“Religious” vs. “Spiritual”

I have a lot of disdain for this distinction.  While it may not be inherently wrong — it may even useful, in some cases, theoretically — it still gives me a negative first impression of any who uses it to the tune of “I’m spiritual, but not religious,” because I assume their intended meaning is relying on a distinction between “spiritual” and “religious” that goes something like this…

Religious:

  • hierarchical
  • rigid
  • controlling
  • narrow-minded
  • dour
  • liturgical

Spiritual:

  • egalitarian
  • mystical
  • liberated
  • open-minded
  • benign
  • transcendent

And, from my cranky and cynical point of view, that just looks to me like some lazy way for people to cling to the “enlightened”, mysterious, cryptic associations of spirituality without the heavy commitment of religion and all its tainted associations, which makes sense only as far as they view spirituality and religion like this:

venn diagram where religion and spirituality only partially overlap

Presumably, they acknowledge an ideological position which is both religious and spiritual, and they acknowledge an ideological position which is spiritual but not religious (and, I assume, also an ideological position which is religious but not spiritual — otherwise, the diagram would have to remove all of the Religion circle except for where it overlaps with Spirituality).

Whereas, to me, it’s more like this:

diagram where spirituality is a circle within religion

That is, I don’t see nonreligious spirituality as something that even exists, because I bracket all conceivable spirituality under the wider umbrella of religion.

Which is largely an inconsequential matter, except I can’t figure out what the reasoning for the other perspective would be, unless the paradigm of those who use the phrase “spiritual but not religious” comes from a school of thought that — although it doesn’t take issue with (and in fact shares in) spiritual metaphysics — regards “religion” (as an umbrella term — describing all conceivable religious thought, not just specific disastrous religions you take issue with) as being categorically disagreeable, in some sense.

That, or they’re spiritual atheists who think religious = theistic.  [Fact of the day: nontheistic religions exist.  Stop acting like theism is the only facet of religion.]

Anyway, if you don’t have a problem with spiritual beliefs (however that’s defined), I’m suspicious of what you could possibly have against religion that isn’t merely arbitrary.  So while I can’t claim to know anyone’s intentions, “spiritual but not religious” just sounds to me like it means “Yeah, I believe in spiritual things, but, you know, without all that unpleasant stuff”.

It’s kind of a double-hitting ideological disagreement in that I don’t even believe in the whole categorization system they’re using to describe themselves in the first place (and this stands in contrast with someone calling themselves an atheist, for example, since I think the atheist/monotheist/polytheist categorization system is one that makes sense, at least), but it’s also personally alienating because, if we have to use this dichotomy, then — like Kathryn, I feel closer to what you might call “religious, but not spiritual”.

With that said, I empathize with the discomfort in calling oneself religious.  But that’s partly because I’ve thought about it long enough to begin taking some issue with religion-as-a-conceptual-category, and as a result I’ve come to a personal definition of religion that’s much broader than what most people are willing to recognize.  More on that another time, perhaps.

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42 responses to ““Religious” vs. “Spiritual”

  • luvtheheaven

    I think if you’re “Religious”, you ascribe to one particular set of beliefs that at least some other people also agree with. There is some agreed upon set of things tying each religion together. I would draw the Venn diagram as ALMOST the opposite, with all religion being a circle encompassed *almost* entirely by spirituality, with a small outlier of non-spiritual people who just follow rules of religion strictly without letting… emotion get involved, I suppose, and without thinking about it enough to fully embrace any beliefs about it. But to me, spirituality is an umbrella term for people who believe in a very wide array of things, and not all are directly tied, easily, to one religion.

    I’m not sure my opinion matters much, as I consider myself an atheist who is *not* “spiritual”, not in any sense of the word, but when people tell me they’re spiritual, not religious, that is sort of what I’ve always been thinking. I don’t know.

    • acetheist

      As a way to say “I don’t even know what you’d call my beliefs or if there’s a name for it or if anyone else thinks in a remotely similar way”? Yeah, I can empathize with that. Still think “spiritual but not religious” is an annoying way to go about it, but I can wrap my head around that sentiment for sure.

      “people who just follow rules of religion strictly without letting… emotion get involved”

      lol. Wouldn’t quite say I’m that. If anyone told me they didn’t let their emotions get involved in their religion, I might laugh in their face.

