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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Spirituality vs. religion

There is a difference

A flurry of e-mails and much posturing and positioning occurred as the faculty of the university I serve debated the merits of including spirituality in its Wellness 100 course. Some advocated inclusion of spirituality as integral to a healthy lifestyle. Others believed its inclusion crossed the line of separation between church and state—and was only the latest veiled attempt to sneak religion into the curriculum, a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

They needn’t have worried. Spirituality isn’t a wolf in sheep’s clothing—but a sheep in wolves’ clothing.

Spirituality is private. Religion is public. Spirituality focuses on feelings. Religious faith demands action. The largest difference: We define our own spirituality; religion defines us. Both words come from Latin roots. Spirituality comes from a root word meaning to breathe, a subjective sense defining what empowers oneself. Religion derives from the root word meaning to bind, carrying the clear meaning of obligation to something beyond oneself.


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August issue

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Advice for evangelism

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