Culture 2 April 2013 Edmund Wilson's Words of Ill-Omen: Religionist The American man of letters gives guidance to writers and journalists on both sides of the Atlantic. Sign up for our weekly email * Print HTML Two: Religionist (American). The OED’s definition of this is, “One addicted to religion; one imbued with, or zealous for, religion. Sometimes in bad sense, a religious zealot or pretender”. The examples here given show that through the seventeenth centuries in England religionists were contrasted with atheists. Webster’s dictionary echoes the English definition and does not go beyond; yet lately in the United States religionists are referred to in the current press, it is clear that this term includes anyone who is professionally occupied with religion, of whatever church, movement or status – that is, anyone from Billy Graham to Reinhold Niebuhr. This is, like womanizer, a word that destroys distinctions. Here again one has only to remember the words it is used to displace – priest, minister, rabbi, etc.; churchman, divine, man of God, evangelist, religious teacher, parson, preacher; sky-pilot, hot-gospeller – to see that it is now as generic as businessman, farmer or artist. The contrast with atheist is no longer implied. A religionist is merely someone who professionally works at religion as an industrialist works at industry. Religion is the religionist’s “line”. 6 September 1958. Next up: Massive. › How Scottish trade unions are shifting in favour of independence The American evangelist Billy Graham. Photo: Getty Images. Edmund Wilson (1895-1972) was a noted American writer, critic and social commentator who contributed occasional reviews and essays to the New Statesman. Subscribe from just £1 per issue More Related articles Attention millennials: we have reached Peak Unicorn Commons Confidential: Why Chris Grayling can't escape Southern rail Why won’t Nicola Sturgeon get on with her “girl job” – running Scotland?