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January 20, 2013

Question:  Is there a difference between faith and religion?

Contemporary humans tend to dichotomize both faith and spirituality from religion: “I have faith in God but I am not religious” and/or  “I’m spiritual but not religious.” However, the Bahá’í Faith aims to integrate as closely as possible both faith and spirituality with religion.

Starting definitions of  “faith” and “religion” would be helpful. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (1844-1921), the eldest son and successor of the Prophet-Founder Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892), and the authorized interpreter of his teachings, gave this succinct definition: “ By faith is meant, first, conscious knowledge, and second, the practice of good deeds” (Bahá’í World Faith,  p. 382). This definition also applies to  religion.

As for religion itself, Bahá’u’lláh  wrote: “Know thou that they who are truly wise have likened the world unto the human temple. As the body of man needeth a garment to clothe it, so the body of mankind must needs be adorned with the mantle of justice and wisdom. Its robe is the Revelation vouchsafed unto it by God” (Gleanings, p. 80).This garment has been renewed in our day with the advent of the Bahá’í Faith (1844-).

The dichotomy of faith and spirituality from religion has occurred for a variety of complex reasons.  We live in a worldly, materialistic society in which the vitality of belief in God has been temporarily eclipsed, while paradoxically, a simultaneous  renewed interest in religion is clearly manifest. But the behaviour of the fanatically religious and the perverse has also discredited religion in the eyes of many.

As for the “I’m spiritual but not religious”  New Agers, who espouse a “higher power,” and various eclectic beliefs, we should remind ourselves of the following: most of the spiritual practices we find in the New Age movement can be traced to the world’s religions, especially Hinduism and Buddhism and native spirituality , whether it be yoga, prayer, meditation, mind-body harmony, and Gaia philosophy .

By contrast, each of the recognized world’s religions invites commitment to its integral belief-and-value system. The world’s religions generally do not subscribe to an “anything goes” moral relativism, a pervasive feature of the current age, with its “I’m spiritual but not religious” stance.    
-  Jack McLean

Printed in the The Ottawa Citizen January 20, 2013
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