      (and then get slightly worried that the two of us have somehow acquired different definitions of the word “emotion”, or perhaps “involved”)

      • luvtheheaven

        I mean I think when I was reading “Generation Atheist” by Dan Riley (well, he was sort of the author but really he compiled 25 people’s different journey’s to atheism) and I got to the story near the end of the book about an American second-generation immigrant with a Greek Orthodox background, his first-gen immigrant parents seemed to view being religious as culturally important and if you rejected any of the important rules of the religion (such as disagreeing with the whole “God exists” part, of course, lol) then the problem wasn’t actually “but God is real” and all the things tied into that – for his parents, the problem was that you would no longer be allowed to “count” as part of this “religion”/”Religious community” if you did that. So it was unthinkable. They struck me as emotionally invested in the social things, the sense of identity they had that was tied to the religion… but it felt like there was no spirituality involved, and I’d count them as religious but not spiritual. Maybe that’s just me.

        Also, when I took a Comparative Religions (Religion 101) course in college, Confucianism seemed to be a religion not based on “spiritual” stuff at all, not so if one ascribed to that religion I could see themselves considering themselves non-spiritual yet still religious. I don’t know, though.

        I do agree that there are major problems with the whole “spiritual, but not religious” phrasing though, mainly because it often is used as a judging/derogatory thing that is kind of ridiculous and what exactly they don’t like about “religion” that they’re distancing themselves from is different for each person who uses the phrase, it seems.

        • acetheist

          “They struck me as emotionally invested in the social things, the sense of identity they had that was tied to the religion… but it felt like there was no spirituality involved, and I’d count them as religious but not spiritual.”

          Oh, certainly. I just meant I wouldn’t consider that sort of thing “no emotion involved”, haha.

          “mainly because it often is used as a judging/derogatory thing that is kind of ridiculous”

          This. And I don’t see negatively judging other people’s beliefs as inherently a bad thing, of course (it depends on what those beliefs are — ex. beliefs that tie into rape culture) but as far as criticizing someone’s ideology or describing your own goes, the phrase isn’t very effective or even specific.

          • luvtheheaven

            Yeah. I definitely agree with your last paragraph there. ;)

            I guess what I was saying about a lack of emotion involved doesn’t really make sense. Lol. I suppose… I was just saying that what people are emotionally invested in might not be the religious beliefs/doctrines/etc but rather what the religion ends up giving them in the real world, which is different to me than religious beliefs doing something for you, because it’s more the label and the community of people that you feel emotionally invested in. If you’re emotionally invested in the beliefs themselves, that’s when it becomes “Spiritual” in my mind.

    • Fey Spring

      I was going to comment on this, but you made my point. I haven’t ever been able to say I’m religious, because I think that means I believe in all of these sets of beliefs that go together and are taught together. When in fact, I believe in self enlightenment and prayer and study… and philosophy… and what seems to work. I also have a deep problem with pagan vs wicca because technically I don’t have a set of Gods, or a path. I’m an animist and I do magick… *shrugs* I’ve just given up on labels altogether.

  • Siggy

    I think a venn diagram distinction between religion and spirituality could, hypothetically be useful. But one of the dangers of any dichotomy is that it could turn into “the good stuff” vs “the bad stuff”. This leads to all sorts of disagreements between people who think that if it’s good then it cannot count as religion, and people who think that if it’s good, then maybe not every aspect of religion is bad. OR between people who think that if it’s bad then it doesn’t count as spirituality, and people who think that if it’s bad then maybe not every aspect of spirituality is good.

  • timberwraith

    I see “religious” as being an adjective which indicates that one is part of a religion. Religion, to me, is a formal system of ideas and institutions which are shared by a group of people and form the basis for a social setting in which people can share experiences regarding spirituality and/or commonly held worldviews.

    In other words, one can experience spirituality solo without a social setting, collectively held ideas, and collectively held worldviews. For someone like myself, whose spirituality centers upon a deep, ineffable connection with nature, I do not need or desire the institutions, social settings, and ideas provided by religion. My experiences are private and experienced in a solitary setting… and I prefer to keep them that way.

    Hence, I am spiritual but not religious.

