It is common today to hear discussions about religion in contrast with spirituality. I have been prone of late to view myself as spiritually minded instead of religious, per se. What I have come to realize is that the terms spiritual and religious are vague at best and need some clarification in my own mind. What does spiritual mean to me and by contrast what does religion imply?
In my personal experience, religion has always involved a belief in a divine being, reliance on a divine text to know about that being, and rigid requirements to please that deity. Religion involves the recognition of an immaterial realm as the abode of God and the place from which God operates and reveals Himself. Humans are largely if not totally separated from this realm until after physical death. Religion, as I have known it, tends to be very dogmatic in its understanding of God, His nature, and His requirements of man. The emphasis of religion has generally been placed on knowledge, doctrinal purity, proper worship, and personal piety, which implies avoiding recognized vices and practicing personal ritualism. Religion is primarily about man's relationship to the Creator and only secondarily and very much subordinately about human relationships and earthly circumstances
As I now see it, spirituality is a much broader term. It involves the recognition of an immaterial reality which may or may not include a deity, at least in the traditional sense of a being or entity which is separate and removed from the physical universe and mankind at large. Many, if not the vast majority, of those, who accept a spiritual dimension, do envision a divine being behind it all; but their views of that deity and his mode of operation vary greatly and don't necessarily bear any resemblance to the God of organized religion. I consider the key attributes of spiritual mindedness to be the recognition of a fundamental connectedness of all humanity with each other and the divine being, if such a being is even envisioned. Spirituality with or without a recognized deity focuses on human relationships and the associated human behavior as the key issue of life. Spiritual development requires embracing things like compassion, humility, cooperation, unity, tolerance, patience, forgiveness, etc. The emphasis of spirituality is on improving the here and now existence and in the process to prepare for whatever may be in store in the hereafter.
As has been often noted even by those who deny any immaterial realm, the human mind and heart seems to naturally and irresistibly search for a larger reality which lends meaning and purpose to life with all its vicissitudes. Organized religion has historically addressed that longing. Lately, under pressure from a broader forum for discussing and evaluating religious thought, traditional religions are unable to avoid dealing with issues and questions which they have never felt comfortable addressing. In that environment, many are looking at the existence of the immaterial or spiritual realm in non-traditional ways. These seekers are no longer inhibited by the fearful dogmas of religious traditionalism, which for centuries have dissuaded many from looking elsewhere for higher truth. The freedom of expression and thought encouraged by the many digital media outlets now promotes the kind of dialogue which fosters a much widerr concept of immaterial reality than that of traditional religion. If religion is to regain its former role in spiritual thought, it will have to relinquish much that it formerly held as sacrosanct.
Those who still adhere to a traditional religious understanding of the spiritual realm, generally feel threatened by and animosity toward the idea of addressing the existence of that realm outside the confines of their particular religious persuasion. The idea that one can be spiritually oriented without even believing in God is particularly disturbing because to many of this mindset, unbelief in God is almost the ultimate sin against that God. For the religious, correct belief and practice in managing one's God relationship is paramount. One cannot obviously worry about that relationship and deny God's very existence.
In the final analysis I perceive two key distinctions between the religious and the irreligious but spiritually minded. The former focus on the man/God relationship and the primary goal of it all is in the hereafter. Those who look to a spiritual reality separate from religious practice, generally focus on the human relationships and the behaviors which foster peace and fulfillment in this physical existence. The hereafter is largely a mystery to the irreligious, but those who believe in a divine being generally accept that being as benevolent and quite capable of doing what is right and just without depending on mankind's acknowledgement or assistance.
In this sense many of the irreligious yearn for a God who is both benevolent and totally effective in His plan and purpose for mankind. The God of traditional religion too often seems to be hamstrung by man's malfeasance and incalcitrance. A deity of limited ability to achieve a noble end cannot be totally embraced. If His intention is not noble the heart rejects it, and if the intention is unfulfilled, then how can He be trusted. In either case the God of religion seems less than fully divine.