We try to make sense of life. Why?
Because we are afraid of death. Seeing something dead and lifeless looks to us as the definitive end of our existence. That is pretty scary to most people. We like knowing we exist. We are afraid of not existing.
Most religion has evolved from the fear of the unknown, so it offers an idea or belief that there is something more after death, such as heaven. We adopt these beliefs, so they take the edge off the unknown - so, since I don't know for sure what will happen, I'll choose to believe in a hereafter. A belief for relief.
So, religions are a belief we adopt to give us hope for continued existence after the body dies.
Of course, this became complicated. Depending on where you lived, you may have had a different version than someone in the adjacent country. This made us protective of our already adopted beliefs. Once we solidified our view, we wanted to own it. That is the nature of ego - to hold and defend our knowledge and opinions.
The rest of the story we know. It still plays out today - people disliking or even hating others because their beliefs differ from ours. This has led to centuries of prejudice, hatred, and war.
Now, that doesn't mean religion hasn't had any merit. It has. It has given people hope and purpose in life, a direction, and a home base. Religion has taught charity and compassion for the poor. It has laid down moral codes and has introduced "Love thy neighbor" (okay, so we fell down on this last one pretty severely).
My spiritual master, Parthasarthi, had said, "It is good to be born in a religion but not so good to die in one."
What does that mean? It means beliefs become restrictive. They start to harden us, our opinions and temperament. As a result, we become less accepting and sometimes intolerant of the ideas of others.
So, ideally, we should evolve ourselves, taking the best of religion but broadening its scope to embrace all people. This is the beginning of Spirituality.
We now need to let go of our "ownership" of God. Even though our "belief" says there is only one God, somehow, we got stuck thinking that that one God is only ours. This is a ridiculous situation. How can everyone say there is one God but believe it's not the same one as the other persons?
This is where Spirituality shines. The spiritual life recognizes the nameless, formless Source of creation without trying to define it and put it in a box. Instead of putting God outside ourselves, we recognize it as the Source of life within all things. The Source is within.
This is a giant leap forward. Love, tolerance, acceptance, and respect for all living things become an integral "field" in our life.
So when God is outside us - religion divides. When God is inside us - Spirituality unites.
But is that it? Do we go yet further? Of course, we will - only if we don't allow the spiritual to become solidified. Our definition of God may become very different than the word implies today. Our understanding of ourselves, our place in this wondrous universe, and how we evolve our future may depend on us keeping a child's innocent wonder and inquiry.
This was a human and endearing quality of Einstein - he never let science erase his sense of wonder and awe–that we even exist to speak about the universe.