Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Human Thing

Some people like to see faith, religion and spirituality as separate things, often ranking them as spirituality = free spirited awesomeness to religion = conservative compliance and dull, with faith kind of bobbling along in the middle.

It is true that the three words came into the English language from the same source, Latin via Old French since you ask, and they have different meanings.
  • religion - from "religare" meaning "to bind fast", the modern meaning, "recognition of, obedience to, and worship of an unseen, higher power" dates from the 1530s
  • faith - from "fides" meaning "trust, reliance, credence, belief", the term entered the theological sphere in the 14th century as a synonym for "religion"
  • spirituality - from "spiritualis" meaning "of concerning the spirit" though from the 14th century it meant "of concerning the church"
What is evident though from that little survey of the words is that they covered the same ground, and are essentially synonymous terms. Faith is religion is spirituality. Looking though at the origins of the words, it is easy to reverse the modern popular order of preference and see spirituality as some vague nebulous concept not requiring action, while religion is pinning your flag to the mast and living a life defined by your spirituality. I wonder if this is what the Evangelist had in mind with the parable of the sheep and the goats? Your vague spiritual wafflings will ultimately not help you one jot in the Christian view of an after life, it is all about how you live and what you do.

Personally I am convinced that faith, religion and spirituality are all one and the same thing, expressions of a human need to understand the world around them. There isn't a single human culture in history that didn't have some form of belief system to explain their environment and the things that went on within it. Religion ultimately says more about the society that created it than it does about any external deity. I suppose that is why religion is so endlessly fascinating to me, because humans are endlessly fascinating.

1 comment:

Brewers Union Local 180 said...

Religion has been a hard word to use these days. It is overloaded, for one thing, and comes with baggage that discourages any sort of open-minded discourse. I have had to switch to "worldview" when talking about such concepts as origins, complexity, diversity, ethics, morality and the human condition.