29. Religiosity and Spirituality
29. Religiosity and Spirituality

29. Religiosity and Spirituality

Someone wrote to me regarding my post about “spiritual self-destruction” arguing that it seems priests and religious do not know God, irrespective of how close we are to him in our daily lives. My response was that there is a difference between religiosity and spirituality.

Although I wrote something about it on the 6 December post, this post expounds it. In summary, religiosity is about the institution, structures, and practices within a religion, while spirituality is about our personal relationship with the supernatural.

Sociologists identify four aspects of religion that help to gauge religiosity—belief, ritual, experience, and community. Religious belief concerns the intellectual understanding of religious knowledge. This includes belief in a Supreme being or supernatural beings; belief in the power of prayer, life after death, miracles, good and evil spirits. Religious ritual concerns those symbolic activities which represent religious beliefs, for instance, mass and the celebration of the sacraments. Religious experience entails our “subjective involvement with the sacred”. Religious community is the group of believers. 

Obviously, religious belief, ritual, and community do not equate to spirituality. However, while religious experience seems similar, it still does not always equate to spirituality. I explain. Jesus says: “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).

Spirituality is a relationship with God, and every relationship requires mutual commitment. Religious experience differs from spirituality because one or multiple experiences with God do not always equate to a relationship with him.

Moreover, religious experience deals more with our emotions rather than a relationship with God. How?

I might attend a spirit-filled retreat or prayer session and see the heavens open, yet I do not have a relationship with the One who opened the heavens for me. A homily may excite me, yet I do not connect with the words as God speaking to me. St Paul rightly spoke about how we gain nothing if we speak in tongues, have faith and prophetic powers, but do not have love (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). 

We can evaluate our spirituality by our attitude to personal prayers, our relationship with our confreres and the people entrusted to us, and how often we confess our sins.

If I do not have time for personal prayers or do not treat others rightly, then I am a mere religious functionary without a relationship with God. St John rightly said that the one who says he loves God but hates his neighbour is a liar (1 John 4:20). If I am more concerned with satisfying my ego and interests and pleasing ecclesiastical authority rather than carrying out my ministerial duties and avoiding offending God who also called the authorities to duty, I need to re-evaluate my vocation to the priesthood or religious life.

If, as a priest, I do not go for confession, which offers me a firm opportunity to examine my conscience and commit towards avoiding sin in the future, then I am a mere absolver of people’s sins. Yes, if all my homilies (even when the readings condemn the Jewish religious leaders) are always about the people without reflecting on what the readings say to me, the preacher, then there is a problem. Am I innocent of the offences for which Jesus condemned the Scribes and Pharisees or not? Or am I not a religious leader like them?  

Indeed, as long as we are more religious than spiritual, we would continue to find actions across the hierarchy that make us ask the paradoxical question: Does this cleric or religious really know God? 🤷🏾‍♂️

Ka Chineke mezie okwu 🙏🏾



  1. Nikki

    Religion is merely a conduit for spirituality. However, that religion must not negate the guiding principles that dictate what determines a genuine relationship with God. Participating in religious practices are not necessarily done as a means to express one’s spirituality, but rather it can be due to family tradition or a need for a sense of belonging. It’s possible to call oneself a Christian yet not know Christ.

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