Let’s ask a simple question. What’s the difference between spirituality and religion? People of all faiths, creeds and beliefs, have, at the core of their religious experience, a shared experience of the sacred which many refer to as awe. Religion has been, up until recently, the principle way this experience has been expressed. This is how I understand the difference between spirituality and religion.
It appears to me that there is a growing number of people who could be called spiritual outsiders. These people will acknowledge having some form of spiritual life and will experience the sacred in a variety of ways. Many will also acknowledge that they do not feel the need to express their spirituality through religion. They live with it and it enhances their lives but they rarely, if ever, attend a church or temple or practice any religious disciplines. Some have adopted practices such as yoga and mindfulness, but these are usually taken out of their original religious context and given a more secular identity.
Secular spirituality is a term often applied to this approach. Adherence to a secular spirituality has the same purpose as adherence to a religion. It promotes and enables a deeper and more meaningful relationship between individuals, nature, others and the world. Secular spirituality can be atheistic as it does not demand that the follower has a belief in a God or Ultimate Reality. Many people, like myself, who might be secular in their approach to the ‘practice’ of their spirituality, may also believe in a God or Ultimate Reality and feel that this belief can be expressed as easily in a secular setting as in a religious setting.
I’m not knocking religion. Religion remains the foundation stone of many people’s lives. I was, and remain so, occasionally, a practicing Christian. I love Christianity. I also love Buddhist philosophy as well as a lot of Pagan practices. I’m a keen follower of science and a loyal consumer of technology. I see the 21st century as a time of great opportunity. I believe that a person can become a good, fully developed, spiritual human being outside of religion.
Free thinking is an important aspiration of 21st century life. Most people no longer want to have their thoughts delivered to them in neat, easy to assemble packages. Most people want to make their own minds up about everything and anything, from politics and leisure to spirituality and relationships. People are challenging the narratives of the past and writing new ones. It’s no longer the elite intellectuals that have the last word on what we do and believe. There’s a quiet revolution going on in the minds of ordinary people. It’s not a revolution that demands justice, equality and the usual revolutionary ideals. What is being demanded is the right to free thinking, the right of ordinary people to develop and follow their own thoughts as well as the freedom and opportunity to be able to realise their own aspirations.
Religion is not being rejected. Independence is being claimed. As humans we are children of the world, of nature, and, in my view, we are children of God. Neither God, nature nor the world have ever wanted to be anything other than a presence in our lives.