I have a lot of disdain for this distinction. While it may not be inherently wrong — it may even useful, in some cases, theoretically — it still gives me a negative first impression of any who uses it to the tune of “I’m spiritual, but not religious,” because I assume their intended meaning is relying on a distinction between “spiritual” and “religious” that goes something like this…
And, from my cranky and cynical point of view, that just looks to me like some lazy way for people to cling to the “enlightened”, mysterious, cryptic associations of spirituality without the heavy commitment of religion and all its tainted associations, which makes sense only as far as they view spirituality and religion like this:
Presumably, they acknowledge an ideological position which is both religious and spiritual, and they acknowledge an ideological position which is spiritual but not religious (and, I assume, also an ideological position which is religious but not spiritual — otherwise, the diagram would have to remove all of the Religion circle except for where it overlaps with Spirituality).
Whereas, to me, it’s more like this:
That is, I don’t see nonreligious spirituality as something that even exists, because I bracket all conceivable spirituality under the wider umbrella of religion.
Which is largely an inconsequential matter, except I can’t figure out what the reasoning for the other perspective would be, unless the paradigm of those who use the phrase “spiritual but not religious” comes from a school of thought that — although it doesn’t take issue with (and in fact shares in) spiritual metaphysics — regards “religion” (as an umbrella term — describing all conceivable religious thought, not just specific disastrous religions you take issue with) as being categorically disagreeable, in some sense.
That, or they’re spiritual atheists who think religious = theistic. [Fact of the day: nontheistic religions exist. Stop acting like theism is the only facet of religion.]
Anyway, if you don’t have a problem with spiritual beliefs (however that’s defined), I’m suspicious of what you could possibly have against religion that isn’t merely arbitrary. So while I can’t claim to know anyone’s intentions, “spiritual but not religious” just sounds to me like it means “Yeah, I believe in spiritual things, but, you know, without all that unpleasant stuff”.
It’s kind of a double-hitting ideological disagreement in that I don’t even believe in the whole categorization system they’re using to describe themselves in the first place (and this stands in contrast with someone calling themselves an atheist, for example, since I think the atheist/monotheist/polytheist categorization system is one that makes sense, at least), but it’s also personally alienating because, if we have to use this dichotomy, then — like Kathryn, I feel closer to what you might call “religious, but not spiritual”.
With that said, I empathize with the discomfort in calling oneself religious. But that’s partly because I’ve thought about it long enough to begin taking some issue with religion-as-a-conceptual-category, and as a result I’ve come to a personal definition of religion that’s much broader than what most people are willing to recognize. More on that another time, perhaps.