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About jonbirch

animator, illustrator, character designer, graphic designer. music producer/recording musician. co-owner of PROOST. proost.co.uk
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37 Responses to 934

  1. chris says:

    aren’t we all ?

  2. jonbirch says:

    i don’t know what it means really? i don’t know what people mean by it. heck, i don’t even know what i would mean by it. i don’t think i am very religious… but then if i don’t know what it means, i can’t be sure. :?

  3. Pat says:

    Maybe we should define religious and then explore what, if anything, is its connection with religion

  4. Pat says:

    Sorry Jon – cross posted :-)

  5. jonbirch says:

    that’s okay pat. :-) do you have a starter for ten? :-) is ‘religious’ conforming to a set of principles by following certain rituals as a matter of course and ‘religion’ something about which you can be religious or not? i think i’ve just made it worse. :lol:

  6. Pat says:

    I think you have :lol:

    Ok…a tentative starter: what about thinking of ‘religious’ in terms of a certain type of ‘disposition towards’ otherness (people, things, the world etc), say our actual (or our capacity for) affective connection to otherness beyond ourselves. Then we could think of different religions – as in religious systems, so it would include things like atheism and naturalism – as things which give direction to/shape/support/develop that basic aspect of humaness :?:

    Does that make any sense? :-)

  7. Pat says:

    I think you have :lol:

    Ok…a tentative starter: what about thinking of ‘religious’ in terms of a certain type of ‘disposition towards’ otherness (people, things, the world etc), say our actual (or our capacity for) affective connection to otherness beyond ourselves. Then we could think of religion – as in religious systems, so it would include things like atheism and naturalism – as something (external and cultural) which gives direction to/shapes/supports/develops/distorts/cripples that basic aspect of humaness :?:

    Does that make any sense? :-?

  8. Pat says:

    eek…sorry for the (almost) duplicate – my connection dropped and I thought it hadn’t posted so I took the opportunity to edit it a bit :lol:

  9. Wulf says:

    It’s a very duckable (oh look, I just made up a new word) question. Mainly because it normally comes from people who have a rather negative attitude towards religion as such? “Religious” people tend to ask in a more direct manner: aren’t you a Christian/Baptist/Hindu/ … That’s my experience at least.

  10. chris says:

    i see the word “religious” as just our way of doing something. if you spend some time with a different family you get to know what they are religious about, we can all be religious about certain things.

    I’ve been amazed lately at how absolutely religious many atheists are…

    i wonder what i am absolutely religious about and wonder how much of a pain in the bum i am with it.

  11. chris says:

    oops, should read the comments before i post : |

  12. subo says:

    ooooooo, I do the duck, I got so awkward I got stuck all twisted & permanently ducked

    curiously I find loads of respect towards people who’s religion seems to mean loads to them, so don’t’ know why I get so hot & bothered

    but then there’s loads of things about church that make me feel awkward – curate’s holding other people’s tot’s at the front of the church for the ‘kiddie slot’ – bet that tiny might would like to get back to mum & dad, why should they feel safe on an over enthusiastic curates lap?

    then there’s the no sex no love no condoms and definitely no shacking up together

    well i could go on, but I’m often embarrassed about the behaviour of my religion – also, because it’s such an important thing to me!

  13. markwill says:

    Anyone fancy going to a non religious church?

  14. Caroline TOO says:


  15. markk says:

    I discovered recently that the latin root of the work religion means to bring together. It’s not surprising we have trouble with the meaning of words.

  16. Surely this question is about language.

    Some people say “I’m not religious I’m more… spiritual”.

    I have questions.

    Or more likely the statement I hear is “you’re religious, I’m more…. spiritual”.

    I wonder how Ignatius* fits into that. What does it even mean to be religious or spiritual? Does it imply belief or practice? Does it include blief or practice? I’m guessing that spiritual is a practice as well as religious and vice versa.

    So what do people mean by any of this?

    And what does it mean to follow? Isn’t that a more interesting question?

    *insert any other big ticket name in here.

  17. Pat says:

    Robb – my guess would be that people choose the ‘spiritual’ rather than ‘religious’ label when they want to acknowledge some kind of connectional or transcendental sense/experience (even if only dimly felt or inchoately articulated to themselves) but not assent to any particular set of doctrinal formulations (and their perceived attendant obligations and ethics)to give shape and structure to this aspect of their life.

