Hollow Man


The word “religion”, apparently, has had some negative press in its association with the worst elements of people who claim some faith in Jesus Christ. In reaction to this, many Christian preachers have distanced themselves from the term in their sermons. I am of the opinion that they have taken the easy route. Rather, a more radical approach would have been to claim it back.

Those outside the church seem to attach a lot of negativity to the term “religion”. Legalism, arrogance, narrow-mindedness and bigotry are all often cited as qualities of the religious person. Observations of some of the church's members reveal that there might be some merit to this. Placard-waving fanatics who seem obsessed with the sins of others would lend some support to the overall tendency to define religion in that way.

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. – James 1:27

Twin aspects of true religion are clear in James' Epistle. One is to help orphans and widows. You can read that as help anyone who is in need, especially those downtrodden and cast aside by society. Might I suggest that homeless people, welfare beneficiaries, sex-workers, prison inmates, the mentally ill and neurodivergent, and indigenous peoples would all be in that grouping, depending on the context. I am sure you could add a few more. I was going to add lawyers, but...well...they are hardly downtrodden.

The second is to keep yourself free from the world's pollution. This does not mean to isolate yourself in some commune in middle of nowhere. There are ways to keep yourself pure and still interact with the world as it is and where it is.

Jesus Himself exemplifies both of these strands. He spent time with the outcasts, such as tax collectors (who could still be on our list in our own time). He hung out with Samaritans. Pretty much anyone He spent time with has an analogue in the modern world.

There is nothing in the Bible that says we should be standing on street corners pointing out people's sins. We are to call out our brothers and sisters in faith when they sin, but not someone we do not know. If you do not know me, you have not earned the right to speak about sin in my life.

Why the image of a monk? Because I think they sometimes embody exactly what James says is not religion. They often isolate themselves, though in many ways they maintain an ethic of service and charity.

We as believers should be practising true religion in the context of our relationship with Jesus Christ. One is not separated from the other. Go forth and serve those misfits and cast out people who are around you. Pray for them and, when the Spirit of God prompts you, share the Gospel of Christ with them.