Spiritual vs Religious Beliefs How to Compare Spirituality and Religion

Spiritual vs Religious Beliefs — How to Compare Spirituality and Religion

Many people think of the spiritual or religious path as the same thing, but they aren’t. You can test this conclusion for yourself by learning how to compare spirituality and religion. The result may surprise you.

As society develops, more people are embracing spirituality beyond religion. Spiritual enlightenment practices take precedence over the belief in religious dogma. The shift in public opinion is born out of the increasing gap between the knowledge of science and the backward beliefs of religion. Whoever wins this argument will affect the world.

“Mythology may, in a real sense, be defined as other people’s religion. And religion may, in a sense, be understood as the popular misunderstanding of mythology.”  — Joseph Campbell

The exercise to compare spirituality and religion is a quest to dispel the confusion. In the end, you will have a clearer understanding of these two approaches. Then, you can make an informed decision about a spiritual or religious path.

The Battle of Spiritual vs Religious Beliefs

This debate centers on the meaning of words and who controls their meaning in the cultural narrative. The power to control the meaning of language is a lever that can change people’s preferences for or against something.

The religion of one person is the mythology of another. Looking at any religion from the outside gives us a clear perspective on the use of language and metaphor. Many people use the words religion and spirituality interchangeably. In reality, spirituality and religion are not the same things at all.

It’s important though to distinguish between religion and spirituality.”  — Paulo Coelho

The best way to understand why people confuse the two is to define them. This perspective will help us compare spirituality and religion.

The confusion over the terms religion and spirituality isn’t by accident. Western organized religion usurps everything spiritual to present itself as the only path. The goal of spirituality is to provide a framework for the inner quest. Spiritual exploration is the process of exploring consciousness. It opens our spiritual gifts so that we can reach our full potential.   Organized religion attempts to assimilate this concept into its mythology and superstition.

However, science has helped society to evolve beyond the answers provided by theology. More and more people are questioning the motives of organized religion. Are the myths and superstitions of Western theology a viable path to spirituality? Let’s look at some definitions which help clarify this issue.

How to Compare Spirituality and Religion

The key to unraveling this confusion is twofold. First, we find the dictionary meaning of the word. The second part is more complicated because we need to determine the context of its use. To find the context, we need to know the intent behind its use. What was the person trying to convey with its use? Was it used as an adjective, or does its use point to a deeper, more intrinsic meaning?

Most of the time, people use these words as meaningless adjectives or jargon. It is part of their memorized lexicon. Most people don’t know the meaning behind most religious or spiritual terms. Some people use spiritual language because they think it makes them sound spiritual.

Understanding the intent can be more challenging. 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 using one of these words. If they can’t explain the meaning of the words, or if the meaning is vague, then you know they are using it as meaningless jargon.

What is Spirituality

Spirituality is the exploration of the Spirit. Our Spirit is consciousness. The term Spirit is synonymous with the Soul or the Observer. Exploring consciousness is a path that helps us understand who and what we are and the intrinsic value of life. When someone lives a spiritual life, they promote harmony and the positive virtues of the Spirit. Spiritual beliefs are simply our belief or confidence in the tools for exploring consciousness.

People can have spiritual beliefs apart from an organized religion. They seek spiritual practices for self-discovery, not to join a religion. We are curious beings who want to know more about the unknown. Nothing is more mysterious than the inner world of consciousness. The bottom line is that you don’t need religion to be spiritual. Spirituality isn’t a belief in mythology. Spirituality is a way of exploring important questions.

What is Religion

“Religion is the rules, regulations, ceremonies, and rituals developed by man to create conformity and uniformity in the approach to God. Spirituality is God’s call in your soul.” — Iyanla Vanzant

If you ask a religious person to define spirituality, they will describe their beliefs in mythology and superstition. Their religion has nothing to do with consciousness and awareness; it’s all about believing in things beyond proof.

Religion focuses on doctrines and dogma, which are based on mythology and superstition. Western organized religions promote sectarian prejudice and discrimination. They use their belief in an imaginary friend and ancient texts to justify their bigotry. It is not about spiritual practices for self-discovery or enlightenment. The primary purpose is to create a cash flow system.

There are over 10,000 religions today, each one claiming to be the only correct one. Undoubtedly, Western organized religion is the most influential of these religions. These are Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, which account for about 2,000 sects. Together, they have over 4 billion followers. As a result, they can influence cultures on a global scale—that’s cultural clout. But how does faith fit into this equation of spirituality, religion, and faith?

What is Faith

Faith is a term that some use interchangeably with religion. When someone says they walk by faith, they tell you they follow a religion. However, the term faith means to have complete trust in something. It’s the reason faith is the primary element of the largest religions. But we have good reason to believe spirituality and religion are not the same thing. Calling religion faith doesn’t change the equation.

Religious leaders teach followers that faith and unwavering trust are requirements. This mindset of certainty and confidence is a shield. Some people are proud to say they live by faith while consciously ignoring any facts contradicting their beliefs.   Therefore, it’s also important not to confuse faith with confidence. Nor should you confuse myths with facts.

For instance, we are confident that when we sit down, the chair will support us. We draw this conclusion from historical evidence of sitting in this chair. Simultaneously, faith in religion requires belief in things with no credible proof. Faith asserts the validity of mythology and superstition. The biggest fear is eternal punishment in hell. It brings us back to the antidote for death, the afterlife.

