Busted Halo

In Rendezvous with G-d, twentysomething blogger and journalist Monica Rozenfeld explores what it means as a young Jewish woman in New York City to have a relationship with G-d.

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April 5th, 2010

Spiritual vs. Religious


What does it mean to be religious or spiritual? Does a religious person have to be spiritual, and does a spiritual person have to be religious? I find it interesting how the two have become almost mutually exclusive for many people. “I’m spiritual, but not religious,” or “I practice my religion but I don’t believe in G-d.” I’ll repeat: What does it mean to be spiritual or religious? I find the word usage has become a bit disheveled and I’m attempting to clean it up.

A study that came out last year found that Christians are much more likely to use the word “spiritual” than Jewish people who were surveyed. When it came to events in life such as a birth of a child, a true love, a lucky break, the word “spiritual” was attributed to these moments by Christians, while most Jewish people called these moments “profound.”

When speaking to my fellow Catholic friends, I see we use the words “religious” and “spiritual” quite oppositely. If a person believes in G-d, according to my Catholic friends, they are “religious.” If a person goes to Church every Sunday to praise G-d, he or she is considered “spiritual.” Correct me Busted Halo readers if I’ve been mislead. On the other hand, from a Jewish perspective, it’s the exact opposite.

What does it mean to be spiritual and/or religious? And can you be one without the other? I’d like to hear what you think.

The Author : Monica Rozenfeld

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  • Matt

    In my experience, “spiritual” is mostly a word used by people who are actively rejecting any sort of organized religion, or who flit from one sacred tradition to another simply as the mood takes them, instead of making a real commitment to worship the Almighty on His own terms. As opposed to those of us who are “religious” because we carve out a place in our lives to go to the same sort of service every week, and maintain a consistent understanding of what God is and what He wants from us.

    This is pretty close to the traditional meaning of “religious” (from the Latin “religare” — “to place under duty or obligation”). Whereas the use of “spiritual” as a self-description for flighty, flaky dilattantes is a vandalistic redefinition akin to what homosexuals did to “gay” and socialists did to “liberal”…and probably just as irreversible in practice.

    Of course, the true meaning of spirituality is to be filled with the spirit of God…the metaphorical breath of life. All of us should have that, and if one _is_ going to services regularly every week, but isn’t truly spiritual, I’m inclined to wonder why they bother.

    So no, it’s not remotely impossible to be both spiritual and religious…indeed, I’d think that in the true meanings of the words they’d necessarily go hand in hand. But the way modern people use words, almost nobody who can honestly describe themselves as religious will call themselves spiritual in public.

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