  • timberwraith

    However, to be blunt, I tend to agree with the series of adjectives you listed under the word “religious” when it comes to much of what passes for the Abrahamic religions (particularly Christianity and Islam):

    -hierarchical
    -rigid
    -controlling
    -narrow-minded
    -dour
    -liturgical

    I make no apologies for those particular associations because they are well earned. I’ve personally endured the kind of abuse that Christianity generously doles out toward its non-conforming followers. When I see the Abrahamic religions cleaning up their act on a collective level, my negative associations are likely to shift… but not until then. Quite frankly, I don’t trust religion and religious institutions because of the widespread horrors that religion has perpetrated upon its followers, upon those who exist outside a religion, and the upon the larger world. Religion and oppressive tribalism too often walk hand in hand.

    However, there are indeed religions and religious subgroups which do not share these negative qualities. There are a great many religious individuals who do not share these negative qualities. So, I try not to associate all religious people and all religions with these negative descriptors.

    Nevertheless, having experienced the kind of awfulness that religion so often perpetrates, I trust no religion deeply enough to want to be a part of one. I imagine that makes religious people irritated with me but that’s where I stand and I stand there quite firmly. However, don’t bother focusing the irritation upon people like me. That won’t solve much of anything other that deepening social rifts that already exist. I and the many others who’ve been wounded by religion aren’t the real problem. Instead, continue to change religious institutions and belief systems for the better. Reform them into something humane and life-affirming. Only then will there be the possibility of these negative associations abating.

    • timberwraith

      That is assuming that you are a part of larger religion. Perhaps you aren’t. I don’t know, actually.

    • acetheist

      Well. Guess that means I have a good intuition, then. At least in terms of guessing what adjectives to apply.

      Anyway, I meant to include something about ethnocentricism in here — the way people hear the word “religion” and always assume it’s talking about the religions they’ve heard the most about (and, in extreme cases, those and only those) — and now I’m wishing I’d fit that in.

      But, agreed: White Christianity is a nasty piece of work.

      • timberwraith

        the way people hear the word “religion” and always assume it’s talking about the religions they’ve heard the most about (and, in extreme cases, those and only those)

        For me, it’s a consideration of who has the most power both locally and globally. Christianity and Islam have the lion’s share of followers and exert widespread influence over most of the world’s cultures. I can run off a longish list of religions and denominations which I don’t have a problem with. Sadly, they hardly put a dent in the larger demography and social patterns of the planet. Recognizing this, I see the tendency for religion to exert unhealthy amounts of control over people as a worldwide phenomena in need of serious introspection and reform. However, only the members of those religions in question can institute real, lasting change. Outsiders can have a small degree of impact but their effective grasp is limited.

        • acetheist

          Right. Well, I see it as more effective to go for things at their source — patriarchy, heterosexism, colonialism, etc., are the systems of oppression, and religion is a vehicle that can be used both for and against them. That’s an area where I think there’s a proper Venn Diagram — with an “oppressive systems and beliefs” circle having significant overlap with a religion* circle and also having a secular portion. I don’t think Religion is The Problem (obviously), but religion can and does aid and abet the problems in serious ways, and I acknowledge that saying “well religion isn’t all bad” doesn’t mean it’s not important to call out the ways that it does fail us.

          *Using your and/or a classical definition of religion, here.

          • timberwraith

            I agree that challenging the root causes (e.g. patriarchy, heterosexism, etc.) is very important. Sadly, those root causes are often incorporated directly into the heart of some religions. So, reform is going to take an approach on multiple fronts. I think a lot of religion is a direct expression of those root problems and as such, tends to reproduce and reenforce those root problems. It’s a tightly knit fabric as opposed to a pyramid or decision tree. However, I’m not saying that religion should be eliminated. That’s completely unrealistic. I’m not an anti-theist by any means. What I’m calling for is reform rather than eradication.

  • salmelo

    Much like other’s have commented already, “Religious” for me represents some connection to a specific set of rules and/or beliefs, shared by a larger community.

    When I, personally, claim to be “spiritual but not religious” it’s actually less about distancing myself from religion and more about distancing myself from, not atheism as such but the popular view thereof. While I consider myself to be agnostic I do hold several beliefs that I can only really describe as “spiritual.” And I’ve found that, where I live at least, the dichotomy between Religious or Not-Religious is very, very culturally ingrained. So it’s important to me to be able to show that I’m not fully ‘aligned’ with either, rather existing somewhere in between.

