The comment came when I ran into someone I knew from church at a coffee shop. It came when I made the comment “we miss you.” With a subtle turn of phrase, the person affectively changed the conversation from one about broken relationships to a matter of taste and time management.
We only use the word “religion” when we are angry, or sarcastic, or being derisive. Best case scenario we use it to sound academic.
I’m not sure when the word came to take on such a negative connotation. Perhaps it was in the 60s and 70s when the religions of the East began to get some popular traction by selling themselves as alternative “spiritualities.” These days “religious” seems to mean “out of date” and “bigoted.” While “spiritual” seems to mean anything from transcendental meditation to sacred dances.
If you trade out the word religious out of the conversation, does the argument hold up? Let’s give it a try:
“I don’t really have time to be spiritual right now.”
It’s hard to imagine anyone short of a fictional Victorian scientist saying something like this. Even busy people recognize the value of yoga or prayer or other practices that acknowledge an unseen world. They might not do them, but they would acknowledge their need.
“I don’t really have time for friendships right now.”
Anyone who would say something like this would simultaneously have to deal with immense feelings of loneliness and despair.
The fact is, even if the person felt either of these two things, they wouldn’t say it. Instead, they use the term religion. It’s an easy way to avoid admitting that you have left behind a part of your life.
To be fair, I’m not a big fan of the word “religion” or being labeled “religious.” I try to alway push the conversation back to a desire to model my life after Jesus and my need to be a part of a community that does the same. However, if you mean by “religious” that I have a set of practices, both personal and communal, that arrange my life, you’re dead on. By the same standard any professional athlete or musician, whose life is organized by their field’s required practices, rehearsal, diets and performances, should be labeled religious.
I’ll even go as far as saying that I’m a big fan of organized religion. At least, in comparison to disorganized religion.
If you have left the church, or you’re thinking about it, don’t use semantics to justify your decision. Instead, wrestle with the fact that you are leaving behind the practices that can order your life well, and a framework for understanding life, death, and the path in between. You are leaving behind a community, friends and family.
It’s a lot more than “religion.”