I always experience mixed emotions when I hear someone say (or see someone post) something along the lines of “I’m spiritual, but not religious.” On one hand, I am happy that the person is seeking a deeper meaning in their life. On the other hand, I’m worried that the person will stay satisfied there.
Before I continue, I want to define spirituality and religion. The University of Minnesota shares this Venn Diagram.
While the article it is from emphasizes spirituality as good for emotional well-being, I think they (perhaps unknowingly) made an important distinction: spirituality is what I believe and how I find meaning in regards to a higher power while religion is how I live out the truth and what is right in regards to a higher power.
Spirituality is absolutely necessary and a critical part of being religious, but it isn’t enough on its own. Especially as Christians, we should question spirituality without religion because Christ very intentionally established a Church for us. That alone should be a sufficient reason to recognize the necessity of religion, but there are three more reasons we should be both spiritual and religious.
1) We can gain an intimate knowledge of Christ.
God made us to know Him and seek Him. I t is a huge part of our lives; in fact, it is our purpose as human beings. Even people in the depths of the rainforest who never encounter a Christian can still be drawn to a higher power. However, by being part of a religion, we can learn who Christ truly is. We can find answers to our questions and learn more about Him more effectively than if we just wander on our own.
As Catholics, we are able to have the most intimate connection with Christ through His presence in the Eucharist. Without the (Catholic) Church, we cannot have that incredibly intimate connection in the form of the Eucharist. This is not to say that other connections with Christ aren’t good or beautiful or necessary; rather, it is recognizing the incredible gift of Christ’s body that is available to us that wouldn’t be accessible without the Church.
2) We are better protected from evil.
The reality is that we are broken people. We can have inaccurate ideas of who God is. Having religion helps us know what is truly right and wrong, even if it is difficult to accept. Without proper guidance, we can misinterpret Scripture. When we allow our own desires to supersede what God desires for us, we find the fractures in our faith communities. Obviously, churches can fail and do things like vote on moral beliefs, but when we follow a particular religion (specifically Catholicism), we are on a better road towards Christ’s kingdom. Left to our own devices, we come up with weird crap like Scientology.
3) We need a Christian community.
Having a community is a very important part of worship and Christian living. Being part of a Christian community provides us with encouragement to grow closer to Christ and support in our struggles. People can grow closer to Christ together through classes, Bible studies, programs, and more.
Again, my point isn’t that spirituality is bad. We need spirituality, too. If religion is just a bunch of rules and doesn’t have spiritual practices, it is also lacking. There are even differences in spiritual expression within a religion. For example, some Catholics may embrace Ignatian spirituality while others may prefer a rosary walk. There is beauty in the diversity of these expressions.
Ultimately, however, when we recognize that religion allows us to be in a relationship with God as He desires it and see the fruits, we will truly be living more spiritually fulfilling lives.
If you want to read more about spirituality vs. religion, here are two more posts (Catholic News Agency and Our Sunday Visitor). If you are spiritual but not religious, here is a great post by an atheist-turned-nun.
On a somewhat related note, here are two great responses to the misguided “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” spoken word video:
What are your thoughts? Why do you think we don’t need religion? What Christian spiritual practices do you enjoy?