In public discourse 'faith' and 'religion' are often mixed up and mis-used. One might gather they are the same and as these are clearly overlapping concepts they are also clearly distinct.
Faith is the personal belief in the divine that has dominion over all; the submission to, the acceptance and awareness of a higher authority from which all originates and all will return to.
Religion is a man-made belief system. A collective practice and observance of rules and regulations based on interpretations of books considered to be holy; books that were recorded by men, yet conceived by the divine.
Religion is there to help us understand the divine and educate us about the divine.
Do we need religion to have faith? No.
Do we have to have faith to adhere to a and practice a particular religion? Yes.
Religion is faith based. Without faith religion is non-sensical, an empty shell. A hoax as many an atheist likes to proclaim.
Faith requires no particular prerequisites. Faith IS.
Faith is an expression of the personal relationship with the divine, an personal expression of a state of mind and a state of being.
As far as I am concerned the distinction between faith and religion is clear.
From my personal perspective: I was born with faith. I came into this world whereby from my earliest recollection I believed in God, the God as recorded in Bible, JHWH.
As a child, I felt God’s omnipresence in my life. This personal relationship, which I belief applies to all humans from birth, is almost tangible. For me it has remained that way ever since. As any relationship my relationship with God has evolved through the years but its foundation has remained the same.
I was born and raised in Western Europe. Europe, if not the cradle of Christianity, then at least the very catalyst of the propagation of the Christian religion throughout the world.
The cultural inclination of religion
The cultural inclination of religion is another aspect in the distinction I make between faith and religion.
Whether one is a person of faith, an atheist or a religious practitioner, the influx of Christian religion, or any religion for that matter, over thousands of years has become synonymous to religious culture and has deeply influenced and affected the secular culture of parts of the world in which it is predominant.
In other words: European culture is a Christian culture as much as Arab culture is a predominantly Muslim culture, as well as Asian culture is predominantly Buddhist and so on and so forth.
I sometimes wonder that if I had been born on the Arab peninsula or in China proper how this would have affected my outlook on life. A lot in all probability. In many aspects indeed, but I’m hesitant - on the verge of denial - where it concerns my faith. Faith to me transcends culture. It is universal.
Faith transcends religion
All religions have in common the divine presence, whether incarnated in a singularity, a trinity or pluralities. One might argue the differences between theistic religions like Christianity, Islam and non-theistic religions like Buddhism. And yes the differences between them are huge and have been the cause of much bloodshed throughout history.
On the other hand, I would argue that faith, as an expression of a state of mind and as a state of being supersedes these incarnations.
- We all are inclined and intent upon seeking the truth;
- We were all born with a moral instinct called conscience;
- We are all part of a larger entity called humanity;
- We are all subject to forces outside the realm of our influence;
When we channel our thoughts, our feelings and our efforts towards the quest of solving the puzzles of the universe, no religion can provide complete and definitive answers. They all require a leap of faith at some point.
- Faith cushions our fear of the unknown;
- Faith comforts the unbearable lightness of our being;
- Faith is a driving force behind many if not all of our endeavours;
- Faith remains when all else is failing us;
Faith goes where religions cannot pass.
The religious vocabulary
At this point one might argue why we would need religion at all. And yet religion has provided us with a vocabulary to express our faith in terms of language and concepts that otherwise would have been hard if not impossible to express. How to express a feeling or a thought without the use of these tools?
Religion provides us with a tool, language, to communicate abstractions in both matters of faith and religion with other human beings.
This is not a requirement, a prerequisite, however. We can be perfectly content in keeping our matters of faith personal and private. And yet the use of religious concepts and constructs are a necessity in our interactions with our fellow human beings.
Being born and raised in Western Europe, I express my faith by means of the Christian religious tradition: Jehovah God as recorded in the Hebrew-Aramaic Bible and His Son Jesus Christ as recorded in the Latin-Greek Gospels. And yet I do not consider myself being part of the Christian religion as represented by its Catholic or Protestant mainstream churches nor any of its 40,000+ smaller denominations.
Faith is simple.
Whereas religions are filled with theories, concepts, rituals and symbolisms, faith on the other hand is individually oriented and singleminded. Faith is simple.
I see too many flaws, incoherences, outright bigotry and hypocrisy in religious constructs. And yet I do not feel the need to outright condemn and discard them. I will not be the judge nor the jury over them, but I simply fail to connect or relate to them in a meaningful way, very unlike the manner in which I feel connected and can relate to Jehovah God and His Son Jesus Christ. They fill my space, they encompass me by a simple matter of faith. The Christian religion or its churches don’t…
This also applies to the Muslim religion and its predominant Sunni and Shiite constructs and yet I would never therefore discard the Prophet Muhammad, as Rasool Allah, guide to the right way, Qu’ran. Nor would I purposely disregard Gautama Buddha as an enlightened teacher of humanity. They are all manifestations of the divine and should therefore be respected, studied and observed.
The folly of religion
I consider it to be human folly and hubris that the religious constructs erected in either the name of the Father, the Son, the Prophet, the Teacher or all other manifestations of the divine are somehow regarded as fully equivalent. They are not.
Not even Science, the religion of Nature can fill the gap.
All religions are false equivalents to the Divine: JHWH, Allah, Om, the ultimate reality, the entirety of the universe, the absolute truth. They are false by design not necessarily by intent.
I'm not here to accuse any religion of malintent. On the contrary, I do regard the establishment of religion in principal as an act of faith and piety, but only the Divine can fully encompass us.
When religions degrade into vain attempts to encompass or even replace the Divine, when religions keep us away from establishing and nurturing our own personal relationship with the Divine, then we’d better refrain from them.
The Christian religion
From my personal Christian based perspective it is very clear to me that Jesus never established a religion nor a church. He gathered people around Him much like the Prophet and the Teacher did. Twelve out of Jesus’ following, His Apostles, recorded the message He carried from His Father.
When we read the Bible Gospel of ‘Revelations’ it states very clearly that all (7) churches will be judged. Most of them will be judged as having issues while the remainder is warned to stay on the right track.
The very Holy Book on which this major religion was established warns us for the shortcomings of its churches. Statements recorded millennia ago, describing events that will occur in a future that may very well be aeons away from the present. They are there in plain sight and are easy to understand for those who want to read and learn.
Religions can fulfil the need of the needy, but they are but a surrogate to the root, faith.
Faith is a condition of the heart and a state of mind and being with a direct link to the divine, the universe.
Faith is the essence by which everything else comparatively falls short.