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Spirituality vs. Religion

Updated: May 15, 2023

Which is better?

Today, spirituality is vogue while religion is passé. This is exemplified by the popular "I am spiritual, but not religious" statement that many say.

When people say that they are "spiritual" and not "religious" they are really saying that they are independent and not swayed by what another tells them to do or believe. They are implying that they are good people who are trying to be “more enlightened” or “better” than they were before. Without fully realizing it, however, their use of use of the term spirituality is also a way for them to say they are relativistic in their world view, and this is absolutely true.

I often ask those who say they are "spiritual and not religious" what they do to enhance their spirituality. I ask this because the word religion is a derivative from the Latin infinitive verb relegare, which means “to reconnect.” It is an action and not a noun, which so many of us today believe it to be. So, whatever their practice may be to grow spiritually that practice is their, well, religion.

The word spirituality comes from the Latin noun spiritus, which literally means “breath”. In English, many people use the word soul interchangeably with spirit. Interestingly, the English word soul is the term from Germanic origin that also means "breath". This means that the two words are simply the same with one stemming from Latin and the other from Engish's early Germanic origin. But were these two words meant to be the same?

The term spiritual, according to many English dictionaries, is a way of keeping one's life going through a process of binding oxygen with the body then releasing carbon dioxide from it. It is the process of reconnecting the body with air while also removing the self-produced element that would kill the body. Today, the word spirituality is used as both a noun and a verb. As a verb the term describes the process of reconnecting the body to the spirit. This may be all, but some also add something else to which the body and spirit connects--a universal spirit, the universe, God, what have you.

WAIT!! Is the spirit a real thing? The answer to this question can be deduced from a religious passage combined with some ancient Greek vocabulary and realities regarding the whole person as explained in both physical science and philosophy.

St. Paul describes the nature of a person as being a whole of three parts. In 1 Thessalonians 5:23, the saint writes "... the very God of peace sanctify you wholly ... your whole spirit and soul and body. ..." HOLD ON! aren't the spirit and soul the same thing? While one is derived from Latin and the other for old Germanic, there are differences which the Latin and later English versions do not fully reveal. These reasons are why many English speakers accidentally use the words soul and spirit to mean the same thing, which they are not.

While the word spirit is derived from Latin and soul from old Germanic, there is a much greater difference which the Latin version nor its English adaptation do not reveal. St. Paul originally penned these words in ancient Greek. St. Jerome translated St. Paul's writing into Latin several hundred years after St. Paul, and then King James VI commissioned English translators to convert the Latin Bible into English in 1604 for the Church of England. This history sets the stage for understanding what is missing from St. Paul's original text. The English translators of the King James Bible did their best to match what they could conceive from the Latin version by also combining it with the Germanic word because the Latin did not fully express what the original Greek provided.

The Greek version uses the word psyche for spirit and pneuma for soul. The closest translation of pneuma in English is "life force" or "energy" and the closest translation of psyche in English is "mind" or "conscience." What this means is that St. Paul was describing the "image and likeness" of a person as being one of a trinitarian nature -- a spirit, a soul, and a body. Another way in which this can be understood is that a person is a mind, living energy, and a physical body. It is unfortunate that this full understanding of 1 Thessalonians had been lost in translation.

Well, let's go back to the differences between being spiritual or religious. In reality, there is no difference denotatively. There has been a developing connotative difference, but this growing difference stems directly from the rise of relativism in our world today.

So, when considering being spiritual or religious, it is important to consider what is really intended by the growing forced separation of the two words. A religion, or more precisely, a religious practice is an action of reconnecting the life-force and mind (soul and spirit) together with the body, and then together reconnecting the whole person to more. This more can be called God or the Universal Consciousness or the Great Spirit, etc. Therefore, if one is truly spiritual, then he or she is leaving behind his or her egotistical individualism and relativistic mindset in the effort to reconnect his or her body, soul and spirit together and unity of his or her person with something more.

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