A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from March 11, 2013
“Religion is for people who are afraid of hell; spirituality is for people who’ve been there”

"Religion is for people who fear hell, and spirituality is for people who have gone through hell (and don’t want to go back)” is a saying that has been used by many 12-steps programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous. “Religion is for people who are afraid of Hell. Spirituality is for people who’ve been there” has been cited in print since at least May 1990. The authorship is unknown.

Some commenters believe that the saying makes a lot of sense, while others thinks that it’s a nonsense slogan.


19 May 1990, Dayton (OH) Daily News, “All the news that’s fit to sanctify” by Dave Kepple, pg. 4C:
Overheard at a meeting in downtown Dayton: “Religion is for people who are afraid of Hell. Spirituality is for people who’ve been there.”

Google Books
The Door
Youth Specialties
Issues 116-126
1991
Pg. 70:
MELLODY: There is a saying in the 12-step movement that says “Religion is there for people who want to go to heaven. Spirituality is for people who’ve been to hell.” The religious centers in our country do not know how to teach people how to to be in an actual, real relationship with God.

Google Books
The Thirst for Wholeness:
Attachment, Addiction, and the Spiritual Path

By Christina Grof
San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco
1993
Pg. 170:
A joke around recovery groups is, “Religion is for those who do not want to go to hell. Spirituality is for those who have been to hell and don’t want to go back.”

Google Books
The Road to Healing:
The 12 steps and the serenity prayer for a happier life for everyone

By Raymond Guterman
Bemidji, MN: Focus Pub.
1994
Pg. 1:
John 9, 10; Romans 7: 15-20
“Religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell. Spirituality is for people who have already been there.” (John Lucas, Coach, Philadelphia 76ers)

Google Books
Winning a Day at a Time
By John Lucas and Joseph Moriarity
Center City, MN: Hazelden
1994
Pg. 195:
I learned so much from my drug use. I found out that there’s a difference between religiosity and spirituality. Religiosity is often for those people who are afraid to go to hell, and spirituality is for people like me who have already been to hell.

Google Books
Bowie: Loving the Alien
By Christopher Sandford
Boston, MA: Little Brown
1997
Pg. 334:
‘A wonderful analogy: “Religion is for people who believe in hell; spirituality is for people who’ve been there.” That for me makes a lot of sense.’

Recovery Watch List
From: Recovery Watch
To: Recovery Watch List
CC: DOUGLAS BRAMLEY
Subject: Re: AA
Date: Thursday, July 22, 1999 5:09 AM

In AA, we believe that religion is for people who fear hell, and spirituality is for people who have gone through hell.

These are poetic but very flawed definitions for religion and spirituality. They might make people feel good at AA meetings, but they cannot be used in a public discussion on the nature of AA or whether charges that AA is a cult, a fraud, dangerous, etc., are true.

Stinkin’ Thinkin’, muckraking the 12-step industry
May 11, 2009
“Religion is for people who fear Hell, Spirituality is for people who have been there”
Bullshit slogan of the day:
Religion is for people who fear Hell, and spirituality is for people who have gone through Hell

This is actually a new one to me. I just heard this from an AA member, so I googled it thinking he may have invented his own cliché. There must be some special place in AA Heaven for a person who invents one of these things. It turns out that this was a preexisting, though rarely used, slogan. I found it used here, which is a good link for anyone looking to see an AAer make a jackass of himself.

Twitter
Forms
‏@Forms20
Religion is for people who don’t want to go to hell. Spirituality is for people who have been to hell and don’t want to go back. #xa
7:00 PM - Dec 31, 2012

Twitter
DearAsh_ThtsMe
‏@_ashhhhhh_
Religion is for people who are afraid of hell. Spirituality is for people who have been there… #letitmarinate
9:14 AM - Feb 12, 2013

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Politics/Military • Monday, March 11, 2013 • Permalink