    I think the concept of ‘to follow’ might thus be rather more difficult to actualise in this situation since there are no external referents which one has chosen to acknowledge and adhere to irrespective of the cost to one’s self and ones sense of what one’s spirituality means . In other words, there is nothing to challenge one and take one outside of the comfort zones.
    [Just think of the classic christian formulation of this for example]

    Sorry, that’s rather wordy but I hope it makes sense :-?

  18. JF says:

    Definitions of “religious” are in every dictionary.

    In my sincere attempts to explore & understand people’s religious beliefs over the last year or so, nothing has been more frustrating than some people’s attempts to redefine what words mean, or to act as if their meanings are subjective. Words in common parlance have an accepted meaning.

    Say you heard on the grapevine that I was seeing your wife behind your back. If you confronted me and said “Is it true!?”, you would be frustrated beyond measure if I turned round and said “Hmmm … It depends what you mean by ‘true’…”

    Chris (11) – look up “religious” and tell me how an atheist can be “absolutely religious”, given that it relates to belief in a deity. You might mean that some atheists are ‘zealous’, but not ‘religious’.

    If you believe in a deity, then you should have no problem saying that you are religious in line with common usage. It is absolutely not the atheist’s fault that ‘religion’ has come to be a word with which even the religious are not keen to associate themselves.

  19. jonbirch says:

    religious means more than just that in modern language… last night i looked up loads of definitions and it is a very broad word indeed. you can go to the gym everyday religiously, you can be religious about your diet. words change. ‘i did not have sex with that woman’ was technically true in one way and clearly a lie in another.
    it seems you can be religious about anything you do… religious seems to be about practice.
    my brain hurts.
    i remembered last night, that if people ask ‘am i religious’ my default answer is to say ‘i have a faith.’
    jesus lived in a world of ‘religiousness…’ pharisees being very meticulous about the way they cleaned their pots etc. and jesus says something along the lines of ‘the greatest religion is to love the poor and the sick’… even he redefined words to make a point. we all do it all the time… load words with meaning. even ‘wicked’ now means ‘good’.

  20. JF says:

    ‘Religious’ in relation to routine/practice is a secondary meaning, i.e. you are as fastidious about doing something as if it were your religion.

    Next time someone asks me whether I am religious, I will tell them “Yes! I clean my football boots straight after every match!” and see whether that is what they meant. Of course it isn’t!

    Maybe I could translate. If someone asks you whether you are religious, just assume that they are asking you whether you believe in a deity. I think this is what they are more likely to be driving at. So why is it a problem to say “yes” if you do?

  21. JF – That is an interesting way of looking at the English language. Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels, wanted the English Language to be nailed down in 1712 and preserved throughout history:

    “some method should be thought on for ascertaining and fixing our language for ever (…) it is better a language should not be wholly perfect, than that it should be perpetually changing”

    Unfortunately for him, the English language has always been fluid. Words mean what they mean in common usage and dictionaries describe that. That is why the OE dictionary is constantly revised.

    Unfortunately this means that the Book of Common Prayer makes little sense or no sense as words have changed. The KJV is equally indecipherable. Shakespeare is equally baffling as words have changed their meaning over time.

    Even defining religion as having a belief in a deity doesn’t work as Buddhism doesn’t necessarily believe in a deity.


    Not even the académie française has the powers over the french language you are ascribing to the dictionary. Even their rulings are only advisory and not binding the public or the government.

    Le CD. Le helecopter.

    People have been unsuccessfully trying to nail down religious people for millennia.

  22. jonbirch says:

    agreed, cw.
    also, what lies behind a question is at the very heart of what the person means. for example… ‘i want you to be religious because then i’ll feel safe telling you’, or ‘if you say you’re religious i know you’ll pre-judge me, so i’ll not say it.’
    there is as much a problem with labeling as there is a help. it really depends.
    i also often duck the ‘are you a christian?’ not always, it depends what i think might lie behind the question and how helpful it will be to respond in one way or another. ‘i have a faith’ i think again is sometimes my reply… the thought that people might know anything about the way i think or feel based on a label i never chose seems weird to me, and unhelpful.
    ‘yes, i’m a christian… but, i don’t believe god told george bush to invade iraq!!!’ again, it so depends on why people want to pin it down.

  23. Pat says:

    Jon I agree as to the sometimes unhelpfulness of labels, especially in an age where people are ill-informed about religious narratives and tend to assume every religion is an undifferentiated monoculture – which is then (almost invariably) defined according to the worst or most extreme examples.

