Do you get spiritual by lighting a candle and having a little statue of Buddha in front of you? Well, that’s being religious. Do you get spiritual by reading a poem that means something to you or by reading a book with a collection of quotes or beautiful thoughts? Well, that’s being religious because you are treating those books as your sacred text.
So maybe what the “spiritual but not religious” person means is that they do not go in for organized religion. They mean they are not members of an institutional church. That’s possible, but maybe they misunderstand what the purpose of organized religion actually IS.
Organized religion with all its devotions and duties, with all its doctrines and dogmas, with all its rules and rubrics and regulations is simply the rules for the game, the music on the printed page, the map for the journey and the instructions for how to be spiritual.
The organized religion is not an end in itself, but a means to an end.
Organized religion is really only a group of people who want to be spiritual getting themselves organized. They gather the experience and tradition of the past, they gather their community together because being spiritual is easier with a group, and they share and care for one another and share the necessary disciplines to “be spiritual” successfully.
But of course, this gets messy because it gets real. I suspect being “spiritual but not religious” is too easy and too unreal. Getting spiritual in a religion, on the other hand, means you have to get to work. You have to climb the mountain. You have to scrape your knees. You have to learn how to love, forgive and help other people who are on that same journey and part of your team…and all that is tough.
Lest it seem like no more than an inspiring version of the Boy Scouts or the Rotary Club, it is the supernatural dimension that fires them up, inspires them supernaturally and helps them to get organized so their desire to “be spiritual” can achieve lift off.