What Is The Difference Between Religion and Spirituality?


Over the years, I have heard people say, “I am spiritual but not religious.” It makes me wonder whether they think before they speak, or whether they understand what they are talking about. It all goes down to understanding what religion means as opposed to spirituality.


Basically, religion is the recognition of the existence of a Supreme Being. More elaborately, it means believing in God and expressing that belief through an act of worship. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia online, “In its strictest sense, religion on its subjective side is the disposition to acknowledge our dependence on God, and on the objective side it is the voluntary acknowledgement of that dependence through acts of homage”


The truth is that some people may be religious without knowing it. The following expressions serve as indicators by which religious people are identified:
  1. Involve in God Talk: When someone mentions God favorably or respectfully in conversations. It means that person acknowledges preeminence of God and adores him in the depth of his or her heart.
  2. Worship: Beyond speaking favorably and respectfully about God, religious people express their faith in God through worship. It may be a personal prayer time in their homes. It may be attending Mass on Sunday or religious service in his or her Church or up on the Mountain or anywhere that the person finds suitable for a spiritual encounter with the divine.
  3. Receiving the sacraments: In an organized setting, the believer receives the blessings of faith according to the demands of his or her religious family. In the Catholic Church, we call it the sacraments.
  4. Adhering to religious doctrines or the teachings of the Church: More than worship, a religious person recognizes and conforms to the body of teachings or doctrines that the religious group places upon on her members.
  5. Promoting the wellbeing of the group: A religious person identifies with the values of his group and assists in promoting those values in different ways. It may be through volunteering in Church ministries such as becoming a catechist, lector, Extra-ordinary minister, usher, greeter, altar server, choir, sacristan, cleaner, etc. Whatever helps promote the faith.
  6. Belonging to religious societies and organizations – The believe joins societies and organizations in the Church such as: Men’s club, Altar societies, Knights as well as charitable and devotional groups.


Contrary to religion which is more visible in action, spirituality is a personal commitment and a concerted effort to live a godly or holy life. It has to do with being a good person and living as a child of God. The Catholic Dictionary defines spirituality as “the way an individual responds through grace to the call of Christ and his invitation to discipleship. This always involves conversion or change of heart on the part of those called by Christ.” Obviously, this definition is Christian in perspective. On a broader perspective, it has to do with the inner life of an individual. It means nourishing the soul by following saintly principles and living in a way that brings true peace to the whole person and accord with God’s entire creation.


A spiritual person is known in the way he or she lives which goes beyond involvement in religious practices. The indicators of a spiritual person reveal a virtuous life and godly values in choices and decisions. These include:
  1. Good relationships: A spiritual person relates well with everyone whether individually or in a group. He is a person with team spirit and a spirit of collaboration.
  2. True holiness of life: A spiritual person manifests the kind of love that St Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 13:1-4-8.
  3. Christ-like attitude: A spiritual person is truly sincere and accommodating to others just like Christ. He does not discriminate or treat anyone unjustly. He is a friend to everyone no matter the social status or condition of life.
  4. Corporal and spiritual works of mercy: A spiritual person is seen in seen in the way he serves people and attend to their needs whether spiritual or material needs. He does it neither by force nor for vainglory.
  5. Prayerful: A spiritual person is not the one who prays only when he attends mass or Church service. He has his own prayer program by which he enters into a holy conversation with God and uplifts his spirit to continue living right.


There are a good deal of similarities and differences between religion and spirituality. Let us first examine ways in which they are similar to each other.
  1. God oriented identity: The similarity is in the fact that in both religions and spirituality we acknowledge God and identify with him.
  2. Religion nurtures spirituality: They are both related because it is almost impossible if not altogether impossible to be a spiritual person without any religious basis. Religion is about believing in God while spirituality is having a relationship with God; and there is no way we relate with someone we do not know. So, religion nurtures spirituality by the fact that it is through religion that a person comes to know God in the first place.
Note: We see good people who call themselves atheist. These are the people who would say they are spiritual without being religious. To start with, no atheist can be a good person. Goodness comes from God for God Himself is the Supreme Goodness. Any good thing we do reveal the God in us. Therefore anyone who has goodness has the love and the fear of God. Thus, those good people who claim to be atheists are inherently believers. Their problem is that either purposely or inadvertently, they do not want to call God by name.


These are the differences that we can identify between religious people and spiritual people.


