In "Christian" America, that fabled time in the days of yore when everyone was a Christian, people were first religious, and then some or many of those religious people became spiritual. In "post-Christian" America, the current age, in greater numbers people are spiritual first, and then some of them are becoming religious.
What's the difference? I mean, aren't spiritual and religious just two words that mean the same thing? Well, it depends on who is defining them. Here’s my crack at it:
A religious person associates or affiliates with a religious group and, to some extent, adopts their practices, belief systems (actually or theoretically), and name. The extent to which the person adopts the practices, beliefs and name of the groups determines how religious they are. A good Catholic goes to mass, listens to the Pope, follows the church teachings and is not afraid to be called a Catholic.
A spiritual person experiences, senses, and/or connects with the non-material or metaphysical world. Typically they believe in God or a god or some transcending power. A spiritual person is likely to respond to beauty by making mental or emotional connections between the beauty and the spiritual world. A spiritual person is humbled by their own smallness in comparison to the universe and their perceptions of the spiritual world.
For a religious person, there is nothing necessarily or inherently transcendent about life apart from the religious practice. A religious person can spend his or her whole lives being religious without ever being spiritual. The Pharisees of the New Testament are an example of extremely religious people who were not spiritual. Exceptions might be Joseph of Arimathea, Gamaliel, and Nicodemus.
For a spiritual person, there is nothing necessarily or inherently useful in planned, choreographed, and rehearsed corporate acts. A spiritual person can spend his or her whole life being spiritual without ever being religious. "New Age" people might fit into this description.
At one time, when "everyone" in America went to church, the goal was to find a way to get these religious people more spiritual. Now, I believe that I am overly optimistic in saying what I just said because I really think that many religious types believed that if a person was religious (church 3 times a week, baptized, took communion, didn't cuss, smoke, drink or dance), that was all that needed to be done. But either way, religion came first and spirituality was some kind of bonus or extra if it were considered at all.
Now days (and probably in the next couple decades), people are frequently spiritual, but not religious. There exists a depth and appreciation for the divine in some perhaps vague, but certainly meaningful way.When a religious person meets a spiritual person, this situation can turn adversarial quick when religion is pitted against spirituality. It is very tempting for the religious person to discount, demean, or even mock the spirituality of the spiritual person merely for the fact that it is not contained in religion. On the other hand, the spiritual person may be tempted to respond in similarly unhelpful ways to the religious person.
What is needed is spiritual people who are religious and religious people who are spiritual. Neither is better than the other. Think about it this way: would you rather be a Pharisee or a New Ager? Would you rather know the name of God and use it to oppress people, or worship anything that seems kind of goddish?We need large doses of both. We need personal connection with the divine and we need a community of faith that has an identity. There is value in personal appreciation and there is value in corporate ritual. There is value in freedom and there is value in tradition.
What we do not need is for religious people to be against spiritual people. We do not need to determine which came first or which is most important. How can you be pro chicken and anti egg? Let's be pro chicken from egg to KFC. Religious people need to meet the spiritual where they are at. Make friends with them. Be there for them. Call on them when you need help. Learn from them. Appreciate their spirituality and connection to things divine. The goal is not to get them to shed their spirituality and become religious, but rather to be good news to them, love them, care for them, and make that relationship with them be the defining mark of your religion.