I learned something new this past week that I thought I'd share. Maybe it is not new for those of you reading this, but it was to me. I learned the Greek word translated “religious” in Acts 17:22 is the word deisidaimon. Deisidaimon is a two-part word: deisi = dread and daimon = demon. Etymologically, to be religious is to dread demons.
It is interesting to note that the word “religion” in English is derived from the latin root, “lig,” which means “to tie” or “bind.” Consequently, when Jesus tells us that truth sets us free, and scripture tells us He came to set the captives free, I think it is safe to assume He did not come to set up a new religion in replacement of an old one. I'm digressing a bit here, so back to the point of my article...
As I pondered this new information, it brought to mind a story my mother shared with me about her experience as a newlywed in the home of my father's family. (Yes, unfortunately, they had to take up residence there for a short period in their early days of matrimony). My mother and father were flat broke, as newlyweds often are, and the yuletide season was quickly approaching. My mom greatly desired to have something to give each family member. This would be no easy task, since my dad was the eldest of nine children, all of whom still lived at home. After much brainstorming and deliberation, she set about the task of knitting something special for each one. It was the only thing she could think of doing that would be an affordable way to accomplish her goal. After planning exactly what she would knit for all, she purchased yarn, and got busy.
Sometime well into her project, my grandmother discovered what she was up to. Imagine my mother's complete surprise when instead of a smile, she was greeted with a frown of disapproval and told, “We believe that knitting is of the devil.”
Now, I dearly loved my Grandma (she passed away this past May), so I’m not sharing this in order to cast her in a bad light. Grandma was just repeating what she had been told all her life within the strict confines of her “religion.” Grandma had been dreading demons. She believed that in order to be a faithful worker for the Lord she needed to teach others to dread demons too. My grandma was doing what she felt was her duty.
Haven't we all experienced this at one time or another? I know that I have, and I'll share my complicity in this activity later on.
Well, needless to say, my mother was deflated. All of her excitement in being able to give what she had made to her new family was lost. She had no part in the religious background that had reared my dad, so this was one step in the long process of her education. It didn't seem to matter that my dad had not embraced his upbringing; my mom would be properly educated in how his family dreaded demons (at least while she was under their roof). Years later, however, my mom would embrace another “religion” and be properly schooled (bound) in how they dreaded demons.
I find it quite interesting that when Jesus came upon the religious scene of His day, the Pharisees chalked up the source of His power to demons. Matthew 12:24, “Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, 'This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of demons.'”
Religion has always labeled what it doesn't understand as demonic, wouldn't you agree? When Galileo challenged the commonly held religious view of the earth with the foundation that Copernicus had laid, he was met with the inquisition. Religion considers what it doesn't understand as opposition to itself, and to be opposed to it is to be opposed to God, and viola, there you have the demonic. The problem really arises when religion purports to understand all things in existence. When you understand everything there is to understand, how can you ever learn, how can you ever grow, how can you ever change? The answer is, you can't; therefore, you must view anything new and any change as evil. This is why we saw men and women like John Huss and Joan of Arc burned at the stake. Need I cite more?
How has religion impacted me over the years? How have I dreaded demons? Well, there have certainly been many stories that I have bought into. Early on, I was taught the pagan origins of all things “Christmas.” The tree and practically everything associated with it, were at one time part of pagan ritualistic worship. This is fact. Did I want to be a pagan? No way. Did I put those things up in my house? Absolutely not. Did I lecture those in my sphere of influence as to the “wrongness” of their traditions? You bet! Did I teach others why they should dread the demons I was dreading? Of course.
It seemed that the more I studied, the less I found common ground with my religious peers. This created a growing list of reasons why I had to cut myself off from others. My dread of demons began to create more problems than it could ever hope to solve. Increased maturity brought an increased ability to keep quiet about all my inner discontent. Here I was, surrounded by people who were all dreading demons of one sort or another. In their circles it was popular to point out the different ways that other groups fell short of “True Religion.” Well, I have to thank God for all this discontent because it was exactly these things that drew me into the understanding of realized eschatology and the reconciliation of all things. Yippee! Another thing to “keep quiet” about among my circle of friends and acquaintances!
