What does it mean to be religious? This is a question that I’ve asked many people over the years, invariably I’ve received many differing explanations to this term. I ask this question because quite often I hear religion presented as something that is undesirable and to be avoided at all costs.
One of the first topics discussed in Christian Theology is “The Nature of Religion.” Why? According to Albrecht Ritschl “religion is a matter of moral judgments” and here may be the problem that despisers of religion may have with it. Millard J. Erickson writes “Religion is actually all of these—belief or doctrine, feeling or attitudes, and a way of life or manner of behaving.” This is Christianity in a nutshell. So, again, I continue to be perplexed as to why so much shade is given to the religious.
What does it mean to be Religious?
The Strong’s Hebrew and Greek dictionaries define Religious as:
G4576 (sebomai) – to revere, that is, adore: - devout, religious, worship
G2357 (thrēskos) - ceremonious in worship (as demonstrative), that is, pious: - religious.
Thayer further defines thrēskos as: 1) fearing or worshipping God, 2) to tremble or 2a) trembling, fearful.
Based on these definitions I fail to find the issue with being “Religious”. Recently I inquired of some students regarding religion and specifically the term religious and why it was so objectionable to be religious. The response that I received essentially equated religiousness to “tradition” and that alluded that tradition also was something to be avoided.
What’s the problem with tradition?
The word tradition from the Greek word paradosis (G3860) meaning; transmission, that is, (concretely) a precept; specifically the Jewish traditionary law: - ordinance, tradition.
Thayer further defines tradition as: 2) a giving over which is done by word of mouth or in writing, i.e. tradition by instruction, narrative, precept, etc., 2a) objectively, that which is delivered, the substance of a teaching, and 2b) of the body of precepts, especially ritual, which in the opinion of the later Jews were orally delivered by Moses and orally transmitted in unbroken succession to subsequent generations, which precepts, both illustrating and expanding the written law, as they did were to be obeyed with equal reverence
To be fair, tradition itself is not the problem, the problem is from whom you have received the tradition in-which you follow and submit to. The Bible refers to at least four traditions, tradition of the Elders; tradition of the Apostles; tradition of men, and the tradition of fathers. Then there is the oral tradition which was how knowledge and information was passed down through speech from one generation to the next.
When one argues against tradition which tradition is being argued against?
Then there is the issue of “relationship”. You know the saying, “I’m not religious, I have a relationship.” What exactly does this mean? Based on the definitions that I’ve entered for religious, what you are saying is “I’m not reverent, I’m not devout, I don’t worship, I’m not pious, I don’t fear God, I don’t follow God’s law or Word.” How then can you have a relationship with God and are an unorthodox believer?
Are we to be religious or not?