Why Religion Fails to Give the Answers We Crave

And how spirituality can help

One of the many reasons I struggle to explain my spiritual ideas to people is the fear of being judged as ‘religious’. Personally, what others think of me is inconsequential. What I care about is how they perceive the ideas I’m talking about with them.

And that’s the problem with the whole religion vs spirituality debate. Even before I begin to talk about yogic concepts like energy, chakras, and consciousness, people put a filter of religion on their intellects.

In this case, often my ideas are received with a pinch of Hinduism. In reality, yogic science are secular, not sectarian. Yet, I have a hard time explaining it to people.

Spirituality has nothing to do with religion. It has to only do with the relationship between you and God. Or you and your Higher Self. That’s it.

Religion, on the flip side, has to do with your relationship with the group or the sect you’re a part of.

Having a clear distinction between the two is important. It prevents spiritual truths from being tainted with preconceived (often false) notions and dogmas.

The demarcation between the two helps the truth seeker see matters for what they are instead of thinking about them as a ‘myth’ or ‘woo-woo’.

Spirituality Is Focused on You and God

The spiritual path is all about your individual relationship with God. No one has anything to do with it.

There are no rules

Yes, there are principles of right living that many spiritual philosophies teach, but there’s no one judging you for living the way you live. Your teachers can guide you, but again, can’t control you.

Your failures, success, faults, and good deeds are between you and God. There’s no third party. The judge is your own Higher Self. You know in your heart what is right and wrong. Spirituality is just about tuning into that intuition and living your life in accordance with the answers you get from there.

It’s all about your experience

Spirituality doesn’t impose truths on anyone. It just says “Here are the truths. But they’re verifiable with your own experience. Why don’t you try it out?” There’s no pressure to conform to what is true if you don’t know it to be so.

You can be forced by your family to go to the church or the temple. That’s religion. But spirituality tells you to go to such holy places to feel a closer connection to God and be with like-minded truth seekers. It tells you about the benefits and encourages you to try it out for yourself.

Religion tells you to live life outside-in. You need to accept the truths first without experiencing them because others do the same. Again, this is not wrong, it just dulls the mind of understanding and adventurousness in my opinion.

It depends on your ability to discern the truth from the false

Since spirituality doesn’t require a religious association, you are free to stick to whatever you think is true. The more refined your consciousness is, the better your choice will be.

In other words, you don’t do things because someone else tells you it’s right. You do them because you know it leads you towards higher awareness and joy. In that sense, spirituality is a single-player game. There’s no herd to conform to.

Yes, you can find others like you on the path, but your choices still remain in your hand.

Spirituality is love.

Love for God, love for yourself, and love for all others. Religion often emphasizes fear — fear of being banished to eternal hell or facing punishment and ridicule. Spirituality instead focuses on love and compassion.

In religion, the growth comes out of fear of doing the wrong thing. That works but is a very limited aspect of growth.

In spirituality, growth comes from the anticipation of joy you’ll know when you end the suffering caused by your wrong actions.

It’s a simple shift, but it makes all the difference.

The Biggest Differentiator

Fear is what separates spirituality from religion.

Dan mentions it beautifully when he writes about his experience being forced to believe in Jesus. It doesn’t mean Jesus wasn’t as great as we know him to be. It’s that the motivation behind believing in Him was fear.

“Far too many years later, I realized that my conversion to Christianity had been something done under duress. I was pressured. I was shamed.” “When I started following Jesus, I did it to avoid the consequences of not following Jesus. I did not love Jesus. I was not compelled to follow him by reading about his exemplary life through the Gospels. I was simply following Jesus to avoid punishment — to escape the flames — and to avoid the kind of public humiliation that might make one wish to vanish into thin air.”

This shows us that shame and fear are sadly some of the characteristic features of most orthodox religions today.

There are multiple reasons why the double-edged sword of shame and fear is used.

It creates more converts. Most people get motivated to believe in something they otherwise don’t want to, to avoid shame. This confuses people because even though they might call themselves a Christian or a Hindu, deep inside, they don’t relate to it.

Only love can enable a person to follow something indefinitely. But developing love takes time. If orthodox religion started giving so much time to people to decide if they want to follow them, it wouldn’t exist.

**It generates more income. **Well, as bad as it sounds, it’s true. Often people feel guilty for not giving enough money to the church or the temple. I’m not against the practice of tithing. I do it myself.

But I do it out of joy to help share the teachings I love, not out of fear of facing God’s wrath.

People are led to believe that the amount of money you give is directly proportional to the grace of God. By those means, salvation would entail earning a lot of money and giving it all away. Moreover, if you give it without love, no amount of money will get you to salvation.

There are many more things that show why fear is a beneficial emotion for orthodox religion. Even though it’s strong enough to keep the group together, it’s questionable as to how beneficial it is for individual spiritual growth.

An Alternate View to Think About “Sin”

There’s a story that all disciples of Paramahansa Yogananda (including me) have often heard. Once when he went to a church, everyone was kneeling down.

The minister (or religious authority whose position escapes me at the moment) said “Kneel down everyone, for you are all sinners!”

Yogananda later told that everyone in the room was kneeling down except him — “I would never admit that I am a sinner!”

Now Yogananda was a liberated master. He should certainly never admit himself to be a sinner. But he tells everyone, regardless of their spiritual growth, to never admit the same.

Many people, especially in orthodox religious traditions, spend a lot of their time decrying ‘sin’ and ‘sinners’ (or other names of them).

In the Essence of Self-Realization, a disciple asked Yogananda, “What is sin?”

“Sin is error; it is born of ignorance,” replied the Master. “What is ignorance? What is an error?” “Ignorance is the lack of awareness of soul realities and the substitution of this dream of delusion for those realities. Error is any action that is based on that misconception.” “Does not sin also mean breaking God’s commandments?” inquired the disciple. “Yes,” replied Yogananda. “But ask yourself this: Why did God give mankind those commandments? It wasn’t arbitrarily. And it certainly wasn’t to keep us from finding happiness. Rather, it was to warn us that certain kinds of behavior will strengthen delusion’s hold on our minds, and deprive us of true happiness. “If one thinks of sin as breaking God’s commandments, the thought then arises of God’s anger and stern judgment. But the Lord is our very own! We are His children. Why should He judge us? It is we, rather, who judge ourselves when we imagine that anything we do is beyond forgiveness. But if we understand sin as an error, we realize that our errors can be rectified.”

What a beautiful explanation!

Ergo, sin is not something for which you’ll be burned in eternal hell or condemned to suffering. It’s just an error — that can be corrected with the right action. Every error happens only because we forget our true identity as souls.

Moreover, God made it to be so! This world is His creation. He created the delusion and the pitfalls so we may emerge victorious on the other side. In fact, God committed the sin through you! Let that sink in for a moment.

God is not a white-bearded man judging you from above. He is more loving than we can imagine.

The reason we suffer is because of our own past actions, not because of God’s wrath. And just like our suffering is in our hands, our salvation is also dependent on our right effort.

Final Thought

To achieve our spiritual potential, we need both spirituality and religion to work together.

Even though spirituality doesn’t need a group of people, it’s often better to be around spiritually aware people for your own growth. Just because people get together to achieve a common objective doesn’t make it ‘orthodox’ or wrong in any shape or form. On the other hand, religion can learn to be more love-affirming than fear-avoiding.

Hand in hand, both will lead us further towards our journey that will be different for everyone. There’s no right or wrong. It all depends on our individual souls.

The knowledge of the difference between the two should then empower us to choose our path carefully and ensure we avoid detours in our pilgrimage towards salvation.

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Written on February 26, 2021