Get religion

Traditionally, to get religion is (1) to become religious, or (2) to end one’s immoral behavior. The phrase still carries those definitions, but it’s also used more figuratively to mean (1) to get serious about an issue and devote proper attention to it, and (2) to reform one’s view toward something. The idiom is usually followed by a preposition; about and on work best.

The derivation of the modern definition of get religion is obvious. To get religion in the older sense is to see the light of God, set aside one’s wanton ways, and get serious about living morally. The modern sense of get religion denotes a similar getting-serious process, but without the God part.

The OED lists get religion as an American idiom, but we’ve found several examples from elsewhere in the English-speaking world. The oldest examples of the modern sense of get religion in searchable texts are apparently from the 1960s, though we could be missing some older ones.



He was sure this girl wouldn’t get religion and act that way in front of people. [Know Nothing, Mary Lee Settle (1960)]

It is to get drunk every week for years, then “get religion” and stop drinking, start doing church work. [Life magazine (1960)]

It’s nice to see that the Ford campaign is getting religion on the defense issue. [Wall Street Journal (1976) (pay-per-view content)]

At age 36, advised by a life insurance carrier that my future was not insurable, I got religion about fitness. [Ocala Star-Banner (1990)]


President Obama treated deficit reduction mostly as a pesky afterthought, but then he got religion after the 2010 election shellacking that gave Republicans control of the House. [USA Today]

The Army gets religion about improving its handling of returning National Guard troops [Oregon Live]

In the early 1990s, after the new national Toxics Release Inventory had pegged it as America’s—and arguably the world’s—leading polluter, DuPont started toget religion about going green. [Green to Gold, Daniel Esty and Andrew Winston]

It wasn’t until the very end of his term that Rae appeared to get religion on spending control. [London Free Press]

11 thoughts on “Get religion”

  1. Well, it probably indicates the (British) company I keep, but your summary

    “(1) to get serious about an issue and devote proper attention to it, and (2) to reform one’s view toward something”

    sounds much too positive to me. Mine would have mentioned the ideas of becoming obsessive about something, and then boringly proselytizing about it.

    (Of course, plenty of people who literally get religion don’t do this!)

  2. Your examples are inconsistent about whether they italicize the phrase “get/got religion,” and one of them erroneously omits the space between the preceding word, “to,” and “get.”

    • Making ill educated, ill informed and wafer-thinly veiled contemptuous allegations online seems to be something more aligned to the renunciation of intellect.

        • You’re aware that the narwhal and the rhinoceros are real animals, right? The unicorn is merely a reimagining of these, much as the dragon is a reimagining of a lizard.

          Anyway, pointing out your flawed logic is probably an endless debate that insults my intelligence and superficially inflates yours, so I’m not going to go any further than to suggest that you grow up, since you clearly possess the maturity of a 7 year old.

    • That was my first though as well – get religious about. At risk of injoining the same response as Nodws, perhaps that’s why it’s seen as more of an american idiom.


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