People often ask me how I can believe in God without being religious. Well, in my book that is very well possible. There is a difference between faith and religion as well as there is a common ground.
I was born and raised in a country that is predominantly of the Christian religious tradition. Centuries of Christianity based culture has left its mark on a society in which even an atheist would have a hard time not being influenced by it at some level.
It would be foolhardy to consider myself not to be affected by Christian values instilled by my parents, the education system and society at large. Yet, I do not adhere to any Christian denomination or any other religion for that matter.
I do believe in ‘God’ however and I do believe Jesus Christ has a special position in the divine constellation. To me, they are a reality — but does this make me a ‘Christian’?
I wonder that if I had been born in let’s say an Arab country, within the realm of Muslim religious culture, how much my perspective would differ from the one that I have now. A lot, probably — but then again, maybe not…
People often ask me how I can believe in God without being religious.
Well, in my book that is very well possible…
To me there is a clear distinction between ‘faith’ and ‘religion’, a distinction that is often blurred, confused — corrupted even — in conversations, literature, news headlines and public discourse.
From my perspective faith and religion are concepts of the divine with one clear distinction: one is man made, the other isn’t.
Faith is a private and personal belief system. The 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.
Every person will express his or her belief in their own particular way, yet they’re all perspectives generated from within our mind and our hearts that affect our outward look on life.
Religion is a man made belief system, a collective practice of observing rules and regulations based on interpretations of scriptures considered to be holy; books that were recorded by men, conceived by the divine. Religion is also an organisational structure. And then there is religious tradition embedded in religious culture.
Faith and religion are not necessarily at odds with each other. Religion can help us understand the divine and educate us about the divine and in that way complement each other. Unfortunately religion has been and is still being abused for other purposes too.
Do we need religion to have faith? I would argue: No.
Do we have to have faith to adhere to a and practice a particular religion?
I would say: Yes.
Do we need religion at all? No, not necessarily.
Do we have to have faith. Yes, absolutely, I would argue, but that’s for another day and another article.
Religion is faith based. Without faith, religion is non-sensical, an empty shell. A hoax, a bunch of fairy tales, as many an atheist would proclaim.
Faith has no particular prerequisites. Faith is. Either one has it or one doesn’t (recognise it).
Faith is an expression of the personal relationship with the divine, a personal representation of a state of mind and a state of being. A hoax, a bunch of fairy tales, as many an atheist would proclaim.
Yet, it is my personal interpretation and representation. I makes sense to me and to me only. Language being an imperfect tool to express my most inner beliefs and values, my faith is mine and mine only. I have no desire to convince other people of my beliefs. I can only share what I hold to be true and learn from the perspectives of others.
As far as I am concerned both faith and religion are ways we make sense of our reality. They represent our world view, our moral code and drive our efforts to get ahead in life. At best they converge and complement each other. In the worst case they are completely at odds with each other.
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 — regardless of religious adherence — 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 foundations have remained the same. Now, that may be completely non-sensical to the next person, it is a reality to me and therefore valid.
Another distinction I would like to point out and argue about is the difference between religion as a theory, a moral value system, religious culture and tradition and how faith transcends these.
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.
Whether one is a person of faith, an atheist or a religious practitioner, the influence 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 the part of the world in which it is predominant.
In other words: European culture is a Christian based culture as much as Arab culture is predominantly Islamic culture, as well as Asian culture is predominantly Buddhist — albeit technically Buddhism is not a religion - and so on and so forth.
I often wonder that if I had been born on the Arab peninsula or in China proper, how this would have affected my outlook on life.
Probably a lot, 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.
All religious dogmas have in common the divine presence, whether incarnated in a singularity, a trinity or a plurality.
On the other hand, faith, as an expression of a state of mind and as a state of being seems to supersede these incarnations.
And yet religion has provided me with a vocabulary to express my 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 matters of faith with other human beings.
This is not a requirement, a prerequisite, however. I’m perfectly content in keeping my matters of faith personal and private for as much possible. And yet the use of religious concepts are a necessity in our interactions with our fellow human beings. And whereas religions are filled with concepts, rituals and symbolisms, faith on the other hand is individually oriented and single-minded. Faith is simple.
Faith is a reality and the only one that matters. At least to me.
My faith is based on the following concepts:
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.
I see too many flaws, incoherences, outright bigotry and hypocrisy in these 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, 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 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. Yet, I would never 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.
I consider it to be human folly and hubris that the constructs erected in the name of the Father, the Son, the Prophet and the Teacher and other manifestations of the divine are somehow fully equivalent to personal expressions of faith. They are not.
‘God’, ‘Allah’, are titles, religious expressions, for the singular divine, that sprout from an occidental deterministic mindset. They have no moral superiority over expressions of the plural divinity that originate from a more holistic oriental world view. It’s like comparing Chess to Go.
Regardless of its origin I think all believers can agree that the divine fully encompasses us. If however, religions were established in a vain attempt to encompass or to even supersede the divine, then we’d better refrain from them.
People claim that religions are control systems, designed to subdue humanity. I would argue that they were not set up in this way. This was not the intent of their founding fathers, although in practice many have deteriorated along the lines of control and abuse.
I once filled out a questionnaire that carried some 40 odd questions containing Christian based beliefs and attitudes towards various topics. Roughly 80% of my answers were in concurrence with Christian religious beliefs. I would argue however that if a Muslim or Buddhist would fill out the same form their score would not differ all that much from mine.
In other words, when a Christian, Muslim, Buddhist — or atheist for that matter — would sit around the table and discuss their lives, I would argue they would find they have more in common with each other, than they would differ and disagree about. We all need a roof above our heads, we all need food and water, love. We all want our children to be happy and prosper. Are the matters we disagree about worth the centuries of bloodshed and misery? Or are we able to agree to disagree in civil discourse?
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. The belief systems that sprout from them were established after they passed on — by their followers.
When we read the Bible Gospel of ‘Revelations’ it states very clearly that all (7) churches will be judged. 5 out of 7 will be judged as having issues and the remainder is warned to stay on the right track.
The very Holy Book on which a 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 from the present. They are there in plain sight and are easy to understand for those who want to read and learn.
In conclusion, religions can fulfil the need of the needy, but they are but a surrogate to the root, faith. Faith being a condition of the heart and a state of mind with a direct connection to the divine as I have argued. It is the essence by which everything else comparatively falls short.