Spiritual or Religious: Can You Be Both?

by Darcie

When I was online/app dating, if I saw someone who identified as “spiritual” instead of “religious,” as a general rule, I swiped left. As a Christian, I consider myself a religious person and want to date, and ultimately marry, someone who also identifies as religious.

In Logan’s Bumble profile, he referred to his “Midwestern, evangelical” family. I related to this description as I was born and raised in Wisconsin. And while I wouldn’t label my family as evangelical, I got the sense that our upbringings shared a strong spiritual component. This, in addition to the following photos, led to my swiping right on his profile.

During the first few months of our relationship, Logan and I discussed religion on several occasions, and we learned that despite the fact we both grew up in Christian households, our experiences with faith had been starkly different. While both of our families regularly prayed, attended church, and viewed the world through a lens of Christianity, Logan and I internalized these message differently.

While I was curious about my family’s choice of religion, I had no trouble with the more fantastical aspects that faith in a religion requires. I very easily accepted that there is a God we cannot see, who sent His son to earth in human form and then died on the cross for our sins. I’ve never questioned that this could be true.

In essence, it’s not difficult for me to believe that God exists and to accept the Bible as true.

That being said, I considered the likelihood that if I had been born into another religion, I probably wouldn’t be Christian. And thus, I was particularly interested when my high school theology teacher decided that our class would explore and debunk world religions. As an atheist-turned-Christian, I trusted him. Throughout this class and my own edification since then, I feel confident in my faith. But, to be clear, I am in no way claiming that I am never have questions or that I have all the answers about Christianity or the Bible.

Logan, on the other hand, was raised in a home where his questions were met with answers like, “the truth is the truth,” which not only failed to resolve his inquires but frustrated him in their lack of clarification on the subject. He had questions and wasn’t getting answers, which led him to wonder if Christianity was really for him. As a result, he had a complicated relationship with religion when we met, though he expressed an openness to having discussions about faith and to attending church.

Since then, we, in an act of comprising, started attending services at a non-denominational Christian church. It is an informal, contemporary service which differs greatly from the traditional hymns and structured services that I am used to. It has been an adjustment for both of us, but I believe a valuable step in joining our lives together.

From the beginning, I have been clear with him that I am looking to marry someone who shares the same faith that I do. To be clear, I have friends of different faiths and friends who are atheists and agnostics. I completely respect their choice to believe or not believe in whatever they choose. I am not someone who preaches my faith to others, or employs a holier-than-thou attitude. I hope that my actions are evidence of my faith, and that I appear open to discussions about what I believe if a question is asked of me.

That being said, when it comes to the person I marry, I think it is important to have similar values on important matters, one of which I believe is religion.

My conversations with Logan about religion are ever-evolving. To this point, we recently started talking more about the intersection between religion and spirituality and whether or not it’s possible to be both religious and spiritual. Do they conflict, or can they complement one another? We both agreed that the two can co-exist.

But first, it’s important to define what it means to be spiritual and religious. While these definitions may differ based on authority, I define spirituality as connecting with someone or something bigger than myself. I believe there are also components of intuition and connection that fall within the realm of spirituality.

In my view, religion is an organized structure through which I can express my spirituality.

However, I don’t limit my spiritual experiences to organized religious settings.

Are you still with me?  Let me illustrate with an example.

When I was in Patagonia, Chile a few years ago, I was driving along a big, open road, surrounded by vast stretches of open land and towering, snow-capped mountains in the distance.

I said to my sister, “If I die here, that would be okay with me.”

I did not mean this as a wish for my life to end, but rather to emphasize the indescribably intense feeling of peace that filled me up like water after a drought. I felt the same sensation after hiking for many hours up to the base of Torres del Paine (seen below), and our guide told us that we were the strongest tourist-hikers he’d ever seen.

Certainly, I saw God’s hand in the creation of that beautiful region of the world, but I also felt a connection to nature, a feeling of being small in comparison to the world, which I felt drew upon a spiritual side of me rather than a strictly religious one.

I also believe in unseen human connections and the strong pull of intuition. When I get a text or call from someone whom I was just thinking of, I don’t believe that is coincidence, happenstance, or kismet.

Sure, I believe that God plays a role in bringing people into my life, but I also believe in an invisible connection between two souls, something that happens within the realm of spirituality.

Depending on the setting, I might connect with my spiritual side, or my spiritual and religious sides might converge.

For example, on Sunday morning, Logan and I might go to church. I find the message and the songs to be spiritual and religious experiences. I feel a spiritual connection to Logan, my fellow worshipers, the pastor, and, of course, God. When the pastor quotes scripture in his message, I feel a strong connection to my religion, to the history of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

Similarly, Logan and I often hike on the weekends. When we are out in nature, I often feel a spiritual connection to something bigger than me. While I believe that connection is partially to God, I also believe in a simpler connection to nature, the world, my fellow hikers, and Logan. I characterize this as a connection separate from religion, even as I believe the two can co-exist.

What are your thoughts on this highly personal topic? How do you define spirituality and religion? Do you practice one or the other or both? I’d love to hear your thoughts below!

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