There is dispute, or better yet, a plethora of possibilities about the root and origin of the word "religion." For many, such a confusion really doesn't matter, but the significance of one's use and understanding makes a profound difference.
One possibility is that religion, purely and fundamentally, is about being bound to the holy, or literally to bind oneself to God. The meaning of religion, or understanding of it, has shifted from this wonderful concept to a practice of rules and regulations that are established and administered by an organization for the purpose of keeping order and clarity about an accepted and approved set of beliefs concerning life in general and how it relates to the spiritual.
Hence, many people today, in a rejection of the pitfalls and failures of religious institutions and their many representatives or adherents, prefer to be identified as "spiritual, but not religious." Using the above mentioned definition of religion, this means "spiritual, but unbound to the holy." The binding directly means a form of exercise or practice, a "doing" that supports and enhances or demonstrates the belief, whatever it may be. If one's belief is that there is a fundamental force of love in the universe, then one's "religion" would be the practice of exposing and expressing this love.
Herein the idea of ritual becomes an important aspect of religion. A ritual is an act that represents a believed reality. Rituals can be very powerful, except when they entirely replace what they point to and represent. Many rituals become a thing unto themselves for those practicing them. Thus superstition becomes a powerful component of religion.
This is also, however, the stage at which the original function of religion becomes lost among the subsequent beliefs arising from superstition. And hence, people preferring the spiritual sans religion.
The fallacy of "spiritual, but not religious" is, however, that to be spiritual without any manifestation of ethics or morality is to be a kite without a string or a sailboat without a rudder. The spiritual is without any substance or impact.
Ethics becomes a significant expression of spirituality and requires some set of boundaries (i.e. rules) which guide one's life in a way that is complimentary and not contradictory to the spiritual to which one adheres. Essentially, this is what one would call one's religion and it may be very simple as in "do unto others as you would want others to do unto you" or very complex by establishing the undergirding basis of why it matters that we treat others as we want to be treated ourselves (as in God commands it or by God's very nature draws us into living as an expression of this identity).
C. S. Lewis, who became a Christian as an adult and oddly through a process of logic rather than entirely an emotional experience, described in his radio talks that became the book "Mere Christianity" that religion is like a set of maps of a coastline that give sailors an idea of where they are and how to get from one place to another while avoiding dangers.
That's as good a definition of religion as I have found.
Frankly, I rather appreciate maps. I don't particular care to be lost. There are some places I enjoy exploring, but if others have been there before, I am likely to utilize what they've learned from their being there. Obviously there's an expectation of authenticity, that the information is accurate, which implies a level of trust.
This can certainly be applied to the notion of religion as a map. Children rely heavily on the trustworthiness of adults who provide instructions about the map and understanding the map. There is a day, however, when a child either accepts the map as reliable or not--or somewhere in between absolute acceptance and absolute rejection. Each person very likely takes the map and makes personal modifications to it based on his/her experience.
Let's bring this back to the aforementioned definition of religion: to bind oneself to the holy. The purpose of religion is not to stifle a person's spirit or to limit their spiritual journey to a very small part of the coast, but to equip and provide the necessary resources to explore the vast seas of life. This can be frightening for some. Some clearly prefer limitations and clear boundaries that keep one secure. Some may prefer a small rowboat and limit themselves to a tiny part of what the map describes, so much so that they feel threatened by those who sail far beyond and tell of their adventures and what they've learned. Others are put off by such limitations and often will abandon the entire set of maps simply because some of the maps that are used by some of the people are too restrictive.
In my own adventures, I have found that some of the maps are erroneous primarily because they do not take into account the vastness of the sea. Likewise, I have found that casting aside all the maps is as foolish and narrow minded as those who vehemently defend "their" map as the only reliable way to navigate the coastline. Perhaps it's possible to be spiritual but not ritualistic, or spiritual but not superstitious, but I find it negates the spiritual to say one isn't religious in any way whatsoever.
So I would describe myself as spiritual and religious, or spiritually religious, or religiously spiritual, since spiritual but not religious is like saying one is alive but not breathing, or on a journey but going nowhere.
© 2016 Stephen Carl