    Although I will admit, I am also distancing myself from, again not Religion as a whole but the popular conception thereof in the locale where I live and have grown up. Certain portions of the religious community here have a tendency to try and lay claim on anyone they can, whether the individual cares to be associated with them or not. I recall once many years ago a friend mentioning my name was on their church roster, despite my having never attended there, for example.

    • acetheist

      Wow, that’s bizarre. And wildly inappropriate.

      Another one of those contexts where Religion = Christianity, huh?

      • salmelo

        Ya, around here that tends to be the assumption. More specifically, it’s Religion = Christianity and Christianity = Mormonism. (Which in turn is equated with the LDS Church specifically.) Something my Catholic friend took particular displeasure from.
        Although, since moving to Salt Lake I’ve noticed a significantly higher quantity of (presumably, going by dress) Muslim women, just walking on the street. But I’ve only been here a few months and I’m still too used to Utah Valley, so that’s the culture that colors my perceptions.
        An interesting aside, having grown up in a non-religious household but still surrounded by religious community (and extended family), I somehow managed to take in both the Christian = LDS culture I lived in and the Christian = Catholic mindset often seen in media, such that for a long time my internal conceptualization of Christianity was some strange amalgamation of the two.

  • timberwraith

    Sorry I’m stinking up your comment thread with multiple comments. :P

    Here’s another way that I tend to categorize things, which has nothing to do with the behaviors of world religions:

    spirituality: A basic substrate of numinous and/or connective sensations and perceptions which are experienced by much of the human race independent of personal belief or communal membership. These often take the form of feeling a deep, ineffable sense of connection with oneself, one’s environment, the larger universe, or some external force or entity.

    religion: A formal system of rituals, ideas, philosophies, symbols, and metaphors used to provide an experiential, emotional, and cognitive set of “handles” for raw spiritual experience. If spirituality could be classified as a natural phenomenon to be studied then religion is the attempt to form a collective process of analysis and organization of those experiences. Put another way, spirituality is the natural phenomena and religion is the language used to represent that phenomena as a symbolic system. Put yet another way, spirituality is the hardware and machine code of the numinous. Religion is the higher level programming language and the operating system employed to interface with the hardware and machine language (i.e. substrate) of the spiritual. The hardware and the machine code can exist with any number of programming languages and operating systems.

    When it comes to experiencing spirituality, I prefer keeping as close to the machine code and hardware as possible, while others find greater beauty in the programming languages and operating systems which make spirituality more accessible in a collective environment. Religion is the GUI of spirituality.

    I’ve always seen motherboards as beautiful works of art, catching the eye with intricate paths of copper and geometrically positioned arrays of electronic components. :)

    • acetheist

      “Sorry I’m stinking up your comment thread with multiple comments.”

      Don’t be sorry! As disagreeing non-theists go, you’re much more pleasant to deal with than that kid who commented on my Health is Not Morality post.

      So, under this definition of spirituality — most people are spiritual, then? Would the only people who aren’t spiritual be like… closed-off hermits and loners, and such? Or am I misunderstanding you?

      “When it comes to experiencing spirituality, I prefer keeping as close to the machine code and hardware as possible”

      Keeping it “pure”, as it were?

      • timberwraith

        As disagreeing non-theists go…

        This is a pet peeve but I see the dichotomy of theist vs. non-theist/atheist as being far too dualistic. The way people employ this duality tends to gloss over the reality of a lot of middle ground. I’m just a plain agnostic. Not theist. Not atheist. Just generally undefined. Parts of me believe that god and divinity are possible. Parts of me believe that these things might very well be constructs of human imagining. A lot of me sees the concept of god and divinity as too limiting and carrying too much cultural baggage to represent whatever oddity is going on in the universe. Whatever’s going on may very well lie outside of anything we currently have concepts and categories for.

        So, when you live outside of a standard dualism, what label to you take on? What do you do when the common dualistic paradigm doesn’t gracefully describe you?

        I’m glad we get along OK and thanks for saying so. :)

        Would the only people who aren’t spiritual be like… closed-off hermits and loners, and such? Or am I misunderstanding you?

