What Religion Really Means

It is fairly common to hear people say they are ‘spiritual but not religious,’ but the sad reality is that many of us don’t even know what religion really means. Before we reject or embrace religion, it is important to explore what it is and what its purpose is in our lives.

Recently on St. Joseph’s Workshop, Fr. Matthew Spencer, OSJ reflected on what religion means, and explained why many of of us may actually be more (or less) religious that we think. Fr. Matthew said:

Religion: The moral virtue by which a person is disposed to render to God the worship and service he deserves. 

“That’s what religion is, to give to God the worship and the service that is His due. And it’s important to keep this in mind, because many people have different definitions of religion. They think of religion as a structure, as a hierarchy. And it is true that our Catholic faith includes hierarchical structure, and it is true that our Catholic faith has a systematic exposition of the faith. But it’s not the laws and rules that define our religion.

What defines our religion is how we’re giving praise, and worship, and service to God. And all of our rules, and our books, and canon law, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church simply serve to help us understand how best to do that. That’s why when people start knocking religion, I have to demonstrate that they don’t get what I’m talking about.

People say that they reject religion, people say that they have a personal relationship with Jesus and they don’t need religion, or they say that they’re spiritual but not religious. Well, the fact of the matter is that religion is the way that we give praise, and worship, and service to God. I mean, do you want to let go of that? Because maybe the problem is that we have different understandings of what religion is.

A study from the Public Religion Research Institute at Florida State University tried to understand better whether people are spiritual, whether people are religious, whether they are both, or whether they are neither of them. And the fascinating thing to me about this survey, is that they didn’t go out there and ask people if they were spiritual, religious, both, or neither. Instead, they used different criteria to evaluate, in an indirect way, these different values.

And I think it’s a good idea to explore it in this way. Now, did they ask the right questions? I have no idea. But I do know that it’s rather interesting to hear what the results are. What is interesting is that despite how popular the phrase ‘spiritual but not religious’ is, that group was the lowest number of the people who were polled. Only 18% of the people ended up there.

A much larger group said that they were spiritual and religious, and about 31% of the people polled were neither spiritual nor religious. But I think there’s a little bit of affirmation for us there. That despite how the world, and maybe the people in your life, want to say that they’re spiritual but not religious, the fact is that they probably just don’t understand what the authentic moral virtue of religion is about.

Maybe if they did, they would appreciate what it means to be Catholic. Maybe if we understood better what our religious practices are all about, and what our religious beliefs are all about, then you and I might also appreciate our Catholic religion in a new and special way.”

Listen to the full reflection below:

St. Joseph’s Workshop with Father Matthew Spencer airs weekdays at 7:00 p.m. Eastern/4:00 p.m. Pacific on Relevant Radio® and the Relevant Radio App.