Religious Words

  1. Cardinal
    • Cardinal means of primary importance, fundamental. That makes sense when you think of the cardinals in the church – after all they do elect the pope.
    • As if you needed any more associations – the expression, “cardinal sin”, retains the GRE definition of the word, and means primary. It does not refer to naughty churchmen.
  2. Syncretic
    • This is a difficult word, and not one that would go on any top 1000 words you have to know for the GRE.
    • But for those with a robust vocabulary, pay heed: if a I concoct a new religion and decide to take bits and pieces from other religions then I have created a syncretic religion: one that combines elements of different religions.
    • You can probably see where this is going with the GRE definition – which tends to offer a little more latitude. Syncretic – more generally speaking – can refer to any amalgam of different schools of thought.
  3. Ecclesiastical
    This one is easy. It means of or relating to the church. Out of all the words in the list, ecclesiastical is the only one that hasn’t taken on a more broad – or completely unexpected – definition.
  4. Parochial
    • This word comes from parish, a small ecclesiastical district, usually located in the country. The word still has this meaning, i.e. relating to a church parish, but we are far more concerned with the negative connotation that has emerged from the rather sedate original version.
    • To be parochial is to be narrow-minded in one’s view. The idea is if you are hanging out in the country, you tend to be a little cut off from things. The pejorative form– at least to my knowledge – is not a knock at religion.
  5. Catholic
    We have many associations with Catholicism – from cardinals to mass, to nuns wielding crucifixes at frothing demons. Thus, it is somewhat surprising that a second definition of catholic – the GRE definition – is universal.
  6. Anathema
    • A few hundred years ago, many ran afoul of the church, and excommunications (and worse) were typical reprisals. If such was the case, the Pope actually uttered a formal curse against a person. This curse was called the anathema.
    • Today this word, in addition to a broader scope, has taken a twist. If something is anathema (n.), he, she, or it is the source of somebody’s hate.
    • The verb form of the word, anathematize, still carries the old meaning of to curse.
  7. Desecrate
    If a person willfully violates or destroys any sacred place, he (or she) is said to desecrate it. Tombs, graves, churches, shrines and the like can all be victims of desecrations. One, however, cannot desecrate a person, regardless of how holy that person may be.
  8. Apostasy
    Some believers turn against their faith and renounce it. We call this act apostasy, and those who commit it, apostates. Today the word carries a slightly broader connotation in that it can apply to politics as well.
  9. Sanctimonious
    • This is a tricky word, and thus you can bet it’s one of GRE’s favorite. Sanctimonious does not mean filled with sanctity or holiness. Instead it refers to that quality that can overcome someone who feels that they are holier (read: morally superior) to everybody else.
    • Colloquially, we hear the term holier-than-thou. That is a very apt way to describe the attitude of a sanctimonious person.
  10. Iconoclast
    • The definition that relates to the church is clearly negative, i.e. an iconoclast is one who destroys religious images. Basically, this definition applies to the deranged drunk
    • who goes around desecrating icons of the Virgin Mary.
    • The applicability of this definition to GRE is clearly suspect. The second definition however happens to be one of the GRE’s top 100 words. An iconoclast—more broadly speaking—is somebody who attacks cherished beliefs or institutions. This use of the word is not necessarily negative:
    • According to some scholars, art during the 19th century had stagnated into works aimed to please fusty Art Academies – it took the iconoclasm of Vincent Van Gogh to inject fresh life into the effete world of painting.
Card Set
Religious Words