Many people use spirituality, religion, and faith interchangeably. However, they are not the same. They differ in significant ways. Let’s see if we can sort it out.
This situation begs us to ask a question. Have these words become meaningless?
How Words Become Meaningless
How do words become meaningless? This happens through overuse and misuse. Semantic satiation is a loss of meaning due to repetition or overuse. Additionally, words lose meaning due to misuse. This changes or distorts the meaning of the word.
Likewise, when people use these three terms interchangeably it distorts their meaning. They all have different meanings. And, the result these words become meaningless adjectives.
The overuse and misuse of these words creates confusion. This makes discussing spiritual matters more difficult. However, people continue to use them because they are a part of common language. It’s similar to saying, okay, or yeah sure. And, its doubtful this situation will change. Hence, we need to learn how to deal with it.
The Solution to Overuse and Misuse
The key to unraveling this confusion is twofold. The first part is easiest. We need to know the original meaning of the word. The second part is more difficult. We then need to understand the context and the intended meaning of the person using it.
Fixing the context is an automatic function of communication. We know almost immediately if there a conscious effort to use the word as a meaningful descriptor. Or, if the word just a meaningless part of speech to spice up or spiritualize their language.
However, understanding the intended meaning of the person using it is more difficult. For this reason, we need to hone our listening skills. Sometimes we can grasp the meaning of the word if they elaborate. Above all, the best way is to ask them directly what they mean when they use one of these words. If you can’t ask directly, then take notes.
Spirituality is a term with deep intrinsic meanings. The basic part of this term is the word spirit. This refers to the non-physical part of our mind. Many people believe we are spiritual beings having a physical experience. In other words, at our core, we are Spirit, Soul or the Observer.
However, even people who do not have religious beliefs want to know more about the mysteries of our nature. What is consciousness? Where did it come from, where does it live? Who is the person we talk to inside our heads? What is experiencing this life? These types of questions come into play when we use the term spirituality. Bottom line. You don’t need religion to be spiritual.
On the negative side, the term spirituality is also prone to overuse. And, its become one of the most commonly used terms in our culture. So, the meaning depends on the cultural, and social context. Almost everything in the human condition could be related to this term. For instance, you might hear someone say eating hot spicy food is a spiritual experience.
Additionally, people like to sound spiritual. That’s because there’s an unspoken sense of respect attached to spiritual people. So, it’s not uncommon for people to use this word to enhance their vocabulary.
We must confess, perhaps we are also guilty of adding to the confusion. Albeit, we do so with the best intentions. We use the term spiritual in the title of our organization for several reasons. In fact, we choose each word in order to best describe our mission.
We chose to use the term spiritual for these reasons. First, the developers of the methods we teach use spiritual terms to convey them. Secondly, because of this heritage, we use the term spiritual to honor the spiritual traditions of cultures pioneering these processes. Thirdly, because these tools facilitate our spiritual journey and connect us with our spiritual nature.
In general, religions are a set of beliefs and values. Their intent is to influence people and society in a positive way. Without a doubt, Western organized religion is the most influential. These are Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Together they have over 4 billion followers. As a result, they can influence many cultures.
One thing religion does well is to sell the unknown. For instance, heaven or afterlife beliefs are one of the top-selling items. To do this, they use faith to overcome any opposing arguments or facts. So, a believer must cling to their faith in the afterlife to keep from facing the fear of death. In short, you secure your place in heaven with belief and monetary contributions. And, there are no customer complaints.
A point often overlooked is the slippery slope of religious doctrine. Instead of bringing out the best in humanity it can bring out the worst. People use their sacred texts to justify everything from ethnic, gender and belief discrimination war and genocide. It’s all done in the name of their God.
“Religious people claim that it’s just the fundamentalists of each religion that cause problems. But, there’s got to be something wrong the religion itself if those who strictly adhere to its most fundamental principles are violent bigots and sexists.”
— David G. Mcafee
Another key point… not all traditions are harmful. For example, several of the tools for consciousness exploration and development come from indigenous and Eastern traditions. History shows they are the pioneers of research and the beginning of science as we know it. You can trace medicine and psychology back to the work of these early cultures.
Faith is a term that some use interchangeably with religion. When someone says they walk by faith, they are telling you they follow the dictates of a religion. Faith means to have complete trust in something. That is why it is one of the main elements of many largest religions.
Religious leaders teach followers that faith and unwavering trust in them is a requirement. This mindset of certainty and trust is a sheild. Some people are proud to say they live by faith while consciously ignoring any facts which contradict their beliefs. This is why it’s also important not to confuse faith with confidence.
For instance, we have confidence when we sit down that the chair will support us. We draw this conclusion from historical evidence of sitting in this chair. Whereas, faith in religion is the belief in things for which there is no credible proof. Faith is the assertion of belief. But, it is fear which motivates the objective of their faith. The biggest fear is that of eternal punishment in hell. This brings us back to the antidote for death, the afterlife.
”The constant assertion of belief, is an indication of fear.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti
One man’s religion is another man’s interesting mythology. In other words, looking at any religion from the outside gives us a clear perspective of the metaphors. Many people use the words spirituality, religion and faith interchangeably. However, they differ in significant ways.
Some people view Western organized religion as the fast-food of spirituality. And, so believe authentic faith is beyond all types of organized religions. We hope this discussion helps to clarify the use of these words.