Saturday, 11 February 2012

Has "Religion" Become A Dirty Word?

Photo Credit: Russell Shaw Higgs
Has the word “religion” gotten a bad rap lately? I confess that, like many others, I’ve often used the word in a rather negative fashion. However, in reading Christian authors from previous generations, such as Charles Haddon Spurgeon and C.S. Lewis and a host of others, it seems that the way they used the word “religion” was vastly different than the way many of us have begun to use the word today. Has the meaning of the word “religion” morphed into something different between their generations and ours today?

Has "Religion" become a sort of spiritual dirty word?

For many of those old timers of yesteryear, I get the sense that the word “religion” was not a negative word but rather simply an innocent way to speak of one’s faith. For them it was not only a word used to describe people of other faiths, but used equally to describe people of the Christian faith. Were they wrong in their understanding and use of the word “religion?” No, not necessarily. Their use of the word was consistent with the dictionary definition.

My dictionary defines “religion” as: 1. belief in or worship of God or gods; 2. a particular system of religious belief and worship; 3. a matter of conscience.” If we use that definition, then all Christians are “religious.” So what is the problem?

The problem is that for many today, the word “religion” seems to have been redefined, or is in the process of being redefined, to mean something different than it once meant. If there were a new dictionary definition, it might read something like 1. rules or rituals pertaining to faith as carried out in an institutional environment; 2. the way of trying to earn the approval of a deity.” The word “religion” does seem to be evolving.

Photo Credit: Marie-ll
Who hasn't heard the term, "Elizabethan English?" Likewise, who hasn't read the Bible in the King James Version (KJV) and wondered at the meaning of certain archaic words? The point is, anyone with even a cursory knowledge of linguistics will have to agree that language and word use does evolve. 

Original definitions of words, while maybe still valid, do sometimes fall by the wayside as new definitions become more and more prevalent. While these new definitions often have their genesis in slang terminology, eventually the slang usage seems to become the norm. By way of example, consider the word “gay.” What it once meant versus the way it is understood today are two very different things. Its original definition, “happy and full of fun,” is still valid, but it is seldom used that way today. The slang use to denote a homosexual seems to have become the new accepted norm.

I cannot help but wonder if the same sort of thing hasn't happened to the word "religion." Perhaps it has simply morphed into something different. Perhaps, like with so many other words today, we need to spend more time explaining what we mean by the words that we use, and especially so if we want to make certain that we are not misunderstood.

It’s time for you to weigh in. I’d love to hear your take on this.
  • Has the word “religion” gotten a bad rap?
  • Has the word “religion” become a sort of spiritual dirty word?
  • What is your definition of the word "religion?"
  • Has something else happened to change the way the word “religion” is understood by many in today’s church?


  1. I think you are right. “Religion” has morphed into something else. That is why many evangelists, like me, speak more of the “relationship” with Christ as opposed to the “religion” of Christianity. It distinguishes our God from all other gods in that, while faith/belief in Jesus is the key to entrance into Heaven, it is a relationship with Him that is proof of that faith/belief.

    Similarly the word “tolerance” seems to have morphed. It used to be that “tolerance” meant we would “put up” with another person’s idiosyncrasies and ideas in spite of the fact that they may grate on our very being. Today we are deemed “intolerant” if we do not promote the expressions of, or otherwise accept, someone else’s point of view in spite of how vastly different it is from our own. Accusations of bigotry soon follow.

  2. Hi, stumbled across your blog today. I'll have to follow. Well I'll follow your blog in a sense, but I won't follow you. I only have one Shepherd. :)

    Yes, how we define Religion changes how we use the term. I enjoyed "End Of Religion" by Bruxy Cavey (another fellow Canadian eh?).
    I did a bit of a post here:

    If religion is a system of beliefs and the institutions that maintain them... we'll I'm not sure if Jesus was into that type of religion. However if religion is about caring for those in need as James 1:27 speaks of, then sure lets embrace it.

    1. Good to know you only have one Shepherd, Jonathan. Me too :)

      Thanks for the visit and the comment. I appreciate it.