        Let’s use another analogy. Presumably, most people are allosexual, heterosexual and/or cis. Those who do not fall into one or several of those categories are not hermits or loners. They simply experience life and being in a different way from most people. This way of being is neither good nor bad. It’s just different. I’m guessing that those who do not experience spirituality would be a similar form of “outlier”.

        Keeping it “pure”, as it were?

        Sort of. My answer at the start of this comment kind of explains why I stay away from most systems of religious symbolism. I don’t see a paradigm that fits and so, I tend to limit myself to the raw experience as much as I can.

        However, spirituality can so easily slip through one’s fingers without a system of interpretive symbols and rituals. Similarly, programming in machine language is a major pain in the bottom. Higher level programming languages tend to be far easier and far more efficient to use. As operating systems go, DOS and Unix might have their advantages but most people use Windows or a Mac OS. Opening up Word is a lot faster when you double click on an icon. Opening it up using the command prompt is a pain. Similarly, religion can make the spiritual far more accessible.

        • timberwraith

          Ugh. My blockquotes totally failed.

        • Siggy

          I don’t experience spirituality, and have made the analogy to asexuality more than once. I think there are a lot of similarities, like the way that people implicitly or explicitly believe that being spiritual is better or makes you more human. And for some reason people especially expect it from scientists–it’s practically a requirement to being a science popularizer. And many people in the atheist movement enthuse about how great spirituality/awe/meditation is (they disagree on how to call it), as a reaction against atheist stereotypes.

          All this has left me annoyed with spirituality. Spirituality isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I don’t think people deserve cookies for it, and I will actively knock away the cookies that the rest of society has been giving to you for it. Spirituality suuuucks. But seriously, it’s a pet peeve.

          • timberwraith

            Indeed, spirituality shouldn’t be privileged. Nor should theism, religion, heterosexuality, cis-ness, or allosexuality. It’s not so much that those things inherently suck. It’s just that they have become so intertwined with social power that they serve as common pathways of abuse… and sadly, have become embodiments of abuse.

          • acetheist

            Minor digression–

            “like the way that people implicitly or explicitly believe that being spiritual is better or makes you more human.”

            This is hardly relevant, but I gotta say: humanity is not a virtue. There is no sliding scale of “more” human or “less” human according to the right behavior. You can be a complete trashbag of a person and still be human, because being human doesn’t indicate anything about the validity of your personal ethics; it’s just a species.

            (not disagreeing with you, just an expression of a thought)

        • acetheist

          “This is a pet peeve but I see the dichotomy of theist vs. non-theist/atheist as being far too dualistic.”

          Fair enough.

          “I tend to limit myself to the raw experience as much as I can.”

          I think I get what you mean, but on the other hand, I’m too much of a comm scholar not to believe that all experiences are mediated.

          (gosh, I leave my laptop for a few hours and get flooded with notifications. Who knew this would become my most commented-on post?)

      • timberwraith

        These often take the form of feeling a deep, ineffable sense of connection with oneself, one’s environment, the larger universe, or some external force or entity.

        When I say this, I’m not talking about social connection with other people and society at large. Feeling a sense of spiritual connection with a mountain, a deity, the whole of all living things, or whatever… these phenomena tend to fall outside of the experience of everyday social interaction. So, one is not a loner or a hermit if one doesn’t experience these particular senses of connection. Employing yet another analogy, one is not a loner or a hermit if one does not experience sexual attraction. Sexual attraction is its own distinct phenomena and is not required to feel a sense of deep connection with friends and loved ones.

        I don’t know if that helps very much. It’s difficult to render these experiences via language.

  • Cleander

    As a sort of second-gen atheist, my experiences with religion and spirituality are admittedly very secondhand, but I’ve always understood the contrast between religion and spirituality a bit differently:

    As I understand it, “religious” in this kind of example refers to the actual practice of engaging in activities associated with some sort of organized religion, like say going to church or keeping kosher, etc; whereas “spirituality” is more about internal beliefs (like say beliefs in god or the concept of sin, etc) that aren’t tied to any specific activities of organized religion.

    For example, when I’ve encountered people who identify with the concept of spiritual but not religious, its often people who have say belief in god, etc. But have stopped going to church or engaging in other activities associated with any particular religion and do not ascribe to any particular demonination ( though they may associate more generally with being “christian-ish”, for example.

