Religion: Cracking the Binding

27 Nov

An excerpt from what I found to be a stirring, provoking read – The Rise and Fall of the Bible by Timothy Beal (pp. 184-185). Another way to think of healthy, “pure and undefiled” religion…

Most say that the Latin origin of religion is in religare, from the verb ligare, “to bind” or “attach.” Religare therefore means “to re-bind” or “re-attach.” With this origin in mind, we have a sense of religion as a kind of binding. Religion is about being bound and re-bound to a set of beliefs, doctrines, institutions, and scriptures. It’s about identifying oneself with a particular tradition and with a larger body of likewise religiously bound people. That’s religion in terms of the binding.

But the ancient philosopher Cicero suggested that the meaning of religion goes back to a different Latin origin, relegare, from the verb legere, “to read” (from whence we get words like “lecture” and “lectionary”). Relegare is therefore “to re-read” or “read again.” Take this as the origin and we have a sense of religion that is less about the binding and more about the ongoing process of rereading. It’s about reinterpreting sacred scriptures and other religious traditions in order to make them speak meaningfully to new horizons of meaning.

Our aim here is not to decide which is the true origin, but to reflect creatively on what each might suggest about religion, and in what sense the Bible is a religious text. Instead of choosing one origin or the other, I suggest that we think of religion in terms of both religare and relegere, both rebinding and rereading. Thus: religion is about being bound together as a community and being bound to a library of scriptures that we are bound to reread and reinterpret in relation to new and unique horizons of meaning. In this light, religion is not simply a binding system of beliefs or set of doctrines but a process of rereading, reexamining, reinterpreting a scriptural tradition that we have inherited and that gives us a sense of indentity and context. The religious life is a communal practice of reading again, of opening the Bible in ways that crack its binding, so to speak, and open it to new understandings, new interpretations. Or, to put it in terms we used earlier, it calls for a reinvestment of sacred capital: out of the product and into the process, thereby privileging the vital, ongoing relationship between readers and texts, a relationship that is dynamic, transient, and creative.



Posted by on November 27, 2011 in Religion


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6 responses to “Religion: Cracking the Binding

  1. informationforager

    November 27, 2011 at 4:43 pm

    I’ll have to check this out. I have read “Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why” by Bart Ehrman and found that to be a very good book. Thanks.

  2. wordhaver

    November 27, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    Haven’t read Ehrman yet; what I enjoyed about this one is the way he reframes (rereads/rebinds) the Bible; it was just a pleasant surprise. Just finished The Bible Made Impossible by Christian Smith – another excellent follow-up read. They’ve got me thinking…and filled with new passion for the Word amidst the words.

  3. randallphelps

    November 27, 2011 at 8:18 pm

    If someone had told me that you had written the above passage I would not have doubted it. It sounds just like something you would say.

  4. wordhaver

    November 28, 2011 at 1:18 am

    I know! Definitely a familiar echo there. I’m sure Mr. Beal and I would have some interesting discussions on numerous topics…

  5. Jon T

    November 28, 2011 at 9:17 pm

    I love that both/and approach! There’s an uncomfortable tension there in affirming traditional readings and yet also looking beyond them to see what’s on the horizon.
    I also read Smith’s book this year and found it challenging and helpful. Are you planning on doing a more broad review of “Rise and Fall”?

  6. wordhaver

    November 29, 2011 at 1:04 am

    At the very least I think I’ll post a few more excerpts I found particularly thought provoking with some brief comments…I’m doing a lot of processing and it’s quite invigorating!


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