Sunday, November 29, 2009

Faith is not Religion

Periodically, I beat this drum. It seems especially appropriate now, with Christians waving teabag banners declaring that if you cannot afford it you do not deserve healthcare. These being the people who claim they follow the teaching of Jesus, a man who healed the sick for free, who hated capitalism as he watched it bleed the poor into chaotic despair and utter ruin.

Faith is not religion.

Although the two are often confused, faith can be found outside of religion. Religion cannot be found outside faith, or if it can, then that religion is the raving ranting of politics.

I spoke with a man who claimed he found God. Strange idea, I thought, as if finding God took nothing more than scanning his surroundings with the equivalent of a spiritual metal detector. Perhaps God was a glint of light, a diamond chip lodged in the bottom of his soul he'd not discovered earlier. Suddenly there was God waiting just for him alone.

When I asked how that occurred, he said he found God in his newly adopted religion. He made it sound as if God existed nowhere else. The longer we talked, the clearer it became that this was a man transformed by his discovery. He reminded me of a drug addict or alcoholic, transfixed after the first huff or drink.

I asked how this transformation made him feel. Unbelievable, he said with wide-eyed wonder. Reborn, he added confidently as he examined his hands as if they were not the same hands he bore at birth, his true birth.

For him religion was like a spiritual aphrodisiac. He could stroke it and find satisfaction, arousal, deeper and stronger than anything physical. I wondered if he would survive the first test life dropped at his feet, a tragedy, serious challenge, or would his shelter shatter like stacked crystals.

We walked different paths after that day. I chose the path of faith. He chose religion. You may not yet see or the understand difference, but faith is like a spiritual cloak. Once it's wrapped around you, you do not remove it. You cannot, nor will you want to, open a door and walk outside of faith. Faith is lived each minute, not just a few select hours each week.

Religion is like a trench coat. If life “rains” on you, you hastily don it. Yet you don’t really trust it completely so you pop the umbrella of readings. When you leave your House of Worship, it’s okay to take the trench coat off, set it aside, place it on the night table maybe, hang it up to dry.

Sometimes religion is dictated by leaders who demand more of you, or that you perform deeds you are unwilling to do. Yet a true follower feels compelled to obey, drinks from the glass that reads “Drink This” and wonders why nothing changes as a result but everything seems or looks distorted.

Faith makes no demands. Faith is understanding; accompanied by the desire to prosper spiritually. There is no guidebook for faith; no lesson plan, none is needed.

Religion is laid out in books, road maps that must be read repeatedly to be followed and understood. Without daily immersion, one might drown in misunderstanding, leave the path of dictated behavior, and make decisions for oneself. Frightening thought, making decisions for oneself without religion's God to blame, or to seek succor or solace from.

Faith-guided living becomes a teacher. Such a life requires self-examination. It promotes healing oneself as the first step to healing others. Accepting one's own flaws leads to understanding the actions of those around us. Forgiving ourselves directs us to learn the skills needed to forgive others.

Years passed before I heard from the man who found God. He had abused his body through poor eating, drinking, and too much sun. In the end, I wondered if he refused the medical care that might've saved him because of religious conviction, or because he decided to give up. Perhaps the two were interchangeable.

Religion offers guidance based on the words of men lost to history, words written and rewritten until the ink faded into the obscurity of politics, which was when religion began representing government not faith.

Faith is guidance. Words are unnecessary; action propels the faithful to make the decision best for their spiritual self. And the path lies open, lit by inner light seen by the faithful alone, carried along though eternity.

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