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The spiritual and the religious

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The spiritual and the religious

Spirituality is more than a series of wellbeing practices, although these can’t hurt. LINDA FITZGIBBON explains that it’s not a cliché to suggest that spirituality is accessing the divine, the sacred within.

One of my nieces once told me that she was more of a spiritual person than a religious one. Her words have been on my mind ever since, and I have begun to wonder about the words “religion” and “spirituality”. What do they mean?

Based on everything I’ve learned in school, my experience in the world, from the media, from reading, and talking to people, it seems that religion includes a belief in the Divine. There are a number of main branches – Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism, Baha’i, Judaism, Hinduism, and Zoroastrianism.

These religions have particular prophets, traditions, and practises, which to some people may seem to be outdated dogma. I think my niece might agree.

A substantial amount has been written on the subject of religion. One main idea is that religion unites people in communities, as well as shapes their cultures.

Considering the media’s typical portrayal of religion, it is curious to note that the word itself is based on Latin religare, which means “to bind”. Religion is a source of values and ethics, from which we learn about our dignity, our sacred origin, and our intrinsic value, while serving as a moral compass.

Religion tells us about the Divine and describes a pathway to it. Some people have moved away from traditions of the past and reject the idea of religion entirely.

The decline in the observance of religion and its practices is a predictable outcome of modernisation, and the loss of identity and meaning that has come with it. I think I understand where my niece is coming from.

Currently, the idea of spirituality is presented in activities such as yoga, mindfulness, being in nature, or breathwork, all with an overall emphasis on wellbeing, but are these activities spiritual?

One of my daughters claims that heavy metal music is spiritual. Linda Popov presented research that found, in all the sacred texts, that virtues such as kindness, compassion, friendliness, trust, integrity, respect and so on run like a silver thread through all of them.

She also writes that in the religious texts, the idea that the purpose of life can be found in the development of justice, love, kindness, harmony and trustworthiness. To Popov, these virtues are the essence of spirituality.

I think my niece would like this idea.

So what does spiritually do?

Firstly, developing these innate virtues helps to return meaning and humanity’s true identity that has become lost since modernisation.

Secondly, the more these virtues are practised in a community the more they will be witnessed. The more they are practised in a community, the more they will be practised across the country.

Along the way, this form of spirituality improves conditions for people. Australia celebrates Harmony Week, Mother’s and Father’s Day, World Religion Day, Anzac Day, National Sorry Day, and the International Day for Tolerance – among others.

Developed spirituality is the result of these celebrations. That is, the virtues of harmony, love and gratitude, unity, reverence, and respect, understanding, and finally tolerance are given focus and emphasis. My niece would find this idea to her liking.

I think this is a good time of year for us all to reflect spirituality, and whether the development of virtues could be purposeful in our lives.

What would peace and goodwill look like in December? What would they look like throughout the rest of the year?

My niece would be happy to think about this question.

 Linda Fitzgibbon has a PhD in Applied Linguistics, She is a facilitator with the Virtues Project, an is now retired. Email

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