Religion and Revolution (2)

This is the second in a series of posts on “Religion and Revolution.”

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When we address such a “statement” [as “Yes, I have time,” after someone asks us if we have time to do something the next morning] and explicate the phrase “have time,” it appears that we are merely talking about word-meanings in our linguistic usage. Nevertheless, what is at issue is the matter itself, the phenomenon, not the words—though granted that no phenomenon shows itself except in the domain of language.

—Martin Heidegger*


Well, as I’ve said before, that is just what words are for, after all: to let what is be said—and seen.

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To be “negligent” is to be careless, inattentive, or indifferent. The word negligent derives directly from Latin neglegentem, which has the same meaning as the related English term—and the nominative form of which is negligens, sounding very close to the same as the English negligence. The Latin consists of a shortening of the negative prefix nec-, “not,” plus legere, “to gather together, collect.” Legere, let it be remembered, is the same root from which Cicero says the word religion (Latin religio) derives, as I discussed in my preceding post.

That leads me to yet a third suggested derivation of the term religion, in addition to the two I considered in that preceding post, those two being the one just mentioned from Cicero, plus the more commonly accepted one that derives religion from re- plus ligare, “to fasten” or “to bind fast.” By the third suggestion, religion derives from Latin religens, which means “careful, attentive” the opposite of negligens, meaning “careless, or negligent (which sounds, as already noted, very like the Latin term from which it directly derives).”

Ligare (“fasten or bind”), the Latin root back to which, unlike Cicero, most scholars trace the word religion, is the same root from which derive not only oblige and obligation but also ligament. Furthermore, it is also the root to which linguists trace the English rely, which comes directly from Old French relier, which itself derives from Latin re- plus ligare

Originally in English, rely simply meant—as did relier in Old French—“to gather or assemble.” The word was used with that meaning both transitively (gathering together or assembling something such as, for example, grapes at harvest-time) and intransitively, actively (for instance, people gathering together with one another for some purpose).   Then in the 1570s rely came to have the sense at issue in modern talk of “relying on,” as in “You can rely on me”—that is, the sense of “depending upon” or “trusting in” someone or something. 

Heard in resonance with such reliance, such relying-on/trusting-upon, and at the same time relying on the dominant derivation of the word religion from re- plus ligare, “to bind or fasten,” to speak of “religion” would be to speak of that which does or is the binding of those who practice that religion back or fast (depending on which way the re- is taken) to the divine, whether that divine itself be taken to be one, or many, beyond number altogether, or in yet some other fashion. Religion would be that the practice of which either accomplishes, or itself just is, such binding—and thereby actively lets its practitioners be so bound.

So hearing religion, we might also begin to find forming a new thought that might establish an identity between all three of the traditional derivations of that very word, religion. The first of those three, to remind readers once again, is from Cicero, and takes that word originally to have come from re- and legere, and thus to have meant “to gather together again”—or else “to gather emphatically together,” as it were (if the re- is taken to be used as an intensifier).  In contrast, the second, more widely accepted derivation, holds that the word comes from re- and ligare, and thus means “to bind fast” or “to bind back/again.” Finally, the third and least widely accepted of the three derivations traces relgion back to Latin religens, which means “careful, attentive.”

If we listen carefully to what the derivation of rely has to tell us, relying upon that derivation itself for a time, we may be able to hear an underlying harmony between all three derivations, one that might allow us to gather all three together (or witness them so gathering themselves together) in such a way as to bind them (or perceive them binding themselves) fast to one another. We may, to put that a bit differently, discern though the three one and the same single, unifying meaning: One meaning of which the three differing derivations would become just three faces, aspects, or—perhaps put best—voices.

If we attend carefully to that single meaning, one that might gather and bind together all three traditional derivations of religion, we might be given to think that religion itself, properly so named, is this: the repetitive practice of return to the divine.

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Re-ligion, re-petitive, re-turn”? The words beginning with that prefix, re-, appear to be repetitively, as it were religiously, returning in this discussion focused so far on the first of those three, religion. The same re- also already returns and repeats itself in the very title of this series of posts: “Religion and Revolution.”

In my next post, leaving behind for a time the matter of religion but before turning at last to the matter of revolution, I will begin with some reflections on such repetitious returns of the re-.

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To be continued.


* Heidegger, Zollikoner Seminare (Gesamtausgabe, volume 89—Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 2018), pages 750-751, my translation.