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In essence, people often mistake a symbol with its referent - the thing the symbol stands for. Spirituality is a "thing", intangible as it may be; it's the ostensible goal of religion. But religion -- any religion -- is only a symbol for spirituality, a picture of a tree rather than the tree itself; a map rather than the landscape.

I think this is where lots of people get lost. They get raised in a religion and learn enough of the accepted doctrine to pass whatever tests are required. They never question their beliefs and never search for anything beneath the formalities. The religious part of their lives becomes a check list. Went to church (temple, shrine, etc.) on holy day. Check. Performed appropriate religious rite for special occasion (marriage, new baby, etc.). Check. Gave appropriate amount of financial (or other) support. Check.

This isn't to say that someone can't truly believe in an organized religion, but, in order to embrace a religion, you have to live with a little turmoil. You have to really examine the beliefs and try living them. You have to be willing to be wrong. You have to be open to new ideas and the reality that, by stepping into a new place to examine things, you will never return to the same place again. You may go on to a place where you have stronger beliefs and a better understanding of the religion, or you may lose your beliefs entirely.

I don't think that most people ever reach that questioning stage. The price for daring to be different from their communities is too high for them to contemplate the alternatives. The ones that do find out that it's scary, and a lot of them turn back and just pretend to go along with the religion of their family and friends. It's the safest and easiest answer.

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