Church / Culture / Ideas / Theology / January 13, 2012

Religion: Why’s Everybody Always Picking on Me?

Words mean something. Sometimes words mean a range of things. And when a word means various somethings, one cannot just ignore or eradicate some of those meanings. On occasion culture will eradicate or alter the meaning of words, but that isn’t something that we choose to agree upon. It simply happens over time until it is the truly common understanding of the word. (e.g. “Awful” used to mean something akin to “awesome”, not something akin to “terrible.”)

One word that has not reached this point of common understanding, not even remotely close in fact, is the word “religion.”

What is religion? A commonly held set of beliefs? A commonly held set of moral expectations or obligations? A set of customs or rituals based around those beliefs? Some combination of these?

The one thing we can be certain of is that it is a nebulous word loaded with significance and cannot be discarded easily. It is a word held dear by many for wrong reasons and held dear by many for right reasons and discarded by many for . . . what kind of reasons?

People discard religion because of, most often, the people who hold religion dear for the wrong reasons – those who come off as judgmental, legalist, joyless, or useless. But isn’t it better to make clear that their reasons are wrong or their understanding of what makes up religion is wrong but that religion itself is not wrong?

Religion can be just right. It can be the right set of beliefs leading to a freeing set of moral obligations and expectations supported by a beautiful set of customs and rituals. Christianity is absolutely religious in this way. To throw out religion because people do it wrong is like throwing out restaurants because you visited a White Castle.

If we can’t agree on what religion is, then rather than discarding it outright based on a controversial definition, we must simply be careful to explain and define what kindof religion we are for or against. Throwing it out is not the answer at all. 


Jan 13, 2012

Well done. Thanks for pointing out the importance of being wise in our choice of words. Good stuff.

Jan 13, 2012

I remember hearing the catchphrase that “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship”, but now I’m starting to think that what sets Christianity apart from all other religions is that the religion *is* a relationship. Thanks for the food for thought!

Jan 13, 2012

I think that idea of “setting Christianity apart” is a really helpful one. As a Christian, I do, absolutely, think that it is different than all other religions and the relationship with Jesus is the key part of that.

Jan 17, 2012

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Jan 17, 2012

As Christians, we don’t serve or follow a “Religion,” we serve and follow Jesus. We ought not to get hung up over the semantics of words like “religion.” What so many of us Christians fail acknowledge is that all world religions proclaim their own version of the truth, their own message of tolerance and acceptance…and at the end of the day, their own version of a works based, earn your way to heaven points system. The LOST, like us all at one time, are searching for TRUTH. This poem [] serves to make a clear distinction that who Jesus is, and what he’s done for us, is so much bigger than the liturgical customs and traditions that so many have made it out to be; a man-made ritualistic routine seeking to earn our way into Heaven. If this notion does not sit well with many Christians, they should know that this is how the secular world views the church. Like many words change and morph over time, the word itself “religion” (I think) has changed to various implications depending on where your faith or lack there of falls. For many Christ followers, the word “religion” has a positive and comforting association. For non-believers, and those jaded by the church, the word “religion” has a completely opposite effect.

Barnabas, I think you offer valuable insight that we must be careful to explain and define what kind of religion we are for or against. I have tended to error on the side of “Throwing it out altogether”, and as you point out, the is not necessarily the correct answer either.

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