Religion vs Spirituality

  (01 May 08)
  by Greg Spearritt

Both 'religion' and 'spirituality' resist easy definition, but there seems to be a view out there that it’s somehow better to be a ‘spiritual’ person than to be ‘religious’. Rosemary Aird has been studying mental health in relation to these terms. She says:


The findings from [my] research showed that young adults who believe in a spiritual or higher power other than God had higher rates of problems in the three domains of mental health examined. Both males and females who embraced this belief were more likely to be anxious and depressed, to have disturbed and suspicious thoughts, and to behave in an antisocial manner.


By contrast, belief in God, church attendance, and religious background appeared to have little connection with anxiety and depression or thought disturbance in young adulthood.





Posted by

Believing in a higher power that is God or other than God need not mean that one is a spiritual or a religious person.

Perhaps there are very few people who can be called spiritual, rather, I would call people religious if they are interested in attaining wisdom.

Instead, people can have spiritual experiences, when they feel at one with everything around them. This may only last a brief time but it is memorable and can influence our behaviour towards others and our environment.

People who belong to a church and who are accepted there would benefit mentally from this sense of belonging rather than from the belief promoted by their church.

They may be prevented from any experiences of spirituality if their church teaches judgement of others and separation of the group from others.

Posted by helen mason

David Miller’s comment – 10 May 2008

Rosemary Aird is differentiating between Religion and Alternative Spirituality, in regard to their effect on mental health. She is informing us, to put it crudely, that the former is good and the latter bad. Unfortunately, her use of the adjective ‘alternative’ undermines her attempt to reserve the word ‘Spirituality’ solely for New Age types of belief. Alternative to what, we may ask? Our answer would have to be that such Spiritualities are alternatives to Traditional Spiritualities. And, I would assert, Traditional Spirituality is a reference to main-stream religion.

Although, admittedly, some varieties of New Age belief are shallow, crass and commercial, nevertheless the New Age is a modern product of a plethora of Traditional Spiritualities such as Eastern Religions, Spiritualism, Occult, Magic, Astrology, as well as the suppressed forms of Christianity, etc.

Chantal Babin, our SoFiA Victoria Convenor, is a Reiki Practitioner and a staunch defender of Alternative Spirituality. She has addressed the Melbourne Sea of Faith Group a number of times on these issues. Amongst her articles in the SoFiA Bulletin we find the following: “Is the New Age a Religion?” (May 2002) and “Concerns About Neo-Spirituality” (June 2005).

However, my own take on this division between Traditional Spirituality and Alternative Spirituality will not please either Rosemary or Chantal. The role of both of these two types of Supernatural Spirituality is to act as a reality-distorter. They cushion their adherents from having to face the uncertainties of living in the real world.

Nevertheless, it is possible to discuss the effectiveness of either variety in achieving the desired result. Main-stream religions express their beliefs in such a vague way that, consequently, those beliefs are usually beyond the province of scientific testing. There are exceptions, i.e. Transubstantiation.

Not so with the New Age beliefs. These are usually quite specific and are therefore open to scientific testing. These beliefs fall when tested. The result of this is that their effectiveness as reality distorting buffers is seriously impaired. The believer is forced back into the harsh reality of living in the real world, and may not be able to cope with it. Other, more diverse, forms of Alternative Spirituality may be leapt upon. Or, perhaps, a return to Traditional Spirituality may be attempted.

Posted by David Miller

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