Religiosity vs Spirituality
One of the issues which have remained the source of countless debates and angry disputations is the topic of religion and spirituality. If you take a moment to think about the possible meanings of these words you would immediately come to recognize the broad contexts in which these words are used. Without much mental exertion, most people can readily admit the possibility of a wide-range of definitions. Therefore, it goes without saying that it can make for a very troublesome exchange of ideas when people interacting on critical philosophical and abstract topics essentially discover that they have these irreconcilable specific understandings and usage. Is there a clear and unmistakable difference then between Religiosity on the one hand and Spirituality on the other? Can one say that there is some tangible contrast between being religious and being spiritual?
First of all, before any possible distinctions can be made between the two, one has to readily admit that there is a considerable overlap in the meaning of both words. Precisely—for were that not to be the case, then there would not be the sort of misunderstandings that often arise when people understand the usage in one particular way when a different understanding was originally intended. Secondly, it is necessary to realize that simple dictionary definitions may not be sufficient to build or develop a proper sense of the difference between the two.
Having said the following, what does it mean to be spiritual? The Miriam-Webster dictionary offers the following definitions for the word “spiritual”:
- · 1: of, relating to, consisting of, or affecting the spirit: incorporeal
- · 2a: of or relating to sacred matters
- · b: ecclesiastical rather than lay or temporal
- · 3: concerned with religious values
- · 4: related or joined in spirit
- · 5a: of or relating to supernatural beings or phenomena
- · b: of, relating to, or involving spiritualism : spiritualistic
At once it can be seen from this definition that being spiritual indicates a person’s focus or attachment to things that are incorporeal (that is without physical bodily form), or things that are deemed supernatural. It shows that a person is focused on the transcendental and not the mundane. To be spiritual is to be focused on things that are sacred and eternal as opposed to the carnal and temporal. Therefore for someone to devote one’s life, ambitions and attention to things that affect the spirit (sometimes called the “inner man”), such a person had to first already believe in the existence of a spiritual dimension or of supernatural phenomena. It is usually the case that a person who believes in the existence of a spiritual dimension or of supernatural phenomena would place greater emphasis on these things than on the things that are obtainable in this physical, carnal and temporal realm. Such a person is persuaded that the real pursuits of any person ought to be a closer understanding of the spiritual realm; of genuine and deeper interaction with God or some divine substitute; of breathless thirst for the numinous; of a burning desire for the deeper mysteries of existence; of a steadfast dedication to a life sublime which obtain long after one’s temporal earthly sojourn is over.
It is therefore hardly surprising that despite the loud denunciations of spirituality by naturalists, moral nihilists and hardened atheists, the human family nevertheless continues to recognize the imprint of things larger than themselves while surveying their environment; they continue to see the handwork of a supernatural agency in their daily experience; they continue to affirm the all-too-real evidence of some higher calling or purpose. Spirituality is not limited to any particular faith or belief-system or religious orthodoxy—human beings no matter the color or creed can be spiritual or spiritually-minded.
Needless to say, one gets a slightly different understanding from the word ‘religious’. If to be spiritual we are given to understand that an anti-naturalistic perspective is paramount, and that a commitment to such a view is inescapable (i.e. it would be impossible for anyone who disbelieves the existence of a spiritual realm to abide by the dictates of the spiritual), it is often the case that to be ‘religious’ one does not necessarily reach the same inferences or arrive at the same implications.
Accounting for the overlaps in dictionary definitions based on the imprecise nature of our routine usage, to be religious hence means to be faithful or devoted to something or some cause; to be scrupulously and conscientiously faithful. To be religious is to have seemingly dogmatic, usually unquestioning, unwavering and automatic adherence or obedience to something; it is to be meticulously faithful to the stipulations and recommendations of some philosophy, creed, belief-system, culture, lifestyle or even habit. From this definition, one ought to perceive that while the term ‘religious’ is usually deployed to describe the nature of steadfast devotional or worshipful beliefs, such a common usage in no way invalidates the other several ways in which people can and do show the same scrupulous faithfulness to matters that are decidedly mundane.
So, it is abundantly clear that in one sense or understanding of the word, to be religious is to be devout and pious and mindful of or attentive to the commandments and recommendations of some faith. Similarly, to be religious also accommodates strong devotion, loyalty or fealty to some secular agenda or other areas of human enterprise. One can be religious about one’s science convictions; or religious in one’s devotion to soccer or sports; or religious with one’s political views; or about one’s hygiene practices; or in the pursuit of money; or with one’s exercise and workout regimen; or religious with one’s studies; or as a matter of fact anything at all. In all, what defines religiosity is one’s attitude; one’s seemingly inflexible commitment to some repetitive behavior; one’s allegiance or fidelity to some cause.
At this juncture, one might pause to reflect on the fact that sometimes people who are being more focused on spiritual matters have been erroneously described by people who do not know the difference as being “too religious”. Such persons are hankering after the life of the mind or the spirit; they are putting their physical bodies and its needs into subjection as they strive to grasp after the numinous; they are putting away their carnal desires and the demands of the self in a bid to come into closer relationship with God. They are, if the distinctions I have spelled here have been understood by any, becoming more spiritual and NOT necessarily more religious.
On the other hand, there are people who have shown serious faithfulness, commitment or devotion to established patterns of behavior or conduct specific to some particular faith or creed. There are also people who have shown a scrupulous, habitual dedication to some activity or ideology. If they are required to pray 5 times a day, such persons will do this without fail. If he is expected to give alms, he gives according to what the belief-system specifies. He is careful to observe the canons or articles of the faith; steadfast to live by the rules and expectations of that political ideology or philosophical worldview or perhaps social status. Such persons have become more religious with these undertakings—and NOT necessarily more spiritual.
Sensible atheists who have understood these distinctions will be very careful with the terms used in their vocal denunciations. For the truth of the matter is that while an atheist is justified based on his philosophical atheistic worldview in denouncing a spiritual impulse he has absolutely no grounds upon which to denounce a religious impulse. A spiritual mindset or worldview necessarily contradicts the dictates of his naturalistic mindset in choosing to accept or further reify concepts for which the strict reductionist materialist has no means of understanding not to talk of testing empirically. On the other hand, atheism or the profession of atheistic convictions cannot be completely divorced from religiosity. The unthinking atheist erroneously assumes that to be religious, one must unfailingly describe a belief in supernatural causes or agency. It is a completely unsound expectation borne out of a narrow and tendentious definition of the word. The truth which has not failed to elude even the brightest atheists is that anyone can be religiouswith any undertaking: all an atheist really need do is be conscientiously loyal and faithful to his atheistic worldview for him to be correctly and properly identified as “religious”.