Are “religion” and “spirituality” one in the same thing? To many, they are.

For me they are not.

For me to find my way to any sort of spirituality in my life I had to leave religion behind me altogether.
I define “religion” as formal, identifiable organizations of people who share the same belief system. These belief systems, or organizations, are designed by groups of people, most often men, based on their interpretation of historical information and descriptions of their chosen deity. In this country, Christianity is the most common identified religion but by no means the only religious organization.

Christians and Jews and Moslems and people of all “religions” may be, and often are, deeply spiritual people who lead lives according to the tenants of their particular religion, or set of organized and accepted beliefs.

Many, many people, of which I am one, lead deeply spiritual lives as well, completely outside the realm of organized religion. I am trying on the phrase `Secular Spirituality” in this particular piece, to better identify these differences for myself.

I define spirituality as whatever set of internal values and principles we choose as the foundation of how we live our lives. It is the core of things, where we turn for strength, guidance, comfort. It is whatever combination of beliefs we each accumulate along our way that work for us as individuals.

For many, this includes a belief in some form of deity, or higher power. For many it doesn’t. For me, it means a simple, deep belief in the existence of some kind of constant flow of immensely powerful goodness. It’s everywhere at once, within almost everyone, and within me as well. I can choose to step fully into this flow from wherever I am, and become a part of it, and I can choose to step out of it. For me, life is much better, when I choose to be a conscious part of it.
The exact details of my beliefs, or yours, matter not. The fact that I have this foundation of spirituality now, is what matters.

I had to eventually leave organized “religion” behind me completely before I could even begin the search for my own genuine spiritual foundations. . Not only did I need to leave it, I had to spend years recovering from it’s damaging effects.

What I know now, is that true spirituality empowers and expands. It feeds and nurtures my faith in goodness and hope and endless possibility. Because I am so well fed now, I have more compassion to offer others; more ability to accept and cherish others, more energy for walking my talk.

The harsh judgements, the fear of burning in hell, the existence of a Vengeful God, the terrible awareness of how sinful and unclean I was, the entire shame of me, all of this was deeply and indelibly imprinted on the clean slate of my little-girl-soul before I even started school, by the harsh tenants of the Christian Religion I was offered. During the very time a child’s sense of who she is being formed, it informed me of the terrible sinfulness of my being, and laid out for me the lifetime of penance I could expect, as a woman.

These were all lies. I know this now. Lies that were implanted so deeply that the effects on me as an seriously depressed adult very nearly cost me my life, by my own hand, with the help of end stage alcoholism. (Drinking was the only way I could stand to live with the sinful creature I really was, inside. It gave me my only respite: the wondrous restfulness of oblivion.)

This cost me years and years of my life. A life that I could have lived fully, rather than just barely surviving it.

This was all given to me in the name of the Christian God of Mercy, by the Men Of God of my time.

I am here only because I finally rejected that God and that religion after the age of 40.

Separating myself from it to the degree I have now took many years and immensely hard work. It required intense, long term self de-programming of the horrendous self identification bequeathed to me by this religion, and more years of re-programing, as I slowly uncovered the shattered pieces of my true personality and identity, and gradually knit them back together.

As this slowly progressed, and I was finally able to sustain sobriety, I began to explore non religion based spiritual pathways. There were very few I missed along the way. None of them were to end up my “home”, but from each, I gathered the bits and pieces that resonated on very deep levels, and I knew that they were to be mine.

Over the years since, it is these bits and pieces of wisdom and truth, that have become the tapestry of my spiritual belief system. It is what I can rest upon always. It is what I can wrap around me when cold winds blow. It is the foundation under me that never trembles. . It expands and empowers and guides me, just as it is. It is my own precious collection of truths and beliefs and values that need no validation from anyone else. It does not require me to write them down as commandments or to preach them to anyone else. It does not require me to pray in certain words “to” anyone or anything higher or bigger or better than me. It allows me to feel and know degrees of oneness with others, and with my imperfect world. It is not a separate compartment in my life, it IS my life.

There will always be a part of me that will wonder who I would have become, what my life may have been like, had I know my own true worth form childhood on. There will always a measure of regret for the years this kind of religion robbed from my life, and the suffering this caused and that I passed along in so many ways, to my own little girls and those who loved me as best I could allow. . I will always need to be vigilant about excessive self blame and the shame flashbacks that still come at me from the shadows now and then. These are the just legacies left , from my days spent striving to be a “good Christian woman”.

However, those shadows are well taken care of now, via the brighter light I’ve found in defining my own secular spirituality. ( a phrase that even rejected the capital letters I tried to give it just now!)

I can finally enter a Christian church again, to attend the special church occasions of my family, but still not with ease or comfort. I sit near the door, and sweat through the scripture portion of things, even as I rejoice in the open and affirming nature of the Christian faith they have embraced.

I wonder if there will ever be a space on those forms that ask for your “religious affiliation,” for people like me? Or will my choices continue to be restricted to naming a “religion” , or writing `none”, knowing how society still interprets that to mean having no faith at all.
Probably not in my lifetime.

It really doesn’t matter.

secular spirituality works for me.

(Crossposted from and

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