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In many specialty areas of study, like engineering and medicine, the precise use of language is of paramount importance. Otherwise misunderstandings occur. Bridges may fall down. People can die from over or under-medication. But there are other areas in which the usage of language is quite imprecise. The largest offender may well be religion. According one source, there are 19 major world religions which are subdivided into a total of 270 large religious groups, and many thousands of smaller ones. 1 Unfortunately, many faith groups have little contact with each other. Many attach their own meanings to common English words.

Within a single faith group, there is usually little confusion because most of their members probably assign the same or a similar meaning a given term. However, different denominations within the same religion may well define terms differently. Definitions used by followers of different religions may be even farther apart in meaning.

This lack of standardization makes inter-faith (and sometimes intra-faith) communication, proselytizing, and dialogue very difficult. It is important to be sensitive to differences in assigned meanings whenever we are involved in discussions with others.

Judging from the complaint E-mails that we receive, there are many people out there who have very firm and precise beliefs about what different religious terms mean. They are absolutely certain that their definition is the correct one and the only correct one. They believe that their definition should be obvious to anyone reading their religion's holy text, and that everyone else is just plain wrong.

Probably the most common complaint that we receive is over the meaning of "Christianity" itself. We use an inclusive definition on this web site:

"A Christian is any person or group that sincerely, thoughtfully, and devoutly considers themselves to be Christian."

This means that we consider those Jewish Christians, Gnostic Christians and Pauline Christians who lived shortly after the crucifixion of Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus Christ) to all be Christians. Also, todays Baptists, Eastern Orthodox, Jehovah's Witnesses, Methodists, Mormons, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, are also considered Christians, even though they sometimes don't recognize others in the list to be fellow Christian.

In the past, public opinion pollsters have find that about 75% of Americans regard themselves as Christian. But there are some groups which define "Christian" so narrowly that they consider fewer than 1% of American adults to be Christian; all happen to be members of their own denomination. It does not seem to bother them that their faith group teaches that over 99% of the humans on Earth are headed for eternal torture in Hell after death.

Topics included in this section:

Related essays in this web site:

bulletA glossary of many hundreds of religious terms.
bulletUsing religious terms in essays, reports, etc.
bulletUsing secular terms in essays, reports, etc. about "hot" religious topics.

Reference used:

  1. The ultimate reference book on religions of the world is the two volume monumental set, World Christian Encyclopedia, released in mid-2001, by Oxford University Press. It contains 1699 pages with information about religion in the 238 countries of the world: David Barrett et al, "World Christian Encyclopedia: A comparative survey of churches and religions - AD 30 to 2200," Oxford University Press, (2001). It is not cheap! Read reviews or order this book safely from the online book store

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 Home page > Glossary of terms > here

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Copyright © 2003 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2003-JAN-28
Latest update: 2009-MAY-21
Author: B.A. Robinson

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