Many people misunderstand the difference between religion and spirituality. If we imagine God as the radiant sun, with many different radiant beams of light stretching forth and reaching down to Earth, then it would be possible to understand how the One truth of God's love can have many different unique expressions, just as the Earth is filled with a vast diversity of plant, animal and human life. All is One, and all is God, and the various creative expressions of the One are endless.
Religion can be seen as a pathway that leads to God. The pathway is not God, but in the best and highest intentions it would lead people closer to God. All true religious paths and teachings came into existence through divine inspiration and revelation, the spark of God's love and light that opens a pathway for God's presence to be seen and felt more directly.
Spirituality is a more general term that includes religion but that also encompasses the general human impulse to reach out towards the greater whole of which we all are a part. The difference between religion and spirituality is simply that most religions offer a specific set of beliefs and structures to help people to attune to their innate spirituality.
Like all human systems and structure, even the purest of intentions can become tainted and so throughout human history there have been countless instances in which the pure and holy intention of a religious teaching becomes twisted and used to justify negativity and harm towards others. We also see countless examples in today's world of people who represent themselves as spiritual or religious leaders, whose actions are not expressions of God's love.
In today's world there are several different streams of consciousness manifesting that bring to light the difference between religion and spirituality. In recent years we are seeing an increase in religious fundamentalism, which carries at its core a desire for goodness and purity, but which in its most distorted form acts to turn people's hearts against their fellow human beings who are of a different religious, ethnic or sexual orientations.
In today's world the difference between religion and spirituality offers new alternatives to those whose hearts are not called by traditional religious teachings. In my own life, the Bible stories I was taught at Sunday school did not make sense to me. I did not understand their meaning, and as a teenager seeking to know myself better, I tried to understand the teachings but they still did not make sense to me. The teachers and ministers could not answer my questions, and so I followed my heart's calling to study psychology and spirituality.
I was blessed to experience a spiritual awakening at age 20 which opened up my experience of God's reality. This profoundly transformed my life, and after this experience I was able to feel God's presence in church, and came to understand from within myself the meaning of the teachings that had so eluded me earlier. The difference between religion and spirituality allowed me to discover my own experience of God's reality, and from this inner experience, to understand and embrace not only my own religious background, but all religions.
If you are seeking to understand the difference between religion and spirituality, look first within your own heart. If your spiritual or religious practice uplifts you, brings you comfort, peace, and helps you to love more and to be a better person, then you receiving the true benefits of God's love and healing presence.
If your spiritual or religious path encourages you to condemn or hurt others, or to see yourself as better than others, then spiritual truths have become distorted and you will at some point in your spiritual journey feel the limitations of this approach. It brings no true joy or love to criticize or hurt others. Judging and condemning is tempting but only serves to further darken your own heart and that of others. This also opens the doorway for the very same negativity that you are expressing to come back to you.
We reap what we sow, and the love, healing and positive energy that you share with others will come back to you in the form of abundance and blessing. The difference between religion and spirituality is in form only, for the true essence of all spiritual and religious practices is God. God's love profoundly heals comforts and transforms all those who seek to be nourished by the divine eternal flame of goodness and purity. Love and respect all true religious and spiritual paths, and always listen to your own heart which is a part of God's heart.