Father Dimitrios Moraitis, St. Paraskevi Greek Orthodox Church, Greenlawn:

The essence of all religions is spirituality. Spirituality is like coffee - you need a cup to consume it. The cup is the religion. Coffee cups differ from one other. Without the cup, it is difficult to enjoy the coffee; without religion, it is difficult to be truly spiritual.

Christ died on the cross to destroy death and establish his church, not just spirituality. Christ is the bridegroom, and the church is his bride. The early Christian community was a true spiritual family, a church, which received the sacraments, participated in corporal worship and shared everything they had equally.

While there are those who come to church every Sunday and have little spirituality, the purpose of attending church is to become spiritually edified by receiving the sacraments and being instructed in living an ethical life.

We must remember that the church is a divine and human institution - the divine is perfect, the human is not. If you are a Christian, you cannot truly believe in Jesus Christ and not believe in the church. They cannot be separated as one came to establish the other.

Rabbi David Whiman, North Shore Synagogue, Syosset:

Noah was a righteous man. The Bible says so. "Noah walked with God." But of course, Noah was a member of no organized religious profession. Noah had, to put it in our modern day parlance, no religious preference.

You do not have to be religious to be righteous. You don't have to be a member of an organized religion to aspire to virtue. Goodness is an equal-opportunity opportunity.

What religion adds to righteousness is a communal dimension. Religion takes place within human association. The down side to simply believing in God is that you can be righteous all by yourself. You do no harm, but your righteousness is self-referenced.

Organized religion is righteousness extended into community. It seeks to foster a spiritual and a righteous life shared with others and lived in part for others. That's not easy. People can drive you nuts. This, too, the Bible teaches in spades.

Religions are subject to the corruption and hypocrisy of any and every organized human enterprise. But I know that many people have been challenged to greater goodness by virtue of their association with organized religion.

John Zenkewich, pastor, Unity Church of Long Island, Hempstead:

Our personal connection to God or spirit may be enough. But why go it alone?

Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, "Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up . . . . Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. "

A spiritual community provides us with the support we need to travel our life's journey. It is like one, big happy family, full of sympathy toward each other, loving one another with tender hearts. When God created the world, everything was declared good except "man" being alone.

Many have had negative experiences with "organized religion." Let's not let our past limit our future. I invite you to explore the possibility that there is for you a community which can bring joy, happiness and fun into your life. No one is an island. It's better together.

The Rev. Damian Halligan S.J., St. Ignatius Retreat House, Manhasset:

Yes, you can be spiritual without belonging to organized religion. After all, you can believe in the Red Cross, the Peace Corps or some religious communities without joining them.

There is a difference between believing in and belonging to organized religion. We're losing a generation of young people where religion is not a big thing in their lives. A large majority of young adults are not seeking religion at all.

You can define spirituality any way you want to. Buddhists don't believe in God. They believe in a power that is impersonal. I would say they are spiritual.

Whether your call yourself spiritual or you belong to organized religion, you are responding to something that is bigger than yourself. Instead of just floating through life and being confused, organized religion allows you a God or other spirit to reach back to when you need it. The Divine isn't necessarily personal, but it is something greater than yourself.

Being spiritual without being religious is not the best thing. You must have something to ground you. Religion can be that grounding factor.

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