Religion vs. spirituality: living on a prayer

Illustration by Seb Agresti.

Religion and spirituality are something I’ve personally wanted to explore, especially how both have a connection to the afterlife because each of these describes it in different ways. However, the afterlife itself is something that has been generated by various religions anyway. It also stemmed from metaphysics.

Although both religion and spirituality deal with understanding the meaning of life and how to live, they are different from each other. Religion is a set of beliefs that must be abided by to seek spiritual salvation. Spirituality is an individual’s internal growth and development of their own beliefs. I’m aware that it’s not impossible to combine the two, and a lot of times, it works, but there are times in which these two can come into conflict and out-stage one another.

Like everything in life, I’ve discovered the good and bad sides to each of them, the pros and cons. It would be one-sided to see each of them with a certain bias based on personal beliefs. The good thing about religion is how it not only gives one a sense of belonging, but it helps makes sense of the complexities of the world, and most importantly, it helps one to have a sense of values, principles, and morals. It makes the individual a sustained and great person apart from society. It’s a normal and traditional way to live, and it grants safety and security, especially against the evil things that try to break their faith. When it comes to creativity, it has inspired great pieces of art, ranging from rich literature to profound paintings that are still timeless. 

Religion has done a lot of great things and has impacted society in decent ways, but on the other hand, religion has done some great damage. It has been used as a form of indoctrination that warps an individual’s way of thinking for the sake of belonging, meaning that he or she is no longer an individual. Most religious people who are in a higher power tend to be hypocritical and contradict the morals and values they preach. They aren’t always right, even when they make themselves out to be. Certain religions are narrow-minded and have a way of stopping you from seeing another perspective of what is often considered as “sinful” or “unusual,” or learning anything different that allows you to grow, and when it comes to the afterlife, they are always all about leaving the world (the only world) that we must seek for a better one after we die. The afterlife is often used to strike fear into people, especially religions like Christianity, in which they often use heaven and hell to make someone act in a way that benefits the doctrine. 

Do I have to mention the many wars and attacks waged in the name of religion? With all its benefits, religion has also done damage to humanity. What really resonated with me the most is how it has made us disconnect from the life and the world we have because we are desperate to seek salvation, bliss, and eternal rest. Leaving religion is one of the hardest things to do, especially if you’re raised to believe a certain way and that’s all.

The good thing about spirituality is how it’s all about individuality, not in a prideful or narcissistic sense (although that could often be the case), but in the sense that you are creative with your own set of beliefs, values, and principles that not only benefits you but also benefits others who are seeking to do the same in their own ways. They believe in a higher power, but do not necessarily consider it as a “deity.” More so, it is often seen as a superior and universal force that assures that the individual is not separate from the universe. It allows one to have a mutual relationship with the present time and the soul. In fact, spirituality is very soul-oriented. It helps one overcome traumatic events they’ve experienced. You are more aware and see how the world works, and how to navigate through it. You become more empathic, compassionate, creative, open-minded, and welcoming. You can detect the positive and negative energies from people. 

It’s no surprise that people (whether religious or not) are becoming more and more spiritual. I even see it in myself. It’s becoming a trend, but a trend that benefits. You become more appreciative of what you have in your life and revere nature. Spirituality has a lot of benefits for everyone who seeks meaningful and purposeful lives. 

I’m sorry to say, there are some drawbacks to it. Yes, even spirituality! Firstly, like religion, there are certain people who exploit it for self-indulgence, like fake gurus who materialize, manipulate, and corrupt it for devious intentions. Being spiritual isn’t simple, since there is a lot that goes into it. There are times one would get confused, question everything, and become indecisive. When you question everything all the time, you become skeptical, and then it would lead to distance, disappointment, and bitterness. That isn’t a good thing. It requires a very strong sense of discipline, and for those who aren’t stoic in their discipline, it could be tough. Not to mention, it’s a very long process that seems as if it would never end. 

Some people could take it too far and use it to do harm to others and themselves, especially when it comes to relying on the supernatural. On top of that, it could often be a lonely journey, as one would be ostracized from their communities (whether it’s family, friends, church, etc.). It’s a painful journey, given how it pushes one to face their inner demons and do something about them, and when utilized in a prideful way, it could make someone narcissistic in the sense that they could have a mind that makes them seem as if they are better and more enlightened than the others. With all its benefits, spirituality could do some damage when it’s not utilized properly, safely, and passionately. 

Sometimes, I personally catch myself stepping out of line to where I seem like I know more than anyone else (even when I don’t mean to do so). Therefore, I stop myself from accumulating those prideful thoughts, and some people who call themselves spiritual aren’t always aware.

So, after I’ve gone over these obvious points, this is the kind of concept I wanted to explore, especially not just in action, but philosophically when it comes to the characters I feel like it’s all about being balanced, and it’s never that easy. In fact, sometimes it’s unobtainable, like reaching a higher level of intelligence or goodness. Simply put, we’re human. We. Are. Human. Sometimes, we do get out of track. We do make mistakes. There are times when we are joyful and grateful, as well as times when we are sorrowful and depressed. There are times when we contradict ourselves. 

We’re only human. I’m not saying this as an excuse to make mistakes willingly, but to be aware of our own shortcomings, as we are always keen on seeing what’s great about us. I sometimes think that religion and spirituality are guilty of establishing the “ideal” human being. They expect people to reach these established standards, especially made by those who are in a much higher power. Because we find it hard to do so, we are better off without them, or we seek to create what is “ideal” to each one of us. As an author and creative person, I’m VERY guilty of being too idealistic. 

The best we could do as individuals is to live the very best life we could live, to be in the present without leaning too much on the past or the future, to have our own values and beliefs (whether established or created), but also willing to learn and seek in a way that allows you to grow both mentally but spiritually. Make every day count, with something big or small, and take everything with gratitude.

We not only celebrate what it means to be human but being a part of this world, being equal to the world. It’s not that I’m right about all this, but this is just how I see it.


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