Faith and Belief- these two words are thrown around a lot these days, and often when I hear them in a religious conversation, I find myself thinking, “We are not on the same page here!” It seems to me that when talking about religion, common definitions of key words could go a long way to diffusing a lot of the tension associated with religious discussions, and could even help bring people closer together.
Even the word religion itself really needs to be qualified in conversation. The ‘great conflict’ between science and religion (neo-atheist vs religious fundamentalist) is an excellent example of this. The neo-atheists attack religion, but they are really attacking institutional religion and centuries of dogma. They are unable to differentiate between a universal, transcendent, immanent Deity, and the religious institutions that have been organised to represent different approaches to understanding and worshipping him. So they throw everything into the same basket and label it religion. What if we were to use a more reasonable definition of what true religion is? What if we were to define religion as nothing more or less that the fostering of an individual’s personal relationship with their spiritual creator? How would that affect the conversation? It would certainly let the air out of a good many tyres!
Definitions are important!
There are two more words that beg precise definition; faith and belief. We’ve already tipped our hats to the neo-atheists, but it takes two to create an argument. Religionists often clothe themselves in the armour of these two words and in doing so, their meanings deteriorate into a description of the fundamentalist challenge; to maintain their belief in the creed of their religion and have faith that those beliefs are correct- even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
I personally feel that these two words have been hijacked by religious fundamentalists, and I would like to try to make clear what these words really mean, the difference between them, and how they can actually describe the path toward spiritual progress and maturity.
Let’s use a quote here. The Urantia Book defines faith and belief with a beautiful eloquence:
(1114.5) 101:8.1 Belief has attained the level of faith when it motivates life and shapes the mode of living. The acceptance of a teaching as true is not faith; that is mere belief. Neither is certainty nor conviction faith. A state of mind attains to faith levels only when it actually dominates the mode of living. Faith is a living attribute of genuine personal religious experience. One believes truth, admires beauty, and reverences goodness, but does not worship them; such an attitude of saving faith is centered on God alone, who is all of these personified and infinitely more.
Belief is always limiting and binding; faith is expanding and releasing. Belief fixates, faith liberates. But living religious faith is more than the association of noble beliefs; it is more than an exalted system of philosophy; it is a living experience concerned with spiritual meanings, divine ideals, and supreme values; it is God-knowing and man-serving. Beliefs may become group possessions, but faith must be personal. Theologic beliefs can be suggested to a group, but faith can rise up only in the heart of the individual religionist.
Faith has falsified its trust when it presumes to deny realities and to confer upon its devotees assumed knowledge. Faith is a traitor when it fosters betrayal of intellectual integrity and belittles loyalty to supreme values and divine ideals. Faith never shuns the problem-solving duty of mortal living. Living faith does not foster bigotry, persecution, or intolerance.
Faith does not shackle the creative imagination, neither does it maintain an unreasoning prejudice toward the discoveries of scientific investigation. Faith vitalizes religion and constrains the religionist heroically to live the golden rule. The zeal of faith is according to knowledge, and its strivings are the preludes to sublime peace.
Can I take a moment here to say, Wow! If I could write like that, you’d probably still be reading this article!
I think we can see here that in the same way neo-atheists lump God and religion together, religious fundamentalists lump faith and belief together which, once clearly defined, are certainly not one in the same.
Melchizedek taught Abraham that salvation can be had not by sacrifices and offerings, but that belief is the key to enter the Kingdom of God. Belief will get you in the door, but Jesus taught us that if you want to stay, if you want to embrace eternal life and become a true universe citizen, your belief must transform into faith.
Just as the true definition of religion is the fostering of a personal relationship with your spiritual creator, faith is the yardstick by which we can measure our progress as we search for God and strive to make that personal connection with him. True faith is an intimately personal assurance that you are on the right track.
Belief transcending into faith is a roadmap, and our challenge is to hop into the best religious vehicle we can find and travel that road, all the while keeping in mind that the vehicle is not the destination. Our itinerary is clear; we are heading out towards God from the small town of Belief via the metropolis of Faith.
That’s the challenge, should you choose to accept it…