The narrow path between religion and spirituality

When examining the differences between spirituality and religion, one might encounter either a barrage of words, or silence. “Spirituality transcends religion, but could still also be found in the context of religion,” says Sage Bennet, a professor of philosophy at Santa Monica College.

Bennet says that religion involves a set of beliefs, practices, and sometimes doctrines, originally designed to help people find a way to a good life.

“Spirituality allows people the freedom to take from the practices of different religions without necessarily joining an organized religious group,” Bennet says.

An East Los Angeles voodoo priestess who wishes to remain anonymous says that her group’s practices cannot be revealed or categorized.

“You might have better luck talking to an American psychic or a tarot card reader; we operate in secret,” she says. “Voodoo is neither a religion or a spirituality. It is my culture.”

However, according to the Oxford Dictionary, voodoo is defined as a black religious cult practiced in the Caribbean and southern United States, which combines elements of Roman Catholic ritual with traditional African magical and religious rites, and is characterized by sorcery and spirit possession.

Similar aspects characterize the religion of Santeria, detailed in author Menyone Deveaux’s autobiography “Journey to the Red Carpet.”

“He sits up in bed in a trancelike state in the middle of the night,” Deveaux says about her book. “He opens his mouth, and the voice of a woman comes out of him.”

Allegedly, the female voice claims to own her boyfriend’s soul, threatening her safety if she does not go away.

In his book “Santeria: The Religion,” Migene Gonzalez-Wippler describes one of the central beliefs of Santeria as the worship of Olodumare, who corresponds to the concept of God. In his discourse, Migene explains that every individual’s life is overseen by one of his orishas.

It is these spirits that Deveaux alleges to have encountered in her memoir.

“I consider myself spiritual because even though I was raised Christian, I incorporated my belief of energy chakras, spiritual laws of prosperity, and laws of attraction,” says Deveaux. “I have also experienced very negative spirituality as in the practice of Santeria.”

Bennet explains the freedom of spirituality over religion.

Enycourse Ziira, an engineering student in Zimbabwe, agrees.

“Religion is a narrow, self-centered approach to seeking fulfillment and a major cause of wars, polarized ideologies and extremism,” Ziira says. “Spirituality does not follow set guidelines but is more of an individualistic ideology as one seeks fulfillment.”

Reverend Kodani of Pure Land Buddhism, however, is not as certain of the real distinction between religion and spirituality.

“I never understood what spirituality meant,” Kodani says. “By Western definition, religion is a belief in God. And we don’t believe in God. But we are a religion because we believe in the ultimate reality.”

According to Buddhist teachings, self-realization is the highest goal, not the afterlife promised in Christianity.

“The only qualifying factor is for one to wake up,” Kodani says. “We have no rituals we follow.”

Amber Cole, an SMC student, says that her Christianity was purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ.

“Religion is following a bunch of traditions,” Cole says. “Spirituality is just loving God.”

“Religion is more about how you look on the outside; spirituality is who you are inside,” says SMC student Christian Cordoba, who meets with Cole and other Christian peers on campus for prayer meetings.

The Satanic Bible describes the religion of Satanism as supporting an individual’s rights to life, liberty, acquired property, and the pursuit of truth and happiness.

In a membership form to join a Satanic church in East Los Angeles, applicants are asked how long they want to stay alive, what three things they would wish for, and whether they would rather influence others or be influenced.

While Christianity has commandments as spiritual laws that govern it, Satanism has the seven deadly sins. According to the website of a Satanic chapel, the seven deadly sins of the Christian church include greed, pride, envy, anger, gluttony, lust, and sloth. Satanism advocates indulging in each of these sins as they all lead to physical, mental, or emotional gratification, according to the Satanic Bible.

On the wall near the door of the Santa Monica home of a woman who practices witchcraft hangs a poster with the words “there is no tomorrow, only now.”

“You must not walk in the way you came in; please go backward,” she says.

Inside her home, she keeps a glass case containing a miniature representation of people she has put curses on.

According to her acquaintance Betty Stuart, the woman practices a new age spirituality affiliated with the devil.

Bennet believes that spirituality is the awareness about something as in meditation, yoga, connectivity with the universe, and nature.

“To me, spirituality is people living as good people and showing love for others, but there is no God,” says Gregg Edwards, a Hollywood acting instructor.

“I have a problem with organized religions like Christianity saying that you will literally burn in hell if you don’t believe in their God,” he says.

Discussing the philosophy of naturalism, Edwards says that all things can be described by natural laws and not by the supernatural.

Bennet says she does not think it is fair to say that all organized religion has a measure of control as an ulterior motive.

Ziira, however, says he has experienced his Apostolic Christian religion frown upon the traditional witchdoctors in Zimbabwe, even though they are the country’s indigenous religion.

“Before Westernization, ancestral spirit worship was the main religion,” he says. “They believed in the influential powers of the dead, and that these spirits possessed the living, creating portals that allowed for dialogue between the dead and living.”

According to Bennet, the challenge lies in appreciating all religions, as she believes that doing so would breed tolerance.

“I like to see the thread of wisdom that runs through all religion,” she says.