To contrast religion vs spirituality gives us a clearer understanding and appreciation of spirituality. The main differences of religion and spirituality lie in the traditional areas of doctrine, rituals and morality. All religions have these three basic components: 1) doctrine or beliefs; 2) rituals or ceremonies; 3) morality or a set of laws governing conduct. It is in these areas that I will make the contrast of religion with spirituality.
Doctrine Versus Experience
Religions have a set of teachings which all members are enjoined to believe in. If a member believes differently and teaches others to do so also, he or she is labeled as an unbeliever and may be excommunicated or put out of that religious group. Thus Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and other religions have a different set of doctrines. In the religions oneness of doctrine is of paramount importance.
In spirituality while there are certain teachings these are not emphasized so much as personal experience. Spiritual persons may be members of different religions but they have the same or similar experience. Christian mystics focus on the experience of union with the divine. So do Hindu or Muslim mystics. They may differ in the means of attaining this union with God but they agree that this has to be experienced as the goal of their spiritual life.
Rituals Versus Intimacy
In religions there are certain rituals or religious ceremonies meant to express human relationship with the divine. In Christianity we have the sacraments and the religious services like the Mass, preaching service, worshipful singing, etc. In certain religions this is so important that a person is obliged to perform these rituals as a means of salvation, like the ritual of baptism.
In spirituality the emphasis is not so much on these rituals as a personal intimacy with the divine, usually attained through personal prayer and meditation, activities which in a sense are the opposite of rituals. Rituals are done in a crowd or group of people. Meditation is usually done in solitude and silence.
You can see now that there really is a contrast between religion vs spirituality.
Morality Versus Compassion
Religions produce a set of rules to follow. This is usually expressed in written laws and oral traditions. Thus the Catholic Church has a Code of Canon Law. The other Christian churches have written policies or a system of precedents. The Muslims have the Shariah Law. The Hindus have their own laws, particularly the laws which regulate their conduct in their respective castes. After a while the tendency is to increase the number of laws and to codify these.
In spirituality the central focus in human conduct is on becoming compassionate to all of creation. I was about to write “love” instead of “compassion” in the sub-heading. But over the years the word “love” has lost much of its real meaning. In almost all seminars, conferences on spirituality compassion is accentuated as the most important attitude required of human beings toward creation. This compassion begins with realizing our oneness with the divine and with all of creation. It is not just a matter of feeling but is expressed in actions of kindness towards all we meet, human beings or other parts of creation. The tendency in spirituality is to simplify the laws, just like what Jesus did, reducing all of them into two: love of God and love of neighbor.
The question I would like to pose is: Which do you think is better, religion or spirituality? My opinion is that both are necessary to human life. Religion functions as a cement in human culture. But with the recent ongoing studies on spirituality we are going to see an increasing number of men and women who are becoming more spiritual rather than more religious. Perhaps churches which have lost their active members, as in certain areas in Europe, can shift their focus from religion to spirituality and give meaning in life to more and more people. Religion vs spirituality will increase the awareness of more people to learn more of the enduring values in life.