Are you religious?

What do you think of when you think of the word “religious?” If you’re like me, you probably have a bit of a semantics crisis when a non-evangelical asks you if you are religious. Let me explain. Growing up in a charismatic church, the word “religious” had a very negative connotation. A person thought to be “religious” was a person thought to be “old-fashioned, legalistic, not open to the manifestations of the Holy Spirit.” Growing up with this definition of the word, it was rather strange for me when I finally went to a public high school at the age of 15 and met people who did not grow up understanding my religious lingo. When people would ask me if I was religious, I had to stop and think about it. Given the fact that I was very outwardly religious in the beginning (yes, I was the one who carried a Bible around and wore Christian t-shirts, I did mellow out after a while though), I am certain that it probably never occured to those who asked if I was religious that in my own context, the word “religious” was an insult.

Having had 10 years to sort through my identity crisis, I now ask the question: Why should the word “religious” be an insult? After all, didn’t the Apostle James say “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”

If we take James’ criteria seriously, it takes a significantly moral life to be able to claim that one is religious. Why should the word “religious” have to mean self-righteous and legalistic? I think objections to this term within American evangelicalsim are far more cultural than Biblical. If the word religious or religion means compassion for the poor and an upright life, I hope to God that I get more religious in the years to come. Shouldn’t we all?

Posted on December 15, 2006, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. James speaks of “pure and undefiled religion before God” which is something to aim for, but when people ask you if you are religious, they are normally speaking of tainted and jaded religion before men, so you react accordingly. Unfortunately “religion” is one of many words that has been hijacked and has a lesser meaning than it should.

  2. yeah, i can relate to not knowing quite what to say regarding the “are you religious” question. if james had to clarify what religion really was back in bible times, it makes me think that the uncertain meaning of the word isn’t just a current issue. consider the pharisees. weren’t they religious? the thing with the word religion that it refers to beliefs as well as ritualistic practices, the latter of which can sometimes turn people off. no?

  3. I think you both have made good points on this issue. It is unfortunate that word “religious” is equated with ritual and works-righteousness. I personally think that we Christians need to redeem the word by living a life of compassion and holiness.

  4. Unfortunately, in the post-modern world religious means anyone who adheres to and applies Scripture.

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