The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 37
The popularly accepted derivation of the word religion is from the Latin word religare, signifying "to bind bach or behind, to bind fast." If this derivation is correct, the word would seem etymologically to contain the idea of bondage, as its root-meaning; and consequently the use of it in connection with any word suggesting liberty, as in the phrase "Free Religion," must be condemned, as one of those attempts to put new meanings into old theological words against which every true radical instinctively and on principle protests. Should ripe and impartial scholarship ever pronounce in favor of this derivation, I for one should be disposed to abandon the word religion altogether, while still cleaving to that which to my mind it now fairly and fitly expresses. Far be it from any intrepid thinker to seek to avail himself of the prestige of any word to which his honest and unbiassed thought does not justly entitle him! Let him trust the cause of truth to itself for its final vindication in the eyes of mankind.
"A it hæc minax Cybebe, religalque juga manu."
It might be not unreasonably urged that warrant could be found, even in the vulgar derivation of the word religion, for its appropriate conjunction with the word free.
But there is no occasion to rest the case on any doubtful or questionable grounds. The best authorities are in favor of deriving the word religion, not from religare at all, but from relegere or religere, signifying "to go through or over page 7 again in reading, in speech, or in thought that is, to review carefully and faithfully, to ponder or reflect with conscientious fidelity. If this derivation is the correct one, then there is nothing in etymology to forbid or discourage the application of the epithet free to religion,—nothing to suggest, even, the idea of bondage or arbitrary obligation. The root-meaning of the word would be the application of the intellectual faculties under direction of the conscience to any subject in general, or more especially, by popular association merely, to the subject of man's relation to God or the gods.
Now this question of the true derivation of the word religion is so closely connected with the profoundest problems of modern religious thought, and particularly with that of the real relation of religion as an historical phenomenon to the belief in God, that I beg your indulgence for presenting to you some of the most important evidence on both sides of this question. At the risk of being dry and uninteresting to a popular audience, I wish to give in some detail such testimony as my note books furnish concerning the verdict of modern scholarship on the true derivation of the word under discussion.