As a spiritual coach who specializes in indigenous spiritual practices, I often get asked how I feel about spirituality and religion. Most people assume that I am completely against religion since I practice and teach about African spirituality. While I absolutely enjoy where I am in my spiritual journey, I come from a religious background. As such, I appreciate that all religious and spiritual systems have validity on some level.
In my opinion, neither spirituality nor religion is all right or all wrong. Every spiritual and religious system holds elemental truths that are beneficial to adherents and non-adherents alike. The primary difference between the two is in their approach to disseminating, interacting with, and implementing these truths.
Spirituality is more free-flowing, which is what attracts me to it. Though it has many communal elements, it is also heavily founded on individual practice. Spirituality encourages one to follow their intuitive guidance. And it encourages the inclusion of other beneficial practices as long as they don’t violate the basic tenets of one’s underlying belief system. This means that you can practice Ifa alongside Buddhism, Santeria with Catholicism, Shamanism in conjunction with Hoodoo, etc. At the end of the day, it is about what gives you peace and helps you connect with the Divine.
Unlike spirituality, religion is more about following specific codes of moral law. In general, there is less of an emphasis on the personal, individual experience with the Divine. Instead, religion is more about aligning with a prescribed school of thought. Oftentimes, there is little room for entertaining divergent perspectives when practicing within a religious system.
What is Spirituality?
There are many layers to spirituality. Spirituality is an inner journey that leads to a deeper understanding of one’s self and the world around us. It is a way of connecting to something greater than ourselves, and it can take many forms – from meditation to prayer, from yoga to mindfulness. Spirituality is not confined to any one religion or belief system but is part of many indigenous or traditional systems. In either case, it allows us to explore our own inner truths and find meaning in life.
Spirituality can also cultivate a sense of freedom and independence that liberates and uplifts. As such, there is so much beauty in spirituality. In most cases, indigenous or traditional systems promote peace, harmony, and prosperity on all levels. When properly integrated into a person’s life, these practices can create a state of utopia that is beyond comprehension.
Contrary to some schools of thought, traditional spiritual systems are replete with moral codes that adherents are expected to follow. However, underlying moral codes in traditional spiritual systems are more about what serves the individual’s highest and greatest good.
The difference between spirituality and religion in this regard is that moral codes are not standardized in the same way. Instead of everyone having the same set of moral standards to abide by, indigenous systems focus on a person’s destiny when it comes to ethical values.
For instance, individuals who practice within traditional systems generally get a reading from a priest or priestess. During that reading, the person’s ancestors, spirit guides, or personal deities will inform them of what they should and should not be doing based on their soul mission. So, instead of receiving general sermons that tell everyone to not kill, steal, commit adultery, etc., Spirit speaks directly to that individual’s situation.
This type of guidance helps us focus our energies on achieving our destiny rather than hearing repetitive, non-applicable messages that don’t solve our individual problems. This process reflects the spirit of self-righteousness. In essence, you can’t say, “I don’t have those problems,” and assume a message is not for you. Instead, you are required to own your limitations and shortcomings. In which case, you are held to a much higher standard when you devote yourself to a traditional spiritual system.
What is Religion?
As stated, religion follows a set of prescribed beliefs. On the surface, these principles are not bad or wrong. If you vibe with the ideologies within a certain belief system, a religious system can be tremendously beneficial in your growth and development. Religion is an excellent taskmaster in this regard. And some people need religion to keep them in alignment.
Conversely, one of the major challenges with religion lies in how it has been propagated throughout the world. In most instances, religion has been forced on societies in one way or another. In which case, religion has trapped some people into a state of psychosis, which holds them back from fulfilling their soul mission.
This is one of my major qualms with how many religions have gained so much power. It’s not that all of the teachings in any one religion are false. Instead, people are often abused and misused by religious dogma. Religion usually encourages others to follow the behavior of a spiritual leader or guru. This often negates individual personalities and characteristics that may not easily conform to a standard model. In which case, many adherents may become frustrated or overwhelmed trying to live up to someone else’s standards.
Impact of religious indoctrination
Religion has also forcibly removed people from their culture and tradition. In many cases, the leaders and gurus that they follow look nothing like them or their ancestors. Resultantly, religion can cut people off from themselves, their heritage, and their lineage. And this is dangerous.
It has caused many people to feel inferior, ungodly, and worthless in many cases. Why? Because many people do not see images that look like them in the Divine. Instead, they are sometimes accosted with imagery that represents their people group as evil, unclean, and inferior. In which case, religion creates dependencies, spiritual and emotional deficits, and counterproductive behaviors. Sadly, these dynamics have affected many people groups throughout the world.
Which is Better?
While I have my opinions on the overall goal or outcome of spirituality and religion, I don’t believe that one is necessarily better than the other. It is more about how you approach the system. Either one can be beneficial or detrimental to your holistic well-being. At the end of the day, it is a matter of personal choice. I don’t feel that anyone has the right to take this choice from someone else through force, coercion, or diversion.
I have always been a spiritual person, even when I practiced religion. For me, religion and spirituality have always been about my heart and intent. I approach both for the sole purpose of connecting with my spiritual team. I prefer spirituality because it has helped me achieve this goal on a whole new level.
When I practiced Christianity, my focus was primarily on the Creator and Jesus. However, when I transitioned to spirituality, I realized that I had an entire spiritual team on my side. My spiritual outlook and capabilities were very limited when I was a Christian. I could never move past certain barriers in my life, even though I was a devout and faithful practitioner.
Spirituality has filled in the missing links for me. I was also discouraged from exploring my full self in religion. I didn’t understand how to reconcile generational patterns or “curses” that kept me stuck. Additionally, I was not properly connected to critical parts of my spiritual team, such as my ancestors, Head Orisha, Egbe Orun, etc. I now know that they are vital to helping me fulfill my destiny.
That being said, religion was an important gateway for me along my spiritual journey. It helped me to understand certain principles. It also provided me with a sense of peace when I needed it. Therefore, I never encourage anyone to leave religion until they are truly ready to do so. I always tell people to do what works for them.
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