“The constant assertion of belief, is an indication of fear.” — Jiddu Krishnamurti (2)

The word faith is a good example of how religion uses a word as a smokescreen. It is used to deflect questions and doubts about mythology. One does not need to understand, simply to obey. Faith is the assertion of religious indoctrination. This tactic keeps people from considering any information that contradicts their beliefs.

Now, you can see why spiritual vs religious beliefs are so confusing. But if you keep the definitions of religion and spirituality in mind, you will be able to navigate the issue.

Guide to Deepening Spiritual Exploration

There is a better alternative to the trap of religion. There is a choice between the spiritual or religious path. Spiritual exploration involves using tools to explore consciousness. You don’t need faith, belief, or religion to follow a process. You find these tools by distinguishing between spiritual practices for self-discovery and pretending.

Guide to Deepening Spiritual Exploration Spiritual Enlightenment Practices Spiritual or Religious Path Spiritual Practices for Self-Discovery


Words like spirituality, faith, and belief have become meaningless with overuse and misuse. Semantic satiation is the loss of meaning because of repetition or overuse. We lose the real meaning when it is used for different things. So, when people use these three terms interchangeably, it further distorts their meaning. All three words have different meanings. However, today, it’s common for people to think they mean the same thing, making these words meaningless adjectives.

Distinguishing Between the Spiritual or Religious Path

We doubt people will stop using spiritual language as colorful adjectives. Spiritual language is part of the common language used to talk about religion. It is like saying common filler words such as okay, yeah, and sure. It is doubtful this situation will change. Hence, we need to learn how to deal with it. This kind of misuse hides the conflict of spiritual vs religious beliefs.

So, when you hear someone using spiritual language, ask them what they mean by using the terms. Get them to explain what they mean when they say words like spiritual or spirituality.

We can’t eliminate this use from language because it is now commonly used as an adjective. Remember, spiritual words depend upon their use and social context. We can use spiritual terms to enhance any conversation. For instance, you might hear someone say eating hot, spicy food is a spiritual experience. There is a sense of respect attached to spirituality.

As a guide to deepening spiritual exploration, ask people to define the term in the context. If they confuse religion with spirituality, you can correct them. Fixing the context is an automatic function of language. We immediately know when someone uses a term as a meaningless descriptor. If you learn to listen, you’ll find people use these terms to spice up or spiritualize their language.

Spiritual Practices for Self-Discovery

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 sacred texts to justify hate. They try to explain away everything from ethnic, gender, and belief discrimination to war and genocide. It’s all done in the name of their imaginary friend, God.

Self-discovery is not about memorizing ancient texts, nor does it involve the belief in imaginary friends and enemies. It is something you do with inner work tools that probe your psyche. Meditation, The Enneagram Profile, The Repetitive Question Exercise, and Automatic Writing are examples of tools that help us explore our minds.

Religious people claim fundamentalists and extremists are to blame for everything done in the name of religion. So, the violent acts by people who follow their religion aren’t their fault. The legislative attacks on the personal rights of the female gender aren’t their fault. Nor are the attacks on those of different sexual preferences. Their religion isn’t the problem.

Think about that. If a system’s fundamental principles inspire people to do harmful acts, who is to blame? If a system promotes bigotry, discrimination, sexism, and genocide, the system is flawed. There is something fundamentally wrong with the belief system (1). It underscores the ongoing battle of spiritual vs religious beliefs.

Spiritual Enlightenment Practices

Spiritual practices for self-discovery always involve processes and methods. They do not require you to join a religion.

1. Start with simple things, but start today. You can spare two minutes. So, you can learn the simple two-step meditation practice and use it every day.

2. Read about tools and methods for investigating consciousness. Find those that resonate and learn them. Add as many as you can to your spiritual tool belt because you never know when you’ll need them. Here’s a list to get started. You can learn many of them from articles on this website for free.

— Analytical Tools to Enhance Critical Thinking Skills
— Different Kinds of Meditation
— Methods to Expand Awareness and Observational Skills
— Practical Healing Methods

3. Avoid religions and religious practices even though they may seem like an easier way. The truth is that they are traps that often make extraordinary claims but never deliver on their promises.

In Conclusion

In recent years, spirituality has gained significant traction, particularly among the younger generations. Unlike religion, which adheres to rigid dogma, spirituality allows individuals to forge their own path. Spirituality emphasizes a personal approach to spiritual exploration. The focus is on using tools for inner growth and developing your potential without the constraints of a specific belief system. This autonomy appeals to many who seek a more personalized and inclusive approach to spirituality.

On the other hand, religion has stood the test of time. People are born into families and societies that are controlled by religion. Its organized structure, rituals, and teachings provide a sense of stability and consistency.

Religion offers a clear moral compass by telling you what is acceptable and what is not. It creates a sense of belonging, and people cling to and protect these beliefs. They choose their faith over scientific evidence. So, this kind of cultural power cannot be discounted. It has shaped cultures and societies for centuries. Although these systems contain bigotry and sectarianism, it is difficult for people to leave them behind.

Ultimately, we must learn to compare spirituality and religion and the terms that are used. Spiritual vs religious beliefs is an ongoing struggle for control of the cultural narrative. It starts with acknowledging that spirituality and religion are not the same.


(1)  Mom, Dad, I’m an Atheist, The Guide to Coming Out as a Non-believer, David G. McAfee, Good Reads. 
(2) Jiddu Krishnamurti, Wikipedia.