-In our day profanity has become commonplace. Whether you talk with a neighbor, watch a film, or listen to a politician, it is difficult to escape the everyday usage of the profane, excessive superlatives, and general vulgarity that cloak lanugage in the 21st century.
In the old world, profanity was commonplace as well in the public square and in every day language, but not so much in every aspect of society. If we were transported backwards in time a few hundred years to Colonial America and in a public market, we might be surprised to hear the coarse language used by men and women and how similar it was to our own modern day experience; humans are no different in essence than humans from the past.
The one area we might notice a difference with regard to profanity in the old world is in the arena of the written word; even though men and women were every bit as vulgar in the past as they are now, at certain periods in the old word a certain decorum was more likely to be practiced in certain professional settings, such as in the giving of a political speech for example. We can see a little bit of this decorum that followed humanity into the 20th century as the invention of film occured; while men and women were every bit as vulgar in the 1920’s and 30’s as they are now, during the early days of tinsel town it was believed that a certain level of propriety should be practiced in film, and so it wasn’t until 1940 when the word ‘damn’ was first uttered in a mainstream motion picture.
Another area of difference between the old world and the new world is the shift that occured in thinking about religion; modern men and women often consider it the greatest vulgarity to be accused of being religious. Atheists and agnostics scoff at religion in the same manner they may scoff at the idea of black helicopters and flying saucers. A great many books and lectures are given each year which describe religion as the madness of dimwitted people.
However, it not merely the atheists and agnostics who are hostile toward religion, but also many Christians themselves. It is commonplace in our society for self-identified Christians to demonstrate an animus toward ‘religion’. One of the most oft made statements regarding religion is “I am spiritual but I do not like religion” or “I don’t like religion because it is man-made” (which seems to infer that it is therefore fake, invented, and bad).
This shift toward thinking about religion in such a hostile manner is very disconnected from the old world. If an ancient Egyptian met an ancient Babylonian at market, if they were in a particular hostile mood, they might use a vulgar term to denigrate each other’s pagan god, but they would never think to denigrate the other because they are ‘religious’ since being religious is at its core the basic function of every human; we cannot help but be religious, we are religious by nature.
The old world definition of religion meant “to bind”, as in binding or connecting oneself to a particular system of religious ideas, history, and genealogy. This is why so many ancient governments were interconnected with the religion of the people; one needed a common history (religious history) to bind the people together in order to create a coherent governmental system. Without a national religion, there was nothing to unite the citizens.
In the new world definition, religion generally refers to an archaic institution filled with man-made rules, rank with hypocrisy, and antithetical to the ‘facts’ of science. This is no small distinction; in the old world it was accepted as self-evident that humans are religious by nature, in the new world the term religious and religion became objects of scorn and ridicule.
In the old world, religion was at its core a historical narrative; religion preserved the story of the people. Religion contained an origin story of how we got to where we are; it showed the people who they were by explaining where they came from.
In the old world, religion was engrained within every culture as a method of giving people an origin story for their own family and personal identity; without an origin story, without knowing where we come from, the very basic question of “who am I” becomes entirely entangled in the weeds. Because of this phenomena, it was common for ancient people to refer to their god (or goddess) by connecting the god to their ancestor; Yahweh speaks to Moses and says, “I am the God of your father Abraham, the God of Issac, and the God of Jacob”. Yahweh gives Moses an origin story for Moses’ lineage by citing Moses’ ancestors, and by doing so, Yahweh binds Moses to a historical origin.
The modern hostility demonstrated toward religion is sourly misplaced, and if the men and women who make such poorly crafted attacks on religion knew any better they would realize that they themselves are actually practicing their own form of religion, albeit a much more poorly crafted one then that which they assault.
Religion has become some type of catch-all word for our age; for some people it conjures up boring Sunday mornings spent during childhood in uncomfortably white-starched shirts or out-of-fashion floral print dresses, when parents drug the half-asleep children to hear a minister drone on about some incomprehensibly monotone speech using language that was very disconnected from modern life.
For others, religion is the opiate of the masses and the central cause of war, strife, suffering, and the bland formula of doctrines that grown men use in never-ending arguments over what is the ‘correct thing to believe’ about this or that. Religion in this vernacular is the thing that the Roman Catholics and Protestants argue about to no end, and the thing that the Lutherans, Anglicans, and Presbyterians can’t seem to ever agree on long enough to have any meaningful discussion about the growing problems of unplanned pregnancy, homelessness, joblessness, and other social issues that truly plague the average person’s daily life.
These negative views of religion, though misplaced, can actually be helpful. After all, if religion is really nothing more than the image we have of boring Sunday mornings from our childhood, or the endless bickering over doctrinal disputes among denominationalists, then I wouldn’t really want that religion either.
Fortunately, true religion is so much more, and it is anything but boring. And while true religion does involve defending truth, it should not involve dissension within the church, but rather quite the opposite; true religion should create unity.
Ultimately, to begin to truly understand what religion is, we must experience a renewing of our minds, in which we become freed from the yoke of modern ideology which lacks a coherent conception of reality.
The best is yet to come.