Religion happens in communities; spirituality occurs in individuals.
Obnoxious speculation: There is no “spiritual, but not religious.” In such cases, the spiritual nonbeliever is simply unaware that they belong to a religious community, because the community anthropologically sees religion as the irrational faith systems that other people — uncivilized primitives and savages — believe.
Human beings cannot bear to be alone in their faith. We must share faith with others, or we suffer a kind of spiritual solitary confinement. Even the toughest individualist battle-hardened soldiers crack in solitary confinement.
Further that faith must invest existence with meaning. It must provide a sustaining why and life-shaping oughts, or indifference and depressed nihilism (as opposed to a nihilism of joyous destruction) will result.
The faith need not affirm any supernatural being to be a faith, if by “supernatural” we mean magical. But it must affirm reality beyond the individual’s comprehension* — it must have a transcendent vector, whether it is a transcendence of future knowledge, of experiences others have or will have that are inaccessible to us in this time, place or state, or of some Kantian/OOO in-itself noumena.
My assertion is that where our shared sense of transcendence is, there our religion is. We can call that transcendence God, or we can call it by some other name, Tao, Ein Sof, the Absolute, Ultimate Reality — but there must be some cleft between what we know and what really is on the other side of knowledge, lest we succumb to solipsism.**
The salient question is how effective the religion is in providing why and ought, not whether the religion exists or not. For most secular folks, scientific truths and future scientific discoveries perform the religious function — the foundational ethics and metaphysics upon which life is erected. Even when metaphysics are rejected in theory, in practice, physics still underpins and serves as the ground of all other truths. This is entirely legitimate, as is an unavoidable impulse to privilege this mode of description. I just happen to see this very privileging as religion caught in the act, not as any overcoming of religion. It is a good thing, made even better with self-awareness of itself.
- Note: Ambiguity in our use of the concept of truth, might be a function of whether we treat the word truth as “truth as we know it now” or truth as the asymptotic ideal of knowledge as it conforms ever closer with to reality. Pragmatists reject not only the possibility of truth finally conforming to reality, but that there even is such a point of approach. The purpose of truth is not exclusively, and perhaps not even primarily, to mentally duplicate or model reality.
** Note: We should not, however, say with Bertrand Russell, “I have no need for that hypothesis.” It is a category mistake to call God a hypothesis. God is a designation for that which transcends but involves us, and unless one is a solipsist, this is no hypothesis, but a fundamental orientation. If I were not in a community of faith with my family within the Jewish tradition, I would choose a different word with fewer misleading connotations. But the name God links me to numerous people who share some, but not most of my basic conceptions. When I say “God” with them, and worship God with them, in the most important, most truth-transcending, ultimate sense, I mean exactly what they mean.
I share faith with many people with whom I share few beliefs.