Religious

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In parts of the U.S. where the role of Christendom is waning (the Pacific Northwest, parts of the West Coast, New England, to name a few), the term “religious” is the most prevalent moniker attached to those who still profess faith in something. If a person’s mother goes to church and follows Jesus, the daughter or son might refer to her as “religious.”

We get this a lot. Just yesterday, a friend who recently returned from a cross-country bike trip wrote this to me in an e-mail:

The bike trip was absolutely amazing!  We met so many kind,
interesting people.  We ended up staying with a lot of religious people
which was really interesting.  It was nice to meet more people like
you who are religious, but in the best way- kind and caring and
thoughtful.  So many people invited us into their homes, churches,
motor homes, etc.  haha.

I was flattered by her assertion that I was “religious — but in the best way.”  And I get what she means.  But here’s the problem: I don’t consider myself religious.  In fact, I see religion as a pretty big problem.  In many (most?) cases, religion is often what hinders people experiencing the divine.  That’s why I could sit through a movie like “Religulous” and nod in agreement almost all the way through.  I recognize how the sincere spiritual movements of men and women (though mostly men) to experience the divine down through the ages have been co-opted by men and women (though mostly men) who would rather control than connect.  And thus you have the major “world religions.”

Am I way off-base here?  How do we extend understanding toward those who mistake us for being “religious” while communicating the truth about religion and who we really are?

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5 responses to this post.

  1. “Religion” and “religious” are notoriously difficult to define. But growing up as an evangelical, it was made clear to me that religion (and any other form of that word) was essentially a trap from Satan (I think they were trying to convince me implicitly that Catholicism and mainstream Christianity were evil).

    More recently, however, the term “religious” has been growing on me. It’s less definite than “religion” and seems like a decent way to connect me to others who think similarly. To me, being “religious” has to do with an internal yearning for the eternal and transcendent. It seems to me that “religious” can serve as a point of connection between people of different “religions”—we’re all looking for essentially the same thing, right?

    Reply

  2. Its a good question and one that I have wrestled with myself. I’m not even sure that the distinction you are making is one that non-believers can appreciate.

    Reply

  3. Change made! Glad to send people this way.

    Reply

  4. If there’s one connotation of being religious that I like it’s that people know you’re devoted & faithful. That you’re consistent; that your faith is meted out in some form of disciplined action.

    There’s always going to be a bad connotation. That word seems to be a favored word among those who mock faith. “Oh, you got religion?” “You’re a religious person, huh?”

    As far as how we communicate ourselves more clearly to others, I think it appears you already did it. People will know you by your fruit, and it appears they liked the taste you gave them. So great job!

    Reply

  5. I don’t think you are off base at all. The study of religion typically separates religion from spirituality and examines them independently. “Religious” is generally measured by operationally defining it as various behaviors which are suggestive of religiosity (e.g., church attendance). Spirituality, on the other hand, tends to be viewed more as a set of attitudes and beliefs about one’s place in the world, transcendence, etc. Thus, you can find religious people who are not spiritual and spiritual people who are not religious.

    Probably the simplest way to think about it would be to view religiosity as the sum of one’s participation in religious practices and rituals while spirituality is more about what one believes.

    Reply

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