, Books, Rituals)Focus on internal experiences and understandings
Very organised with rules, restrictions, dogma ec.Characterised by freedom and self discovery without “a group”
Based on tradition and handed down by cultures.Based on the evolution of consciousness
Exclusive – they exclude everyone who contradicts their beliefsInclusive – spiritually seeks what unites all of humanity
Thrives on fear – Not appeasing “the God” will have dire consequencesThrives on love – Compassionate approach to life
Connecting to people and community and the organisationConnecting to something larger than yourself – independent of a group.

Spirituality and Finding True Freedom and Inner Peace

True freedom comes from this personal relationship to God and knowing that you don’t need to be saved, that you are in fact born a good person and that God cares about you regardless of whether you comply to some religion’s rules.

Spirituality will lead you to the realization that you are whole, complete and magnificent in every possible way and that you are unique and special with your own grand mission in life.

Your purpose in life in not to live up to the expectations of other in order to be a good person, but rather to live up to the expectations of your Self, your spirit (or your soul) and to become, in form, the kind of person you were destined to be.

You can get to know God for yourself.

It will lead you to the realization that you are in fact “God’ – you are a part of God and contain within you a portion of this Divine force that makes up the very essence of life.

Listen to other people, hear them out and discover their view of God, but then go within and find God for yourself.

This is where all the power is. This is where the freedom lies and if you need a religion to help you develop your understanding of God, then practice it!

Remember to keep an open mind and don’t just focus only on what you are told about God but rather what you feel to be true deep down inside.

Final Thoughts On The Difference Between Spirituality And Religion

I would like to make it very clear that you can be very religious and be spiritual. Spirituality does not have to be devoid of religion.

It is just that religion tends to get in the way. All the “stuff” that goes with it can become so distracting that it becomes the essence. It should always be a means to an end.

I have also deliberately avoided getting into all the social aspects of religion. So many religious people are living a lie – putting up a front and living their life in a certain way to appease their religious peers.

You see this in every religious organisation and often the people that are held up in the highest regard are those who are the most fake.

Ultimately the difference in spirituality and religion is not to be seen in outside appearances.


With a passion for spirituality, self discovery, and understanding this life, Neod spends his time musing about what is, what could be and what might come about. After writing for 20 years he's still growing, learning, exploring and sharing with love, joy and compassion.

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