    And who would want people to think that Terry Jones and his ilk epitomised Christianity :-( (or that the whole of Islam was summed up in OB-L)

  24. JF says:

    Thanks “changing worship”… I am just about bright enough to know that language evolves… thanks! And my posts dealt with current meanings of the word “religious”, not something from the 18th century. If the word “religious” has significantly changed its meaning in the last 6 months then I admit maybe I have missed it. But I don’t think it has. And hence being condescended to in that way was a little annoying, (but I think I am over it now).

    I do have a strong-ish view however that language should be a tool for communication, not as a convenient construct for obfuscation.

    People generally ask questions because they want to know the answer. It is perfectly reasonable to respond “Why do you ask?” (as per Jon’s comment), but inexcusable to redefine the terms of the question in a way that the questioner could not reasonably have intended.

    We hate it when politicians obfuscate and I think the same rule should apply to everyone. I think it has to do with honesty.

  25. jonbirch says:

    that’s it, pat, exactly! :-0

  26. jonbirch says:

    well, that emoticon didn’t work! :-)

  27. jonbirch says:

    just goes to show… never assume! :lol:

  28. linus says:

    JF, i think there are times when either answer to the question ‘are you religious?’ would be obfuscating, and the best way to communicate the information the questioner wants is to give a more lengthy answer.

    I am sorry that some people’s wishy-washy responses have been frustrating to you in your attempts to better understand other people’s points of view. I love being asked what i think about stuff, but i am aware that my thoughts are often muddled and uncertain, and so not as clear – to me, let alone anyone else – as i would like. I find that i am more open about what i think when i am around people that i trust, and when i don’t feel under attack. Sometimes, i’m just not in the mood for an argument.

    I am happy to say that i think, on balance, philosophical thought points more towards the existence of God than away from it, and that i am convinced that there is good historical evidence for a man called Jesus of Nazareth being much more than an ordinary human being. Do you think that is the answer people are looking for when they ask me if i’m religious?

  29. JF says:

    Linus – to me, that looks like a clear, sensible answer that
    a) would tell people where you stand
    b) could lead to some great discussion.

    I think that’s everything that anyone asking the question could want/expect from you.

  30. JF, sorry that wasn’t my intention.

    To answer your question, I think people are reticent to use the word ‘religious’ to describe themselves because it is often used as a perjorative term. As I said earlier, people tend to say “I’m not religious like you, I’m spiritual”. Again people like to box themselves in and then defend their box as superior to everyone elses boxes. It is a bit like listening to Dawkins say that he is scientific rather than religious in a condescending manner without taking into considerarion that there may be people who are religious and scientists simultaneously.

    A good example would be David Wilkinson.

    Again my appologies, I thought I was furthering the dabate with my previous comment.

  31. Although not my speelign.

  32. mmp says:

    Brian Houston’s song ” We don’t need religion” springs to mind….

  33. jonbirch says:

    a worse question to which i answer either, ‘i have a faith, yes’ or ‘it depends what you mean’ is, ‘you’re not religious are you?’ :?

  34. Roz says:

    I have a slightly different relationship with this question. My husband is training for ordination and once people know that they don’t bother to even ask the question, they just assume.

    I’m quite conflicted about my faith. I suppose I would be one of those people who would say I’m spiritual because as much as I know I believe I can’t point to one doctrine and say “that is mine”. I don’t duck the question, but I suppose the most honest answer is “I don’t know yet, give me a little longer”.

    The argument on here did get me thinking though. The “dictionary definitions” people were discussing didn’t seem to quite gel with my understanding of religion/religious (in terms of Christianity, I get being religious about doing something), so I went looking to see if I had missed something. It appears that somewhere along the road I picked up my definition of religious from a bloke called Clifford Geertz. He calls religion a “cultural system” and that’s how I’ve always seen it. Not really related to faith or God per se but instead a cultural system that most people have a surface understanding of because it is part of their cultural awareness. This was a very common belief in the 20th Century, so I’m a little behind the times.

    I discovered that my understanding of the word seems to come from this from Wikipedia (I know, not exactly academic standard but I figure it’s a good starting point) I’d be interested to know other peoples views of this. It also shows this is not a new debate, people have been arguing over the meaning and the relevance of the meaning of religion for a long time!



  35. Pingback: Are You Religious? | The Church Sofa

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