When you label something you are just picking out a trait they have in common. It is a useful and essential thing to do. You don't move to a new house by putting everything into one big box; and you don't try and talk about the world without talking about generalized groups of people. Dismissing the attempt is an overreaction to people who don't know much about it and generalize too much.
No. There is a difference, or at least a useful distinction which can and should be made, between a label
and a concept
That followers of one religious orthodoxy or another 'label' themselves, as well as being 'labelled' by others, does not affect the concept of label: people may be labelled involuntarily (as in prejudice or stigma) or voluntarily (as in a religion or other grouping for solidarity). The 'box' in which they live is not a concept applied from an external point of view in order to make sense of a phenomenon from outside it, nor is the 'label' on that box a term which denotes such a concept. From the believer's point of view, the 'box' is more like a house or dwelling, and the 'label' is, I suppose, like an address. For members of stigmatised groups, on the other hand, the 'box' might be like a ghetto or prison or dungeon, and the 'label' like a brand or, literally, a stigma (whereas the 'label' on the 'box' of a religion is more of a shibboleth).
There is often an element of irrationality in labelling, but this is not essential to the concept. What is
essential to it is intentionality: a person labelling another person or group is intent upon keeping that person or group inside the box with that label, and the person or group labelling themselves is intent upon remaining inside the box with that label, as if it were a house or dwelling having that label as its address.
I have just got up after far too little sleep, and I am not making this as clear and simple as it should be. Anyway, the point of making the distinction is that I was
claiming that SBNR, like atheism, is a concept, but not a label (a label is always a concept, albeit one of a peculiar kind, whereas a concept is not always a label); however, I came to see, or at least to suspect, that it is indeed a label (a voluntary one).
If you are going to conflate the concept of a label with the concept of a concept, we are not even going to be able to agree on what it is we are agreeing on!
---------- Post added 06-07-2010 at 10:13 AM ----------
I think then, that "spiritual but not religious" is a kind of self made religion. Many people who describe themselves that way (and actually, many westerners who have gone for buddhism) do so because of a dislike for some parts of the judeo-christian outlook.
All of that may be true, and probably is true, as far as it goes; but merely disliking some parts of some existing religion does not make a person spiritual. This is of course obvious, because most atheists, whether they are spiritual or not, dislike large parts of all existing religions. But it is worth pointing out, because on the face of it, you are saying that this dislike is, of itself, enough to make a person SBNR. What do you actually think is a sufficient condition for being SBNR (on top of this necessary one)? Is it that you think that someone who is SBNR must have belonged to some existing religion in the first place, but parted company with it because of some disagreement? Even if that were so, it would not explain the difference between the atheist former believer in religious orthodoxy and the SBNR former believer in religious orthodoxy. But in any case, it's not true; I hope my own example will suffice, as I was never in any organised religion, but I am pretty much happy to identify as SBNR.
(Come to think of it, I'm also LGBT, which I suppose makes me LGBTSBNR. How New Age, how trendy, can you get? And yet I'm a stuffy, unattractive, boring, old, bald bloke in a sports jacket like his Dad used to wear! ... Note to self: must stop editing this article!)
---------- Post added 06-07-2010 at 10:48 AM ----------
I'm not sure we are debating whether it is meaningful. We are talking about what "spiritual but not religious" means. We are talking about in what way it is meaningful.
If I may say so, that's just quibbling. It is meaningful, and sometimes necessary, to affirm that the distinction in question is meaningful. Your quibbling might be justified if you were about to introduce some clarification, but instead ... here goes some quibbling of my own ...
I'm suggesting that the biggest difference involves whether the person accepts certain parts of the Christian type tradition, or takes ideas that they like from various other sources. I think saying that is more meaningful than saying that spiritual is different from religious.
That's not at all clear, at least not to me. (1) Are you suggesting that to be religious means to be Christian? Surely not. But why are
you specifically mentioning Christianity in this context? That's one thing that's not clear. (2) There is no mutual exclusivity between "[accepting] certain parts of the Christian type tradition" and on the other hand, "[taking] ideas that they like from various other sources"; so what distinction are
you trying to set up here? (3) By using the apparently redundant phrase "that they like", are you suggesting that a lack of critical thought is involved? If not, then what is the function of this phrase? (4) There was a (4), but I'm getting so tangled up in my own quibbling that I have forgotten what it was! I think it may perhaps have been the objection that surely there is more to being religious, and specifically to being Christian (because you have mentioned it), than "[accepting] certain parts of the Christian type tradition".
So I can't see that you have defined either of the two terms which you are trying to distinguish from one another. Is this perhaps because in some important sense you do not believe the distinction to be a real one, and you are struggling to imagine what kind of reality it might
have in another person's mind, and not succeeding? That would not be unreasonable of you, and I apologise if I am quibbling too much, and more than you did!