Define Your Terms

Lots of discussion and disagreement these days about mixing religion and culture.

My question: What do you mean by “religion”?

As a teacher I wanted students to understand the importance of clear definitions. It’s tough to have any sort of discussion until we agree on the meaning of important words. Whenever someone says they’re “not religious” I think it’s time for us to define our terms.

A wise mentor once explained religion like this:

We’re all engaged in a two-way interaction with God. In simplest terms, we call God’s side of the conversation “revelation.” Our side of the conversation, how we respond, is our religion.

By this definition, everyone has some sort of religion. Everyone responds, even if it’s a decisive “No.”

For many folks, “religion” means some sort of organized, hierarchical system with judgements and lists of rules. Especially in the U.S., this popular perception is too frequently intertwined with party politics and particular political outcomes.

The bible offers a radically different description: Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Each of us is free to choose how we’ll respond to God’s voice. Passing the decision to someone else, like a church or a pastor, doesn’t alter that fact. You and I are responsible for our own religion.

I’m absolutely not a fan of the popular version of organized religiosity. I want nothing to do with a brand of religion that involves authority, fear, and getting results through systemic power and control.

My religion is to do my best to follow Jesus of Nazareth.

Scroll to top