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Religion vs. Spirituality: It's in the Latin.

It drives me nuts when people say they’re spiritual and not religious Christians or anyone who claims to be any kind of theist, says they’re spiritual and not religious. The implication being that “religion is bad” and “spirituality is good”.


The word “Religion” comes from the Latin word “religio” which means “respect for what is sacred, reverence to a God (god)”. Religio is also said to come from the word “relegare” which means to “bind fast” or “place an obligation on” or “bond between man and a God (god)”. Cicero held that religion also comes from “relegere” which means to “treat carefully”.  Catholic history actually defines religion as the “voluntary submission of oneself to God”.

Do you believe in the existence of a higher power? Do you submit to Him? Do you consider yourself bound to Him in any sort of relationship: father-child, master-servant, creator-creature? Do you resolve to live according to His rules, as spelt out in some book or by divine inspiration? Do you work daily at improving your understanding of and relationship with Him?

You are religious, my friend.

Spirituality, on the other hand, comes from the Latin “spiritus” which means “of the spirit, of breathing.” This is also the origin of the words inspire, respiration and perspire. So when you say you’re spiritual, what do you really mean? That you breathe? So does every other living thing. That you have a spirit? So does every other person.

Most people claim to be spiritual in the sense that they have a “personal” relationship with God outside of a church or institution. But based on word definition, it would seem that they actually mean they’re religious. But here’s the thing. You. Can. Be. Religious. Outside. An. Institution. Stop with the false semantics already.

You’re welcome.

Lol. You can tell this is a rant.


  1. 'Demola says

    Quite an interesting rant.

    However, I do not agree that a simple etymological breakdown of words is all is needed. Interestingly, you note that inspire and respire also comes from the same Latin spiritus and they sure do not mean the EXACT same thing as spiritus.

    In the real everyday usage sense, spiritual is used to mean subscribing to the belief in a supernatural force. So I may belief in this force but may not accept He is God, for example or may not agree he desires worship. I actually may term myself ‘spiritual’ because I BELIEVE I have a spirit – not everbody believes that, you know.

    Religious on the other hand is institutional in usage. You described it perfectly in that third paragraph.

    You see, people can be religious and not spiritual(being more about the institution than the connection) – And, Nigeria abounds with examples. On the other hand, I think people can be spiritual without being religious(having some sort of connection with nature but not subscribing to institutional expresssions of this connection).

    I should know.

    I have been Catholic all my life. Years ago, I was more religious than spiritual. Now, I describe myself as more spiritual. I still go to Church regularly(even on days when I don’t agree with half of what they say and how much time they spend on the unnecessary things)), observe lent etc, but I am doing all of this for a different reason.

    I am doing this for my spirituality and not for religion.

    • “Spiritual” according to the dictionary means “Of, relating to, or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things”. It doesn’t mean believing in a supernatural force. Agnostics believe there’s a higher power. Would you really call them “spiritual”?

      I don’t agree “religious” is institutional. Being religious, in regular English, connotes dedication. “She studied religiously.” A connection/relationship with God depends on dedication. Would you say you’re more or less dedicated than you were years ago when you were merely “religious”?

      To be candid, when people say they’re spiritual, it brings to mind animism, scientology and Eckankar: worldviews that put a higher emphasis on the spiritual than the physical. In fact, Google “spirituality” and see the results it gives you. That’s why I’m shocked when they say, No, they’re Christians.

      In the end, it’s all words, sha. I can call myself “spiritual” or “religious”. But what gets me sad is when people make “religion” a dirty word, a bad word.

  2. 'Demola says

    You know what is funny? I agree with everything you just said, yet disagree.

    First paragraph: As a matter of fact, I agree with your dictionary meaning actually. The fact that people think of themselves as ‘human spirit as opposed to material or physical things” makes them spiritual. That belief in spirit. “Agnostics” is quite a wide category. If you find agnostics who believe in an immaterial world, yes, they may be spiritual.

    She studied religiously. How did she study? Religiously, that is LIKE it is a religion. So, yeah, I think normal usage of the term just describes a verb in relation to dedication found in institutional religion.

    Thirdly, you admit, this argument is really about feelings and opinions anyways.

    Lastly, like you said, in the end, it’s all words sha. Semantics does not change what we mean. To be honest, we don’t have to blame people for thinking religion is a dirty word. When the majority of the people that subscribe to something act in a different way from the good that thing is supposed to be, it’s not the fault of the ‘others’. You do not blame the ‘people’ for thinking politics is a dirty word, do you?

    P.S 900th commenter? That’s quite a number. Sooooo, when do I get my cookie? 🙂

  3. I don’t really do Latin words. For me being religious is like a steam ship running on it’s own fuel, emphasis on good works (which cannot save). Being spiritual is like a ship driven by the wind in its sails. Where that wind is the Holy Spirit, then you are Christian.

  4. stella says

    People should quit justifying their laziness and laxity towards their chosen beliefs by redefining words to suit their purpose. I agree with you on this Osemhen

  5. In defense of the sincere “spiritualist”, one could say they “breathe God”. That is, depend on God as much as they depend on oxygen. What matters is that we stay true to conscience. Even if we deceive others, we should never deceive ourselves.

  6. In defense of the sincere “spiritualists”, one could say they “breathe God”. That is, depend on God as much as they depend on oxygen. What matters is that we stay true to our conscience. Even if we deceive others, we should never deceive ourselves.

  7. Chidi says

    Language and culture change all the time. A word could have developed from something but mean something totally different in common usage.
    ‘religious’ has come to mean, for most people, the act of going t church/religious house, following all the rules- because they are the rules and general sheep behaviour.
    ‘spiritual’ has come to mean “having a deep connection with someone/something higher than you”
    Hence when people say they are spiritual, they are trying to say they’ve gone past the dos and don’ts and have reached a stage of enlightenment where they feel like their actions are not just linked to a to-do list.

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