Religious versus Spiritual (Part 1)

Have you ever stopped for a moment and thought about the differences between these two words? Think about when they’ve come up in conversation long enough and you might notice some things.

The most common one for me is that more people will “defend” their beliefs with Spiritual more than with Religious. In other words, whenever the subject of “Belief in God” crops into a conversation, especially if you ask someone what religion they are and some will respond with that they are “spiritual not religious”. I see this as a defense and can attest to that mainly because I am “guilty” of it. When this is the response, the person has rejected the notions of religion in favor for something not so specific and needs to state that. The one thing that I have not ever heard is the opposite of someone saying they are “religious not spiritual”.

So just what is the difference? Most people, especially those that claim the “spiritual not religious” stance will tell you the main difference is in the word “dogma”. Let’s then start with the “Grammar of It All”.

Per; Dogma – “1541 {another source stated 1590-1600} (implied in dogmatist), from Latin dogma “philosophical tenet,” from Greek dogma (gen. dogmatos) “opinion, tenet,” literary “that which one thinks is true,” from dokein “to seem good, think” (see decent). Treated in 17c.-18c. as Greek, with pl. dogmata.” So there we have it, right? Not really because this is using the word to describe the word, so big deal if dogma is from the Latin or Greek of the same name. So that didn’t help.

If you just take the referenced Latin and Greek, tenet appears in both. Cross reference tenet ( you get opinion and dogma in the definition for tenet which exemplifies the peculiarities of the English language where we use the same set of words to describe another set of words. I take this to mean they have similarities with very subtle differences that are never really explained leaving you to come to your own personal understanding of their use. Using what has been given between these two; then it’s a philosophical opinion or tenet (opinion, doctrine, principle) that which one thinks is true. Let’s bring that down to something more manageable and say it’s a “philosophical opinion, doctrine, or principle that one thinks is true”. This leaves itself open for lots of speculation because you may not agree with what I think is true, but then again opinion is used in the definition.

When looking over the actual results at, the speculative “one thinks is true” doesn’t appear in these definitions. The various dictionary definitions are actually more solidly stated than that. Take a look:

Random House Unabridged Dictionary

  1. A system of principles or tenets, as of a church.
  2. A specific tenet or doctrine authoritatively laid down, as by a church: the dogma of the Assumption.
  3. Prescribed doctrine: political dogma.
  4. A settled or established opinion, belief, or principle.

American Heritage Dictionary

  1. A doctrine or a corpus of doctrines relating to matters such as morality and faith, set forth in an authoritative manner by a church.
  2. An authoritative principle, belief, or statement of ideas or opinion, especially one considered to be absolutely true. See Synonyms at doctrine.
  3. A principle or belief or a group of them: “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present” (Abraham Lincoln).

These have used the words “system”, “specific”, “authoritatively laid down”, “prescribed”, “settled or established”, “doctrines….morality and faith”, “principle or belief”. Sounds pretty concrete, yet in the definitions below it is stated more tenuous using “proclaimed as true without proof” and “accepted as authoritative”.

WordNet® 3.0 © 2006 Princeton University

  1. A religious doctrine that is proclaimed as true without proof
  2. A doctrine or code of beliefs accepted as authoritative; “he believed all the Marxist dogma”

So just what is it then? Is it declarative or presumptive? The only answer I have for you is “Welcome to the English Language”!!! Language as a general rule is inadequate in relating not so much how we see the world but most importantly how we FEEL about it. The best example of this is the word “LOVE”. Think about how many ways that’s used and the various meanings that result. That’s why it takes words to describe words and even then the use of them can be somewhat personal resulting in many “that’s not what I meant” phrases spoken consistently throughout our daily speech. I wrote in a journal many years ago that “Language is the expression of emotions” and this demonstrates just how personal the use of language is, yet that doesn’t necessarily mean that the larger your vocabulary the better you can express yourself mainly because if you use a word that no one understands then your left with being misunderstood especially when many won’t ask what you meant.

All of this just to get to an understanding of the word dogma? Yes because this is begging answers to much larger questions. As much as we use language in our everyday lives, do you ever think about its emotional subtleties? Do you ever think that sometimes you’re just not understood? Do you truly know how you really feel on ALL levels of your Self? If so, how well do you communicate that and are words ever enough? If no two sources for the meaning of dogma totally agree then doesn’t that indicate that there’s a level of personal meaning even with the editors of these sources? Whose meaning do you use? The one that makes the most sense? Okay, but didn’t you come to that mental conclusion by going on how it felt for you? Did you also come to that conclusion on your own? As in no one told you how to think about it?

The point I’m trying to make is that if there can be such disparity with the definition of a single word that forces YOU to come to your own specific conclusions on exactly how to use the word, do you do that with all things of the Mind or do you let others think for you? If emotions are at the core of it all, then if you let others think for you don’t you let them feel for you also (or at least end up telling you how to feel)? If that is the case, does this enliven your Soul?

As much as we think about our world, what is really important is how we feel about our world. That is what has the greatest impact no matter what our take is on these “nasty little things” called emotions, we can’t escape it. When you bring this to the subject of God, whether that be via Religious or Spiritual, the final result of it all will come down to how you feel. This is why it’s said that it’s not the goal that’s important, but what we experience along the way.

Where does that leave us with dogma used to discern the difference between Religious vs. Spiritual? I’ll discuss that in my next post where I’ll pick up where I’m leaving off here. For now, think about the role that emotions play in your Life for I promise you their role is of a magnitude much larger than you have ever imagined.

Part 2 explores how this discussion of “Religious vs Spirituality” seems to be a popular subject that no two people seem to agree on. It delves deeper into this bringing again back to The Believing and it’s relationship to The Feeling. Check it out and let me know what you think.


3 thoughts on “Religious versus Spiritual (Part 1)”

  1. Hello I like your post “us versus Spiritual” so well that I like to ask you whether I should translate into German and linking back. Answer welcome. Greetings Kroatien

  2. As one who was raised “Methodist” and earned a bible for perfect attendance, then later not rejecting God but certainly not putting any thought into spirituality or any sort of relgion, then later finding that which rings true for me which is the principle that no matter your faith or method of expressing we have one creator. The only separation is man made. Religion is one level of expression, that perhaps takes the literal teachings to heart, or certainly with fearful re verance. My preference is to honor all who are attempting to know what is true for them. I’ve found my absolute truth and it sits well with me. For others religion feels more comfortable because to think otherwise may be more fearful than to look beyond what has been taught them.

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