Spiritual or Just Religious?


Middle Class White Boy and the Moonshiner’s Daughter

Frankie and Ellie

Frankie saw Ellie as equal.

A few years ago, I wrote a novel called Touched. It’s the story of a young man growing up in the Appalachian Foothills. He comes face to face with the hypocrisies of religion and the authenticity of genuine spirituality.

On the surface, it’s a story about a forbidden friendship between a middle-class White boy, Frankie, and the local Melungeon moonshiner’s daughter, Ellie. Their friendship turns the community upside down when Frankie dares to see Ellie through the lens of spirituality rather than religion.

I reference the novel because it dawns on me this morning that I’ve been proclaiming that there’s a great divide between religion and spirituality for years.

So, just what are the differences? 


Religion is a system of time-tested boundaries and accepted rules.

Its purpose is to maintain a system, order, control, structure, and an acceptable way of thinking.

It seeks to glorify the system and reach divinity or a higher state through the keeping of standards.

Religion exalts the chosen few to an elite status of “the elect.”

It elicits an air of self-righteousness and moral superiority.

It is maintained through fear and criticism.


Spirituality, on the other hand, is an understanding of one’s place in the universe.

It does not depend upon adhering to a structure (although, it can occur within or without a structure or system).

Spirituality seeks a sense of balance, and inner peace.

It operates on the axis of letting go of ego, of understanding the basic principle that a cup is only useful because of the empty space inside which can be filled with something besides self. 

It brings out the genuine best qualities in a person.

It elicits joy, love, hope, faith, kindness, forgiveness, patience and peace. 

Spirituality is determined by one’s personal relationship with a divine source.

It is cultivated, not by keeping rules, but by seeking to be aligned with the divine way of doing things.


The difference in religion and spirituality reminds me of the principles of internal martial arts such as Tai Chi and Bagua. Soft overcomes hard.  Flexible overcomes rigid. Humility overcomes self-importance. 

Religion focuses on external acts to obtain eternal security. On the other hand, spirituality operates from the premise that eternal security cannot be earned by performance but is assured because of our oneness with eternity. It flows from being in alignment with the Way of God, from staying true to our own spirit-path.

EDIT: A spirit inspired friend, who wishes to remain anonymous, recently sent me this beautiful clarification of one of my above statements. 

Spirituality implies by its very nature, the Supernatural and the eternal part of man.  While universe implies the temporal, the natural, something less than eternal. Therefore according to my reasoning, I believe your statement should read, “Spirituality, on the other hand is an understanding of the eternal nature of the soul of man and one’s place in the universe.”