What is Religism?

By Tiffany Wismer

A video going around YouTube recently uses the word “religism”. What is it?

While researching this article, I mistook the definition of the word “religism” to mean “the judgement that believers pass on one another based on outward appearances instead of on faith in Jesus”. It was recently brought to my attention, however, that “religism” has indeed already been defined as something totally different. According to various web sites, the definition of this term is “fear, hatred, animosity, intolerance, conflict, oppression, or bigotry motivated by and / or based on religious belief.”

When I first watched her video, it seemed to me that Emanuella was making the point that our job as Christians is not to judge and hate unbelievers but to love them. To that end, she recommends a cessation of “religism”. But can “religism” (as it is defined above) really be included in the same list as the judgementalism based upon appearances that Christ warned us not to engage in? (John 7:24)

According to the Bible, our attitude towards unbelievers should not be hateful, fearful, bigoted or oppressive. Rather, we should be like Jesus was – offering a light to those in darkness, showing the way to salvation, and gently issuing a warning: those who reject Jesus’ offer to pay for their sins will have to pay for their own sins.( John 6:46-48)

So, Christians, no more religism, okay? We don’t want to be hateful and bigoted, do we? Not at all. I personally do not know a single Christian bigot. I myself have no desire to be oppressive. I don’t hate unbelievers. So are we good? No, there’s a catch.

What if the things we believe – the primary and necessary elements of our faith – are perceived by unbelievers as hateful, bigoted, oppressive, etc? What do we do then? Well, we have some options.

a. We can renounce our beliefs in order to avoid “religism”
b. We can secretly espouse our beliefs but refuse to publicly express them, to avoid being thought of as “religists”
c. We can continue to express our beliefs

If you think I’m being extreme here, look at the definition one more time:

Religism: fear, hatred, animosity, intolerance, conflict, oppression, or bigotry motivated by and / or based on religious belief.

I would not be worried if the definition was something more like “violence motivated by religious belief” or perhaps even “harrassment of those of a different creed or religion”. But instead we have this troubling list of terms which are highly subjective and open to interpretation. Intolerance? Biotry, oppression? We all know their definitions, but what do these things look like, exactly? These are words that are largely defined by perception of the offended party. And in a society as relativistic and phobic about absolutes as ours is, I hope I don’t need to elaborate on why this is dangerous.

If a society has coined this word “religism” and defines it as religiously-motivated fear, hatred and oppression, and if the definition of fear, hatred and oppression is entirely subjective, it follows that the simple act of expressing my beliefs can be defined as “religism”. In this kind of society, it is inevitable that I will someday have no choice but to either deny my faith or be hated as a bigot.

Now who’s in danger of being oppressed?

Image Credit: Droid Gingerbread; "Snow heart"; Creative Commons


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