    Unde this way of thinking, you can definitely have someone who is religious but not spiritual – it would be like secular Judaism, where individuals may not have the internal belief in god but do still engage in the external activities associated with Judaism; or the kind of people who are maybe more agnostic or atheist in their internal personal beliefs but still go to church every Sunday as a social activity. (Of course, I’m not sure if such people would ever use the phrase that way themselves)

    (*this understanding of religious vs. Spiritual is largely grounded in the somewhat narrower use of “religion” to refer specifically to organized religion – that is, traditional sets of shared practices – which is probably what causes the difference in interpretations.

    • acetheist

      “As I understand it, ‘religious’ in this kind of example refers to the actual practice of engaging in activities associated with some sort of organized religion, like say going to church or keeping kosher, etc”

      Ah. Well, that’d be another conception under which I’d class as not very religious. And that’s mainly because it’s hard for me to find a community of other religious people that I gel with well enough on all the necessary levels, leaving me kind of… barely religious, but not by choice.

      I dunno, that sounds like it shouldn’t count.

      • Cleander

        Well, actions don’t have to be communal. Just actions. Like, say, if a person strongly believed in the ten commandments (a shared, organized, concept) and lived their life accordingly, I’d consider that very religious – even if they never went to church or directly interacted with other religious individuals. There’s lots of religious practices that don’t rely on actual interaction (at least by my knowledge).

  • Calum P Cameron

    Me being, well, me, I tend to take most of my definitions from the Oxford English Dictionary, as a default option.

    The OED gives “Religious” as meaning either “relating to or believing in a religion” or “treated as very important or done with great care”, while “Religion” is given as “the particular belief in and worship of a God or gods”, “a particular system of faith and worship” or “a pursuit or interest that is very important to someone”.

    Meanwhile, “Spiritual” is given as meaning either “relating to the human spirit as opposed to material or physical things” or “relating to religion or religious belief”.

    Under those definitions, I would be on the less spiritual end of the scale for Christianity (my interpretation of Christianity places more emphasis on physical and material things like poverty and oppression than it does on the bit about human souls) and around the middle of the religious scale (I have a particular belief in a God which I treat as very important, but I wouldn’t say I do it with great care, and my means of worship and faith usually do not fall neatly within any one given system, though they certainly come very close to several).

    Under those definitions, indeed, it is technically possible to have a spiritual, religious atheist, if they place a great deal of emphasis on their own atheistic interpretation of “the human spirit” and they treat their atheism with great care and importance and adhere to some kind of particular system of having faith in the accuracy of their atheist beliefs.

    Similarly, someone who believed in a God but didn’t actually worship them or care very much about the whole thing and preferred to focus on physical and material realities rather than any interpretation of the “human spirit” wouldn’t quite meet ANY of those definitions for EITHER word.

    As per usual, the implications of the statement “spiritual but not religious” seem to depend entirely upon from what sources you draw your understanding of what those words MEAN.

    • acetheist

      Ehh dictionaries are mostly the resort of people learning new words, and that one’s still mostly stuck on theism as a defining trait of religion (the second definition’s “faith and worship” sounds like it was meant to pertain to deities), while the third one, anything “very important to someone”, is even broader than my own definition. My horses are very important to me, but they’re not my religion.

      • Calum P Cameron

        They’re the nearest thing to an objective reference-material on the subject of defining words that we have, though. Precisely BECAUSE they’re designed to explain things to someone who hasn’t heard the word before. That’s why I like them.

        It sounds to me like they’re just acknowledging that there are different levels of specificity that people use – the first definition gives explicit mention to deity, the second doesn’t, revolving merely around “faith and worship” (I suppose we do usually think of ‘worship’ as being something that is specifically done to deities, though, so maybe that one could use some work), and then the third doesn’t even require THAT (since it does get used in such a broad way sometimes, albeit mostly mockingly – you would not have been the first person to claim that their horses/family/hobby WAS their religion).

        Granted, they could have put in a few extra options if they were trying to cover the full range of definitions the word seems to have these days (the dictionary I was using was an abridged version a few years old, for reference – the website version is probably better).
        That’s the drawback of having a mostly-descriptivist language: you can potentially end up with as many slightly-different definitions of a word as there are different speakers of the language. When multiple people with differing understandings of a given word read each other’s stuff (as appears to have happened here), that tends to create confusion.

