If you thought a small-town Baptist considers being called "religious" a compliment, you were wrong. Many in the circles I found myself in as a child even went as far as declaring that Christianity is not a religion and that religion will, in fact, send you straight to hell. Christianity is not a religion, but rather a relationship with Jesus. Religious people perform empty ritual while Christians experience a relationship with God through his son Jesus Christ. Religious people go to meetings. Christians walk hand and hand with their homeboy, the Big J.C.
I do understand the distinction that is trying to be made. In using this rhetoric pastors are trying to hammer home the fact that the message of Christ is incarnational. Our communication with, and submission to, God is something that should be embodied on Friday night as much as on Sunday morning. In short, we should take our faith seriously.
But I've often believed that what is really at work in the "Religion is bad" language is the creation of yet another tool used by many people of faith to attack other people of faith and discredit their beliefs. By saying that religion will send people to hell they are really just creating a condition by which THEY can send people to hell. "That girl that I don't like and does worship different from me-- she's not a Christian. She's just religious."
But why drag a great word down in the mud with our own personal battles (and insecurities?) The word religion comes from an ancient Latin word religare, which means, loosely, "to bind." It carries with it the idea of a bond or, if you will, relationship with God.
Of all the things to be called, you could do a lot worse than "religious." It's good enough for me.