Do You Know the Difference Between Being Spiritual or Religious?

Does it matter? 100 years ago in this country people who loved each other couldn’t or wouldn’t get married because they loved someone who wasn’t the same religion as they were. But today, but at least in our society, couples have much more freedom to choose whether they are spiritual or religious. Or their own unique combination of both. Your marriage ceremony should reflect how you define yourself, and how this will be reflected in the words of your ceremony.

When I interview a couple, I never assume whether they are spiritual or religious. One of the first questions I ask is, “Are you religious or do you consider yourself more spiritual? Or don’t you identify with either?” This question doesn’t get asked because I won’t do a wedding for someone who is one or the other. But I want my couples to know I won’t be trying to convert anyone nor discriminate based on their spiritual or religious identification.

Clarity for God’s sake

Couples often don’t understand what I mean when I ask them to differentiate between being spiritual or religious. Here’s what I MEAN so it’s clear, for God’s sake, whatever your definition of God is. (I enjoyed Huffington Posts’ article about the difference between spiritual and religious too). Also, bear in mind  I am primarily talking about the Christian religion though I do not believe Christianity is the only viable religion there is.

Being Religious

Religious means a person has a theology or doctrine they follow to guide their life. The most prominent belief is in God and God is usually a Father-like figure who is larger than life yet has human characteristics associated with Him. In Christianity, Jesus is the only son of God. Each religion has it’s own version of who and what their higher power is and have an example of someone who has a special connection with God.

These beliefs have practices associated with them, like praying, “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” or having to study the religion’s written text, like the Bible or Bhagavad Gita. A religious person may often say “I am blessed”, “Praise be to the Father,” or they talk about sin, going to heaven or believe hell is a place a bad person goes to at the end of their life. Some religious folks believe gay people are sinners, women in the ministry are not allowed, and the Bible is to be taken literally. Attending church is highly encouraged and guilt can ensue if someone doesn’t go to church.


A spiritual person believes in a higher power but doesn’t necessarily associate it with a male figure, nor do they see the higher power as being something or someone outside of themselves. Spirituality is more of an inward experience yet can be inspired by nature, beauty, and direct contact with something greater than an individual person.

Someone who considers him or herself spiritual often listens more to their own inner voice to guide them, or at least aspires to listen. They may practice meditation, yoga, dance or the creation of some form of art to connect them with their inner voice. But that practice is followed by the person’s own requirements, their private realm of though, and not by a doctrine generated by a leader of some sort.

Same, Same

Of course there are variations on all of these so please take this only as a brief overview. There are wonderful people who are wise, helpful, strong and caring who are religious. They can also be self-indulgent, tremendously judgmental and dangerous.

There are wonderful people who are wise, helpful, strong and caring who are spiritual. They can also be self-indulgent, tremendously judgmental and dangerous.

Taking for Granted

When a couple answers the question that they are religious, I take for granted they want prayer in their ceremony. They are more likely to chose a Scripture as part of their ceremony. But I’ve had religious people chose native American readings over Scripture. So again, take nothing for granted. Ask.

A couple who says they’re spiritual usually include prayer, but not always. I explain my prayers aren’t usually addressed to “Father” or “Lord” and I’m not going to talk about sinners or convince anyone of any theology. At this point, many say a prayer is okay.

Neither Spiritual nor Religious

Some couples are good with having silence as part of their ceremony.  They’re turned off by any references to a higher power. But they do understand the need to stop and take a breather. As long as they are good with it, so am I. I trust their inner being to guide them to what’s best for them even if they are strictly science buffs.

And by the way:  There are wonderful people who are wise, helpful, strong and caring who are neither spiritual nor religious. They can also be self-indulgent, tremendously judgmental and dangerous.

For the record

I consider myself spiritual. This is what I tell my couples when we have the discussion about being spiritual or religious.

I Believe…

I am very liberal/open-minded. I believe love is love and is our natural state of being so it’s not limited by sexual preference, race, age or gender.

I Don’t Believe

I don’t believe in a religious doctrine that makes anyone a sinner over another person, or better than another. I don’t believe a priest has a better connection with their God than anyone else. I don’t believe in a literal hell nor heaven and I do not take the Bible literally.

I do not impose my beliefs on anyone. At least I don’t think I do. In a wedding ceremony, I don’t try to convert anyone. I take my cues from my couple’s beliefs. I trust their inner being, their spiritual OR religious Self/connection to guide them in the ways that are best for them.

In life there’s so many nuances in our relationships that I tend to take what Jesus said as a good point – “By their fruits you will know them.” What’s important is how happy we are with our life, what we aspire to and take action on. And all of us are works in progress. Who am I to judge where you are in your journey?

However you define yourself and the beliefs you follow, I wish you happiness, peace and prosperity. And a lifetime of love with your chosen mate.


Rev. Crystal