Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Are you religious?

Here's a weird story to start things off. Hal Johnson has a blog and makes comments here regularly. He's a guy I only know online, so our friendship is 100% virtual, in a sense. Yet I've been able to meet some of my internet friends in real life and it's always a seamless transition, so at the same time I realize that my friendship with Hal is 100% real, even if we've never shaken hands or eaten a meal together.

Anyway, on Hal's site is a section called "Frequent Landing Sites", a set of links to other blogs he enjoys. He was kind enough to add mine to his list and for a long time it read "Megaloi -- a religious Houston dad with an open mind." At some point he changed the word "religious" to "spiritual". Now his blogroll continues to grow so he's run out of room for descriptions altogether.

I was thinking about the change from "religious" to "spiritual" the other day (Hal and I never talked about it) and clicked on another link in his list. It took me to a lady's blog, and her post that day was about the difference between religion and spirituality. Whoa. Gave me the booboojeebies. So I figured I should write about it.

The word "religion" doesn't show up much in most English translations of the bible. One of its appearances is in the book of Acts, when Paul is in Athens trying to introduce the tenets of Christianity to a population who embraced the philosophy of Plato and created idols to many diverse gods. He stood up in the midst of a council and said, "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious!" (Acts 17:22).

He goes on to give a very sophisticated, eloquent speech to a group of highly intellectual people. Underneath it all is the gentle reproach that while these people were great thinkers, they'd missed the true path of spiritual fulfillment. A man named Jesus had shown the way but this group of philosophers were too busy debating existentialism to notice. It's a pretty cool speech.

The Greek word that is translated to "very religious" is "deisidaimonesterous". It's a big word, big enough to have three root words buried inside it:

1) Deido -- to fear or show reverence to
2) Daimon -- deities or bad spirits
3) Stereos -- firmly

In other words, Paul was saying that these guys "dread demons". Yikes! I mean, most sane people probably dread demons, but hopefully that isn't the primary motivating factor in our lives. The Athenians were so worred about it that Paul noted their "idol to an unknown God". You know, just to cover their bases and make sure no gods were missed. They feared retribution from any god not served correctly.

I wonder if most Christians are really any different than the Athenians in that regard. One of the saddest stories I've ever heard was about my own great aunt. She passed away several years ago after a lifetime of serving others and serving God. She taught hundreds of students in the World Bible School program, gave food to the hungry, etc...

Yet on her deathbed, she mentioned that she "hoped she'd done enough" to get to heaven. I am simply heartbroken that this crossed her mind at a time like that. I've heard countless sermons about how Christians can rest assured of our salvation and trust in God, yet those are usually followed with warnings about how easy it is to slip away into sin and be removed from the grace of God. No wonder people are afraid! And for a sweet, sweet family member to be in fear as her life ebbed away... tragic.

If fearing God is what it means to be religious, then no, I don't qualify. I am certainly spiritual, but maybe not religious, so perhaps Hal was right to change his description of me. Yes, I know that Proverbs says that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge", but I've also learned that fear is not an effective motivator for a healthy, generous life. At least not for me.

The word for "spirit" in the bible is usually "pneuma" in Greek. Pneuma can also mean breath or wind. I like that. So maybe a spiritual person is like someone who notices the wind, an invisible force that is always working and always impacting the world around us. You can't see it, but you can see the effects of it.

That's more my style.


MamaRose said...


The first thing I thought of--after your discussing FEAR & how 'Spiritual' folks should not FEAR God--is the verse about 'PURE LOVE casting out fear'!!!!!!!!!!!

And, I TOTALLY AGREE, when we are TRYING our BEST to be TOTALLY OBEDIENT to God, we HAVE to TRUST HIM that HIS GRACE & MERCY will cover us from all our repented sins & we CAN BE SECURE in our SALVATION THROUGH JESUS'S BLOOD!!!!

Aunt Chris was brought up 'out' in California during a DIFFERENT generation--where they DID feel/think they had to 'EARN' their salvation--which we have a better 'balance' on, now, I think.

BUT, there is some of that 'FEAR FACTOR' of our ALMIGHTY GOD that I think MAYBE we have LOST that MAYBE we need to GET BACK--because HE IS ALL POWERFUL & HE CAN/COULD 'ZAP US' at any moment--like he did in the OT--we just know He's NOT doing that, right now. BUT, there STILL is something 'there' that we SHOULD fear, I think--MAYBE HIS POWER!!!!!

But, not like a fear that makes us CRINGE--but rather one that makes us THANKFUL that we can BELIEVE in ALL HIS PROMISES, because HIS IS FAITHFUL & ALWAYS HAS BEEN!!!!!!!!!
Like a 'mature' fear.

That's my comment, today. LOVE YOU BUNCHES, OUR FIRSTBORN!!!!!!!!!

debby said...