  1. External expressions: Religion involves ‘Doing’ – a religious person basically fulfills the external demands of a religious group. It is about doing something for God. We know a religious person by the action that he performs.
  2. Quantitative: What a religious person does could be called quantifiable activities. They are very visible to the eyes, like, the number of ministries a person is involved in or masses he attends in a week.
  3. Easily judge-able: An example of this is what we see in 1 Sam. 16:4-7 when God sent Samuel to anoint a son of Jesse to be king in place of Saul. Samuel judged from physical appearance while God was looking for internal disposition. It is easy to know a religious person but it is difficult to know one who is spiritual.


  1. Internal convictions: Spirituality is about being. It is about the disposition of the heart. A spiritual person is not someone who merely ‘serving’ God but the one who is in relationship with God. While religion is about actions, spirituality is a way of life.
  2. Qualitative: Holiness is not quantifiable. Rather it is about the quality of life. Someone asked me sometime ago whether a particular person will go to heaven because of known circumstances of that person’s life. Well, I told him, that that is a question for God who sees into the soul of everyone. Only God knows the true quality of everyone’s life. We can only see some signs and make our conclusions on a person’s life.
  3. Not judge-able: This point flows from number two above. That is why Jesus tells us in Mt. 7:1-5 not to judge. It is because in our ignorance we can judge wrongly. We see this in the many time people are wrongly convicted and thrown into prison where they spend their lives for many years before it is discovered that they were innocent of the crime. As we say, “We cannot judge a book by its cover.”


The Christian call is for us to live a true religious and spiritual life in every way as children of God. Jesus sets the standard for us in the gospel.

  • Mat.7:21-23 (cf James 4:22-26) We have to hear the word and do it
  • Mat. 15:8-9 We have to honor the Lord not only with our lips (religion) but more importantly in our hearts (spirituality)
  • Mat. 23:1-7 We have to avoid the Pharisaic practice of externals and pretense
  • John 4:23-24 In our involvement with a Church group or ministries, we must ensure that we worshiping God in spirit and in truth


Obviously a lot people have been moving in the wrong direction, serving themselves and feeding their needs in the name of serving God. We can be very active physically in the Church without gaining God’s graces and blessings. That means we are only religious. We have to internalize our actions and go beyond performing a set of activities mechanically into entering into a real relationship with the Lord. This is what will bring us peace and lead us to salvation. In other words,



  1. Benet Obinna Ugwu

    Well written article – brings out the meaning of religion and spirituality as it explains the differences and similarities. Many people are ignorant of this connection. Thanks for writing this.

  2. Very well stated. To put it simply, the difference between religion and spirituality is who we are and what we do. We need to be both spiritual and religious in our Christian walk throughout life. If we talk a good talk, but our actions do not reveal what we say, our talk is in vain. When we practice good deeds and follow our doctrine closely (religiously), but do so while complaining, arguing, and while in strife with others, our work is also in vain. There is a saying, “practice what you preach”. Thank you for reminding us to think before we speak, and to understand the difference between these two very important qualities of our faith.

  3. n odonnell

    This is an outstanding presentation. I will use it in our Study Group! BUT-check the spelling of Christian. Oops! You are entitled to err at least once. JMJ=Love=NOD

  4. Spirituality is born in a person and develops in the person. It may be kick started by a religion, or it may be kick started by a revelation. Spirituality extends to all facets of a person’s life. Spirituality is chosen while religion is often times forced. Being spiritual to me is more important and better than being religious.

  5. Religions teach the concept of wrongdoing. Religions often have a fear based component to them, whereas the spiritual approach to God does not. Spirituality is seen as love based and does not judge actions as right or wrong.

  6. DavidPun

    I partially disagree with you, although there is no true objective definition of these terms. To me religion represents the objectification of the subjective experience which is spirituality. Religion translates into specific beliefs, churches, dogma, Popes etc etc. Spirituality represents a deeper awareness of the sense that we have a transcendent value that surpasses our empirical reality.They are of course related, but as we see from history, claiming to be religious in no way guarantees a healthy spirituality.


  1. Spirituality and Religion Activity | Cher Mercado's Space - […] “What is the Difference Between Religion and Spirituality” by Catholic Goodnews Apostolate http://www.catholicapostolate.com/2011/what-is-the-difference-between-religion-and-spirituality/ […]

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