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in: A Man's Life, Sunday Firesides

• Last updated: January 12, 2021

Sunday Firesides: You Are Religious

man crouching on rock and praying.

When asked if they are religious, many people today will say they’re not (often adding that they are, nevertheless, spiritual). 

This distinctly modern refutation of religiosity makes use of a distinctly modern, and altogether too limited, definition of the word.

Religion, as popularly understood today as an allegiance to certain beliefs, creeds, and institutions, did not come into English use until the 17th century.

Anciently, the root of the word was used differently, and may have arisen from the Latin for “to bind together.” Thus, religion might best be understood as whatever it is that connects us to the higher parts of existence, links us to community, ties us to greater meaning — keeps the pieces of our psyches, our souls, from flying apart.

You can create a liturgical rhythm in your calendar by observing holidays like Christmas and Easter . . . or the “high holy days” of Selection Sunday and Black Friday.

Purification may be sought through repentance . . . or a detox diet; penance may be paid by sitting in a pew . . . or running on a treadmill.

An excommunicable offense can be located in a doctrinal heresy, or a political defection.

You can deal with the future’s uncertainty by consulting the prophets of scripture, or the prognosticators of Twitter; make decisions by sending a query towards the heavens, or typing it into Google.

Instinctively responding to chimes signaling a call to prayer is a habit of devotion; so is instinctively responding to the ping of your phone. Tithing money to a church reveals the priorities of the heart; so does sacrificing hours, weeks, and days on the altar of your devices.

The relevant question is not whether you are or aren’t religious.

Because everyone is.

The real question is what the pieces your religion is holding together add up to . . .  what, exactly, is it leading you to become?

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