Sorry about the booboojeebies thing, although I must confess when I read the comment (it originally appeared in On the Journey) the quote just stopped me dead in my tracks. Why do I pray? Why do I believe? I was relieved to find myself able to say, "I believe because I know," because God had the grace to whisper in an agnostic's ear. I was relieved to find that I do not pray because I am afraid of God. But there are those in this world who are motivated by their desire to avoid hell and nothing more. I don't believe this is what God wants.

Mama Rose, gotta say, I love your style. A child's vision of God's love is shaped by the love he learns from his parents.

Andrew said...

I think that fear of the Lord verse is telling. At best and most, fear is merely a beginning. Perhaps an attention getter. However, it would never spur on a relationship. Yet so many in Christendom want to use it as a centerpiece. Time to let it go.

Roland said...

I'd probably fall into the "spiritual" camp, but the word has taken on a weird connotation over the years. So, I just don't use the word.

To many, "spiritual" seems to mean being religious, but making up your own set of rules, rather than following the rules set out for us. That's a little too relaxed. It's like saying "I'm a good person." A little subjective and too, relaxed.

So, in that sense, I wouldn't say you're spiritual.

I hate when words get changed around to the point that we feel like we can't use them correctly anymore.

Don R said...

Even more telling is the Latin root for the word "religion". It means to be bound up, the "ligion" part. So, re-ligion is to be bound up (tied up) AGAIN!

Redlefty said...

Mom, thanks!

debby, for me, if hell is a part of the picture, then that's the dominant motivator for me. Period. The threat of billions of years of pain outweighs any positive motivators in my own mind, but each person has to work that one out for themselves!

Andrew, I think I know what you mean. I used to believe that fear was a "good start" in a relationship with God, something that eventually was supposed to be moved past. Like with parenting, when they're toddlers and fear daddy a little, it's useful to keep them safe. Later on the kids grow up and move to a mature relationship with the parents. But now I don't think the analogy fits, and I no longer think fear is a good place to start with God.

Roland... I've never thought of that before. It's a good point. Like today when saw a license plate that said "1 Aryan" and it offended me. The word Aryan is simply a demographic descriptor, but it's been severely tainted by Nazi history. "Spiritual" may be the same way. It definitely means different things to different people, so maybe sometime I should explain better what I mean when I say it.

don, thanks as always for your insight.

MamaRose said...

Well, I'll add another thought:

Between 'Spiritual' & 'Religious', I'd rather be referred to as......
'Spiritual'--because Dad has this 'Religious' joke that makes me think it's NOT that 'good' of a thing/place to be......

You can use it anywhere, like for church attendance--I think is where it/the joke began--but I know your Dad used it recently to describe/'defend' his Tooth Care/brushing/flossing, too--as in--"I do it RELIGIOUSLY"--every Easter & Christmas--see HOW 'church attendance' fits in?!!!

So, there you go..........LOVE YOU ALL BUNCHES & BUNCHES!!!!!!!! Mom

Bob Barbanes said...

I do not fear God. And I don't think we should if God loves us unconditionally...which I believe He does, just as He will welcome all of us into Heaven when and if we get there.

In that light, I reject religions that prey on my fears such as, "You *must* do this or you'll BURN IN HELL FOREVER!" Sorry, Charlie, that's not for you to judge, even if you think it says so right there in your little book.

Which leaves me with the conundrum: Can a person believe in God and Christ without being a member of an organized religion? Which is where I'm at right now.

Good post, Michael. I'd been trying to come up with something similar for my own blog, but you put it much more succinctly.

MamaRose said...

Is 3 too many for/on 1 post??!!!!!'
Hope not--but our lesson on Sunday was the 10 Commandments out of Exodus 20 & in THAT chapter--verse 20--THE BIBLE TELLS US WHY WE SHOULD FEAR GOD--"TO KEEP US FROM SINNING"--so, right there--God tells us WHY we SHOULD FEAR HIM!!!!

How about that for 'timing'?!!!!!

Redlefty said...

Mom, that's a good point.

The story of the 10 commandments and the rest of the law was to show that no matter what, we can't stop sinning. It's a part of life. So even fear doesn't work. To me that's one of the big lessons of the Old Testament.

And to me the New Testament revealed that God doesn't let our imperfection stand between the human and the divine. And that no thing is unclean of itself, so our definition of "sin" is perhaps dubious. What matters is how we treat each other!

You guys in the comments section are always encouraging to me -- thank you!

Andrew said...

"revealed that God doesn't let our imperfection stand between the human and the divine"

I agree!!! I now read the "be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" in that light. If you put that scripture in its preceding context, you see that is exactly what Jesus is implying. Here is God, perfect, and yet patient with all of our imperfections .... we should be perfect that way; what Brian Mclaren calls "a generous perfection".