1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe.
2. the body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices.
4. the practice of religious beliefs; ritual observance of faith, something one believes in and follows devotedly.
It’s a universal law of conversation; you can’t talk about politics or religion. Too inflammatory. Conversation about either erupts into argumentation and worse.
The word religion comes from O.Fr. religion meaning “religious community,” and from Latin religionem meaning “respect for what is sacred, reverence for the gods.”
Beyond the dictionary definitions and etymologies the word gets pretty slippery in meaning. Some users wave religion like a Confederate flag and others virtually hiss when they speak it. How can one word elicit such diverse responses?
Reactions depend on a person’s experience with “religion.” Some who’ve experienced hate speech from an unloving, sectarian church might say that religion is divisive, hateful, and destructive.
But the lepers of Molokai, Hawaii who were literally touched by Father Damien saw what happens when a person is transformed by the message s/he declares. Father Damien eventually lost his life to leprosy because he decided to fully enter the lives of the lepers he served despite the cost.
When looked at through the lens of Jesus’ message, it is apparent that contemporary definitions of religion are inadequate, even antithetical, to the ideals that Jesus proposed. Jesus did not come to create an institution but rather a community. He did not come to make us feel self-righteous and exclusive but rather to recognize the universal brokenness of humans and our resulting need for grace.
When a person experiences grace, s/he knows that something other than religion has been experienced, and it is altogether attractive.