Words mean something. Sometimes words mean a range of things. And when a word means various somethings, one cannot just ignore or eradicate some of those meanings. On occasion culture will eradicate or alter the meaning of words, but that isn’t something that we choose to agree upon. It simply happens over time until it is the truly common understanding of the word. (e.g. “Awful” used to mean something akin to “awesome”, not something akin to “terrible.”)
One word that has not reached this point of common understanding, not even remotely close in fact, is the word “religion.”
What is religion? A commonly held set of beliefs? A commonly held set of moral expectations or obligations? A set of customs or rituals based around those beliefs? Some combination of these?
The one thing we can be certain of is that it is a nebulous word loaded with significance and cannot be discarded easily. It is a word held dear by many for wrong reasons and held dear by many for right reasons and discarded by many for . . . what kind of reasons?
People discard religion because of, most often, the people who hold religion dear for the wrong reasons – those who come off as judgmental, legalist, joyless, or useless. But isn’t it better to make clear that their reasons are wrong or their understanding of what makes up religion is wrong but that religion itself is not wrong?
Religion can be just right. It can be the right set of beliefs leading to a freeing set of moral obligations and expectations supported by a beautiful set of customs and rituals. Christianity is absolutely religious in this way. To throw out religion because people do it wrong is like throwing out restaurants because you visited a White Castle.
If we can’t agree on what religion is, then rather than discarding it outright based on a controversial definition, we must simply be careful to explain and define what kindof religion we are for or against. Throwing it out is not the answer at all.