        • acetheist

          “They’re the nearest thing to an objective reference-material on the subject of defining words that we have, though.”

          Ohhhh boy. That is pretty far from true.

          It may not be as relevant here as on other subjects, but you should read this if you really think dictionaries are unbiased and objective.

          • luvtheheaven

            You’d think that this idea of the dictionary being biased would have come up in all the classes I took in college as a Linguistics major, with the fact that these classes had a clear emphasis on descriptive rather than prescriptive language “rules” and a strong philosophy of not thinking of any dialect of English as “lesser” or “wrong” but rather all dialects being equally valid and “true”. But it never did, and I never explicitly thought about the dictionary as being something to criticize before, except when it came to “new” words or specific-jargon-type words not being in the dictionary. But thank you so much for that link. I really am appreciating that perspective and readign through it right now.

          • acetheist

            Yeah — it’s more pertinent when it comes to defining systems of oppression and the like (which rich white men are obviously not going to have the best handle on) but I think it’s worth recognizing, in general, that the dictionary is written by fallible people and is not some absolute Gospel Come Straight From the Heavens the way some people treat it as… although that attitude does lead to some funny exchanges.

  • queenieofaces

    …I may be the weird one out here, but when I think of “spirituality,” I think of the spiritualist movement in the mid-19th and early 20th century (which I think is where the term came from?). Many spiritualist practitioners still saw themselves as religious, but the spiritualist movement was notoriously disorganized (which is part of why it’s so hard to get statistics for participants, organizations, etc.) and wasn’t officially affiliated with any organized religion. The spiritualist movement is studied by scholars of religion (except for the ones who think anything other than theology is pointless, but I don’t like them much), so whenever I see people talking about how spirituality isn’t religion, I kind of wonder what definition of religion they’re using. Then again, a lot of those people don’t consider Japanese religions religious, SO I’m pretty sure we already don’t see eye-to-eye. (Ironically, I spent a good chunk of my early academic career trying to convince people to make a less West-centric definition of religion that doesn’t privilege organized religion with a theological tradition over folk religion, SO that’s kind of where I’m coming from.)

    • acetheist

      “so whenever I see people talking about how spirituality isn’t religion, I kind of wonder what definition of religion they’re using.”

      Yeah. I guess that’s what this post was mostly about — disagreeing with people over how narrowly to define religion.

  • angirasasrestha

    Well, for my part, I would add my 2 cents in my capacity as a Vedic Polytheist who also subscribes to the larger, mainstream Hindu practices to some extent. Good work on pointing out about non-theistic religions, the false “spiritual but not religious” new-age pretentiousness.

    But for me, the one thing that really bothers me is the oft taken for granted assumption that hierarchical conceptions and mysticism are mutually exclusive. Hierarchy is the prerogative of “religion” while mysticism is in the domain of “spirituality”. It’s a false dichotomy.

    While, in general, mysticism often promotes egalitarianism, in Hinduism, there is a good number of schools that teach a very vibrant spirituality and certain mystical practices and advocate personal worship; but at the same time uphold institutionalized monasticism and have for their leadership an orthodox establishment with a formalized hierarchy, with the monks and pontiffs all emerging from a particular ethnic community (The Brahmins). The schools are the highly traditional Vedantins who might follow different masters (Sankara, Ramanuja and Madhva). I have personally seen or at least heard of Non-Brahmins amongst all of their modern followers. But the highest authority in each of their lineages is always a Brahmin and in traditional understanding, being a Brahmin or any other caste is purely by birth. One might call it discrimination or rigid hierarchy. But there are committed followers from outside this core Brahmin group who believe in this hierarchy and yet perform their mystical/contemplative practices.

    Even in Tibetan Buddhism which has gained name and fame in the US, it is important to remember that alongside their highly mystical and meditative practices, there are also factors such as loyalty to the spiritual lineage and hierarchy in terms of religious authority.

    So in this discussion of religion and spirituality, it is important to consider the Eastern religions as well as they might contribute to further demolishing the false dichotomy we have set up by allocating certain characteristics to the religion and spirituality spheres.

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