In recent years there has been a growing number of people who claim to be “spiritual but not religious.” Although the 15th chapter of Thirty True Things . . . “ (TTT) does not address that issue directly, it is closely related. In this article (and chapter) I contend that it is much more important for people to have faith (be “spiritual”) than to practice religion.
Religion Divides, Faith Unites
|Rev. Alex McGilvey, Manitoba, Canada|
In the first part of Chapter 15 of TTT, I contend that there doesn’t have to be a split between faith and religion. That is because, ideally, religion is an expression of faith and nourishes the faith of the believer and encourages faith in non-believers.
We live, however, in a world where much is far from ideal. And, unfortunately, quite often religion is quite different from, and quite inferior to, faith. Moreover, religion tends to be divisive. Religions often have “competed” with each other for adherents.
In an effort to overcome the tension among the religions, for decades some have encouraged, and practiced, interreligious dialogue. While certainly there is still a place for such dialogue among people of the various religious traditions, a more helpful movement is that of interfaith activities.
Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary indicates that the term interfaith dates back to 1932. But the common use of that term is considerably more recent. Still, it has become a widely used term; there is now even a website with the URL address www.interfaith.org.
Part of the reason for the shift in terminology from interreligious to interfaith is due to the fact that religion tends to divide, but faith can, and often does, unite people.
On this basis, chapter 15 deals with the following matters in distinguishing the major differences between religion and faith.
►Religion as “Unfaith”
There is broad agreement that the most influential Protestant theologian of the 20th century was Karl Barth, the Swiss scholar who died 50 years ago in 1968. (I wrote a blog article, see here, about him on the 44th anniversary of his death.)
One of Barth’s seminal emphases was that religion is fundamentally “unfaith” because, in his analysis, it is the result of the efforts humans expend in seeking their own salvation.
To Barth, and many others who share his ideas, God cannot found by humans searching for God. God can be experienced only through God’s self-manifestation, which is the main meaning of the theological term “revelation.”
Faith, then, is not striving, but responding. Faith is not searching, but receiving. Faith is simply the grateful acceptance of God’s abundant grace.
►Religion Can Be Evil
Charles Kimball, an ordained Baptist minister, authored a book published under the title When Religion Becomes Evil (2002). He doesn’t think that religion as such is bad, but he analyzes how religion in all religious traditions is susceptible to at least five basic corruptions leading to a variety of evils.
Kimball goes on to stress, and I agree, that “only authentic faith can prevent such evils” (back cover).
►Faith is Always Good
After a section in which I introduce Wilfred Cantwell Smith’s ideas about the difference between faith and religion, the closing section avers that “faith is always good.” Of course, that assertion is based on the way I have defined faith in the chapter.
To the extent that faith is response to God (by whatever name God may be known or Ultimate Reality encountered), that response will of necessity be a good thing.
If faith, in actuality, is being/living in a loving relationship with God as the result of direct encounter with God, how could that be anything but good?
[The 15th chapter of Thirty True Things . . . (TTT), which amplifies what is presented in this article, can be found by clicking on this link.]