11/25/2014 02:12 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Problem With Faith


This article first appeared in

The Problem with Faith

I wish it were easier. It is not, however.

In many ways, my spiritual walk was easier when it was not so complicated by faith. When I could reduce it to a catalogue of beliefs, which I did most of my religious life, it was infinitely easier than actually having to live by faith. When I could just carry around a list of things in my head I was supposed to believe, the way my wife carries around a daily list of things she wants to do, my life was a hell-of-a-lot simpler.

It was only after I became aware that the things you believe don't mean squat if the way you live isn't a moment by moment trust in the Divine.

That's what it means to live by faith. And, when you live by faith, it does not matter whether you're a Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist or nothing at all. You are spiritual and, no matter what inside you rails against such a notion, the fact is, that is the truth.

I am a Christian by virtue of my upbringing. If you are, the likelihood is, it is the same for you. You are not a Christian because you have carefully and open-mindedly searched even the major religions of the world and concluded Christianity makes more sense than all the others. No, if you are honest, and much of the Christian world is not, you will have to admit, you were raised in a church somewhere in America and, at some point, you made some kind of decision to believe in some kind of God...the God your religion believed Jesus, of course...and then, you took whatever actions your Christian tradition dictated you needed to take in order to declare to the world you were a Christian.

What is ultimately more important, however, is that you be a person of faith. Not just a person who believes a bunch of stuff somebody said you had to believe or you'd go to hell.
Or, smell like you did, anyway.

Faith is Hard Work

And, that is what makes all of this faith stuff so difficult.

I wish it were easier. I really do. But faith is hard. Beliefs, on the other hand, are easy. Which I think is the main reason why some religious people resist, even revile, the stuff I write about. It is easier for them to call me a heretic or, worse, a defector from the faith than to ever intelligently think about what I'm trying to say.

They want faith instead to be reduced to a "What We Believe" class.

They don't want struggle; they want simplicity.
They don't want questions; they want answers.
They don't want faith; they want beliefs.
They don't want diversity of beliefs; they want uniformity of beliefs.
They don't want interfaith; they want one faith.
They don't want many religions; they want one religion.

And, depending on which religion they were raised to believe in, then of course, that religion is the one they want. After all, it's the one that is "right."

Here is what I've observed about religions, however.

1. There is not one single religion that works for everyone.

Christians and Muslims would do well to remember this because, if there is one thing both those religions teach, it is the conversion of everyone to their belief system.

Wave a Bible in the face of unbelievers, or threaten them with eternal hell, and some Christians mistakenly think that should be enough to bring everyone to repentance and conversion.

Muslims make an equal mistake. Man of them mistakenly think all they should have to do is wave an AK-47 in the face of unbelievers, or threaten them with beheading, and they, too, will convert.

Neither will work and both religions are wrong.

There will never be just one religion. I am not sure about many things. But, of this, I am certain.

And, here's why.

2. Religions by nature divide.

Which is the irony, since the word "religion" means "to bind together." And, there is a sense in which religions do. At least, initially and, when they do, it is always very personal. But, over time, what at first unites people will ultimately divide them.

Put two religious people in the same room and you will soon have three religions.

Here's the point I am trying to make.

You can settle for your religion, if you wish.
You can be content to live out the beliefs of your religion.
You can right me off, as some others have done, as some "former believer."
If that makes all of this easier for you to swallow, then have at it.
But, if you wish to live a spiritual life, regardless of the religious garment you drape around it (or, lack of a religious garment), you will have to get beyond your beliefs. Beliefs are no more faith than coffee beans are a cup of hot brew. Knowing the difference is the difference between living a religious life and living a life of faith.

Spiritual people...people of faith...have recognized...
Beliefs may be part of faith, but believing is living by faith - that's what's hard.
They know they're going to have more questions than they have answers...
More doubts than they have securities...
More struggles than they have days of bliss and peace.

They know that being spiritual does not mean they become more divine; it means they are becoming more human.

And, just in case you need reminding, to be human means...

To know hurt as well as happiness;
To know despair,too,
But despair that is seasoned like a pot of stew on a cold day with just the right amount of hope.

It means, my dear friend, life for you is lived with God...
It is not a life lived "for" God.

There is a difference.

The former is a life of faith.

The latter? Well, it's a life lived with beliefs. And, when your faith is all about "right" beliefs and the "right" religion, you go through life arguing and defending what deep down you know is as empty as the arguments you are making for it.

Live well, instead. Live by faith. Oh sure, it's hard. It's damn hard. But, for me, it's the difference between being human...and...being anything but.