Sunday, March 24, 2013

Am I Religious Or Not: And the inconsistency of words

As a writer, I know the importance of words. If I don’t choose just the right one in a sentence, the meaning can fall flat and useless to the reader. dictionary

However, the problem with some words is that they may have: more than one meaning; a different meaning to different groups …


… that word may be in the midst of cataclysmic transformation and I am just not hip to the change.


So describes the problem I currently have with the word “religion” and its—evidently wickedstep-sister, “religious.”

According to Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, religion is defined as: A service and worship of God or the supernatural; Commitment or devotion of religious faith or observance. Religious is defined as: Relating to or manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity.

Being that I have a great desire to reverence the God of the Bible, I’m thinkin’ I’m religious.

gaspAll right, this dictionary was published in 1990, but I hadn’t realized how outdated it was until my descriptions of myself—as religious—met with gasps, and well-known Christian speakers and writers were eschewing the term as distasteful.

What am I missing here?

If we go by the above-mentioned definitions, these terms do not describe the essence of who I am as a Christian, only that my faith is important to me. By itself, it could also describe a Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or Wiccan. At the worst, the term is vague—so sue me! I had no desire to suggest I wasn’t the wretched sinner I am. I only meant to begin a discussion in a way the average person could understand.

However, I’ve since discovered, some Christians use a new definition of the word religion. It now includes the idea that religion requires its members to follow a set of rules in order to attain righteousness. It seems to have been an acquiescence  to the way non-believers have used the word as an insult to those who seek to live within a certain standard (notice I said seek to).

“Oh, you’re religious, aren’t you?” they hurl with a sneer. One can assume the hurler is being defensive in the event the religious person’s standard might be used as a weapon of judgment. And, unfortunately, it might be …

Or …

… it might not. It cannot be assumed by the word alone.

However, though adherence to law for righteousness was not mentioned as a must in my decades-old Webster, I now know why my use of the term met with 1) gasps, 2) plodding away in haste, and 3) fingers made into crosses displayed before me. But—gee whiz!—I didn’t mean to offend anyone, or suggest I was better than they!!!

I am comforted to know, at least, that C.S. Lewis, in his greatest work, Mere Christianity, also pointed out the inconsistency of words, and the role it played in matters of faith. He begins this iconic work describing how the word, Christian, is defined differently among various groups of believers. He likens it to the word gentleman—which once meant land-owner, but now describes a man who is well-behaved—and how the perversion of the term will eventually lead to its uselessness. Thus, the need to define what is, in his words, Mere CCB060658hristianity.

So, why do I have my yoga pants in a bunch? Because my fear is the new aversion to this word could lead to the very thing it was meant to guard against—self-righteousness.

The new definition of religion (and thusly, religious) was created to distinguish Christianity—being saved by Grace—with religions where zealots earn righteousness through works. It is meant to communicate to those who are quick to see Christians as judgmental, that we are really (supposed to be) humble in our sinfulness, knowing we can only be saved through Christ.

However, the continual correcting of the use of the word can promote another kind of self-righteousness—an I’m-a-more-relevant-Christian-than-you-are self-righteousness—creating further division where no more is needed.

Now we have the old-lingo Christians in this corner, the new-lingo ones in that. And way off to the side, are those who just strive to honor God with their lives without regard to lingo whatsoever.

I’m hangin’ with those folks.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the need to distinguish my faith with those requiring works. In fact, the people who’ve stressed this new definition surpass me in evangelism, knowledge and wisdom by far. Who am I to correct them? I don’t mean to put this idea down. It can be useful in elucidating the fine points of what makes Christianity unique. However, I caution you, do not use it in ways that may shut down a conversation with a person you just made feel stupid, because someone decided to refine the definitions without alerting the general population.

So, to answer the original question of “am I religious or not?” I really don’t know. I guess it would depend on who you ask and maybe even, when you ask it.

Don’t you just love words? Sometimes actions really do speak louder.


headshot1Connie is a 2012 Genesis semi-finalist for Women’s Fiction. She was awarded an Honorable Mention in the Winter 2012 WOW Flash Fiction Contest for her entry, Why Not to Kiss on a Park Bench (aka. Harold and Violet). Come visit her on one of her other blogs:

Living the Body of Christ


Molly Noble Bull said...

Your words are always worthwhile, Connie. But as you know, the Lord's words are super powerful. The Bible says that the Sword of the Spirit is the Word of God.

Teresa Slack said...

I've never liked the word "religious" or the images it evokes. For me, it does nothing to illustrate the personal relationship I have with Jesus or my Heavenly Father. "Religion" reminds me of rules and rituals that have turned off millions of souls through the centuries. It's about a relationship, not a religion. I prefer to think of myself as born again. But maybe we're thinking too much & making it more difficult than it is. I'll have to think on this a while, Connie, and like you said, make sure my actions speak louder than my words ever can.