It began to dawn on me some time ago that if there was ever only One God in existence (and we know this to be fact) what difference did it make in the heavenlies that a small group of ignorant and superstitious people who didn't know Him thought that erecting a decorated tree would make the winter shorter and increase their odds of survival? Was it ever true?
I believe that God has been and continues to be the only one in control of any person's existence. Did the superstitions of people on this planet ever reduce the power of God in any way? I have to say no. Why, then, should I dread these demons? The answer is I shouldn't, and I don't. To understand the fulfillment of all things is to realize that God is victor of all, and this all means all. There is nothing out there in competition with God for power and control of this universe. There is no decoration or toy that is going to steal away my child's soul. The only power any created thing ever has had was the power that it was given by fallible human beings. I don't give those things any power, and the believers I know that decorate their homes for the “Christmas” season don't either. I can relax. I don't have to save these people's souls or protect them from the demons because God has already done that. Thank you God, for taking the burden of thought from me that those things were somehow in my purview of responsibility!
Has this new way of thinking made me want to put up the tree and deck the halls? No, but only because I'm too lazy to contribute that much energy to the process. I like to focus on the 3 “F's”...Food, Fun, and Fellowship. None of these have ever required a red and green house for me, so why start now. Besides, I have so many friends and family members who do a great job of decorating every year that I can just go and enjoy the fruit of their labor.
I'm only going to bring up this one example in my life for this particular article, but rest assured, there are more. Slowly and surely, I am facing the demons of my past and discovering, with God's help, how I can discard the dread. This is why I write today, and reveal my vulnerabilities to all who are reading. My question for us all is how do we live lives that reflect the victory of God without the dread we have carried from our past? 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out all fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” Religion has not been made perfect in love, and I don't know that it ever can be. Could the first step in losing the dread be the discarding of religion? Do you suppose God wants to get each of us to the place where we have let go of the idea that we have to know the answers to all the questions, and we need a religion that defines those answers? I think that might be a good place to start.
I do believe that the scriptures contain the record of how Christ set us free. It is with great joy that I read and reread this story. It seems that there is always something new there to discover, and sharpen my understanding of God's unfailing love. This knowledge has been an enhancement to the relationship that I have with my Redeemer. My hope is that it has given me something to share with those God brings my way. In so doing, I recognize that those with whom I share might also have something that God has given them to share with me. This allows me to understand that God has set up a relationship of give and take between us all and that I must be in a position to receive in order to benefit. I think that this principle goes against the very foundation that has established organized religion. Religion will never be teachable, as long as it seeks only to teach. Perhaps in recovering the meaning of religion as service to others (threskeia), we might recover the humility to once again be teachable (James 1:27). It is certainly something to consider.
As I write, I'm well aware that some of you reading this are gasping to yourselves, “She doesn't believe in absolute truth.” Or, “She is nothing but a secular humanist.” I ask you to consider if that is nothing more than your own story. A story that you have bought into without fully understanding the other side.
If this is a description of how you are feeling at this moment, please bear with me and others like me, long enough to better understand us. So often we human beings like to quickly label everything and everyone who cross our path in order that we might believe that we've got it all nicely sized up; but isn't that the identical mindset that brought us the inquisition? When we believe our stories rather than question them, don't we just perpetuate the mistakes of our ancestors?
I'm not saying that I'm a person without convictions. In my relationship with God, He has the right to refine me and remove at will what He deems an obstacle to my growth and His character. This is a life-long process and part of our common experiences in relationship with God. I'm thankful for the light that God has shone into my life, and it is my intention to walk in that light as assuredly as it is yours. Can we not be content to concentrate on our own paths and drop the notion that it is our job to save others from those dreadful demons?