I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between religion and spirituality. Now I’m going to take a deep breath and try to clarify my thoughts in writing. Today’s blog post will focus on religion; tomorrow I’ll write about spirituality.
There are many religions in the world. A religion is an organized collection of beliefs, cultural practices and world views that codify the relationship between human beings and the spiritual entity commonly thought of as the Creator, regardless of what it is called in any particular language. In the various world religions, “God” is known by many names in the various languages, even by people who practice or consider themselves members of the same religion.
Each religion has a slightly different understanding of the Divine Being, and a different understanding of the relationship of humans to the Being they worship. Religions provide a code of morality or code of conduct for their adherents. They spell out what humans must do in order to gain favor with God.
In this age of instant worldwide communication, it’s easier than ever before to compare religions and their beliefs. More people are learning a little about other religions outside of their own, and are realizing that many of the teachings are similar, or at least complementary. Take the Golden Rule, for example. An organization called the Temple of Understanding put out a graphic in which they included translations of scripture from the world’s major religions. (The reason mine looks different from theirs is that I re-typed the text for clarity. Please click on the image to enlarge it for reading.) Each religion has expressed this piece of spiritual wisdom differently, but the meaning is essentially the same. The graphic is not a complete list of religions, but it does include the major ones on earth at this time.
My own religion, Eckankar, recognizes the Law of Karma, also called the Law of Returns or the Law of Cause and Effect.
The universality of the Law of Karma is one of the chief factors which binds life together, and not only human life, but animal, plant, and mineral life, as well. All those compose one big family, with a complicated and inseparable history and an inseparable karma. – Paul Twitchell, Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad, Book One, chap. 7
We are responsible for whatever we do. According to the Law of Karma, any act we perform sets something in motion. – Harold Klemp, The Drumbeat of Time, chap. 6
Life will always teach you better. This is the basis of the Law of Karma: what you sow, you reap. And in the reaping of what we’ve sown, we gain spiritual wisdom. – Harold Klemp, How to Survive Spiritually in Our Times, chap. 4
The more we know about each other’s religion, the easier it is to find common beliefs and points on which we can agree. Truly, world peace, if it is ever achieved at all, will come to pass not by forcing everyone to worship the same way or by outlawing religion altogether, but only by learning to respect others’ right to believe differently from ourselves. Many people still find this difficult, if not impossible. The point is that we don’t have to agree with the beliefs of other religions. All we have to do is allow other people to have their beliefs. If God can do this, then we can.
Part of the problem is that there are some who seem to feel that their own religion is the only one favored by God. And yet these same people tend to ascribe to God the quality of omnipotence. Wouldn’t it stand to reason that if God wanted only one religion, human beings would not have been able to create so many systems of belief? And yet here we are, all 7 billion of us, with countless religions, some practiced worldwide, and others practiced by a few in local areas.
The graphic at right shows images from religions of the past, including ancient Norse religion, Druidism, sun worship, Roman religion, Aztec religion, and Egyptian religion. The thought below the images is an interesting one: adherents of these religions did indeed think that their religion was the only true one, and in general they were willing to fight for their beliefs. And yet, where are these religions today? Perhaps they are still practiced in some form by a few, but other religions have since become dominant. Today, Christians, Muslims, and Jews all believe their religion is best, but will these religions be around 10,000 years from now, and if so, will they be recognizable as the religions of today? Who knows?
Many people believe that God is the author of all religion, and in one sense, this is true. God is the Author of Everything. But there are too many different religions to believe that God made them up. This is especially true if you believe that there is only one God. Gandhi is supposed to have said, “God has no religion,” but this is one of those quotes that has been misattributed on the Internet, and it is impossible anymore to figure out who actually said it. If you think about it, though, it’s true, because if religion is a system of understanding and worshiping God, then who does God worship? God doesn’t need religion; humans do. Think about it. Take all the time you want. If you believe in God, and if you believe that God is the Creator of Everything, then you also believe that God existed before human beings, and before religions.
If you think of religion as a manmade phenomenon, and as a particular understanding of God, then it all seems to make sense. Each religion gives Souls an opportunity to learn about a particular understanding of God. People tend to gravitate to a religion that matches their understanding of God, and if the religion they were born into doesn’t match, then they leave that religion and join one that does match.
Those of us who believe in reincarnation have it even easier, because we believe that in different lifetimes on earth, Souls are born into different religions, so as Soul, we have an opportunity to learn about God from many different spiritual traditions in our various lifetimes.
At some point, when Soul has completed many lifetimes on earth, no matter what religion the person may be practicing, Soul is ready to strike out on its own and have Its own spiritual experiences. This is where spirituality fits into the picture. More tomorrow. 🙂