I'm Spiritual, not Religious
Ever been to a family gathering where you can talk about anything but religion or politics? Friendly discussions on religion or politics have resulted in serious damage to otherwise good relationships because they deal with who we want to be in charge of part of our lives and the lives of others. We elect politicians and choose religious people to tell us how to live our social and spiritual lives, and life is a lot easier when they tell us to do what we already want to do.
The problem with finding someone, acceptable to everyone, to be in charge of our lives is that, there isn't a politician or a religious leader who has the same values as everyone else. Obviously, that means that no matter who's in charge, some of us are going to be forced to do things that we don't want to do. For example, if we believe that it's wrong to fight in any war and the wrong politician gets into office, then we might be forced to fight in a war that we don't like. Similarly, if we believe that homosexual relationships are good and wholesome, we don't want our religious leaders telling us otherwise.
Political and religious discussions are becoming more and more polarizing. In particular, politics has become the perfect topic to separate friends. It is now so polarizing that hardly anyone agrees enough with anybody else to have a friendly conversation. In fact, it could be said that we are now at the point where we can't even agree to disagree because that would grant too much truth to the other side.
While discussions about religion can be less polarizing, they can still be very lively. They tend to be less outwardly confrontational than political discussions, however they still create an interior frustration that results in a "wonder" about how anyone could actually believe what they say they do.
Why can these discussions be so disruptive? Most of our political and religious differences stem from differences in our personal guiding principles. These principles help us decide what’s best for ourselves and, by extension, what's best for others. This can be a problem because what's best for ourselves, may not be the best for others and others may rightly say, "Don't tell me what's best for me, I'll decide that."
These guiding principles are so complex that if we were to design a political party or a religion that perfectly fit our world view, we would find ourselves in a party of one, or a faith of one. Because of our differences, we believe that all political parties and religious faiths (other than our own) have positions or beliefs that are hard, if not impossible, to defend.
Few people like defending difficult ideas so it's easy to understand why people affirm the ideas they understand and disassociate themselves from the ideas they don't. This is exactly why we are seeing a growing number of people consider themselves "politically independent" or "spiritual, but not religious." In both cases, it’s important to note that they have accepted at least some of the established political theory or theological moral base while rejecting the rest in favor of what they think is best.
In the case of the "Spiritual but not religious", this selective rejection of the established moral base is necessary (for them) because, while they don't want to offend God, they still want to do what they want to do, even though it may be an offense against God. In order to reconcile their desires against their fear of offending God, they have designed their own faith in such a way as to affirm the truths that they believe in and profess a different understanding of the truths that they don't like - with the goal of being able to do whatever they want to do, without offending God.
For example, for thousands of years, God has commanded that we set aside time, one day a week, to rest and worship Him. However, many who consider themselves a Jew or a Christian simply treat that day as any other day. That is, many choose to define “worship” in a way that doesn’t make that special day any different from any other day. They choose to worship God in a way that allows them to do what they want to do without offending Him (i.e. disobeying His Command).
When asked why they don’t set aside a day to worship God as others have done for thousands of years, those who are "spiritual" might answer like this, “If you want to worship God that way, then go ahead and do it, but I’m not a part of your religious tradition, I worship God in my own way, I’m spiritual, not religious.”
It’s clear that those who are “spiritual, but not religious” certainly believe that there is a God, however, it’s also clear that they believe that they are perfectly capable of determining what God wants and doesn't want - what offends God and what doesn't. Further, it’s also clear that they believe that as long as they obey God by doing what He wants, and avoiding what He doesn't (as they define it), that they will be assured of heaven.
This appears to be the best of all worlds for them because, since they have designed their faith in such a way that they would never do anything to offend God, they are able to do whatever they want and still go to heaven. However, on closer examination of their world, we can see that there's a problem with a facet of their faith. They say that they always obey God, but in fact they don't.
Notice that, when the "spiritual but not religious" don’t agree with something that God wants, they simply find a different understanding of what God "really wants" – an understanding that better agrees with their world view. It's true that they obey God when they agree with Him but, as it can be seen, when they don't agree with Him, they simply follow their own understanding of what God wants. They say that they always obey God, but in fact, they only obey themselves.