Monday, January 4, 2016

Religion or Faith

"Is Baha'i a religion", she asked, "or a faith?"

"What's the difference", was my reply. Like my friend at the market, I suspected there was a difference, but was unsure what it was.

As you may recall, I'm a jeweler / artist (you can throw fashion designer in there, too), and sell regularly at an outdoor market in Victoria, BC, which is still in Canada. Most days when it is slower, my neighbours and I chat about spiritual and social issues. So it is only natural that a question such as this would arise.

What is the difference between a faith and a religion?

It took me a while, but later that evening an answer came: faith is internal; religion is external.

Now, of course, this is not an official Baha'i perspective, just my own attempt at better understanding something that is very important to my own life.

So, why is this difference important to me? Well, I'm not really sure. but I do know that once I became aware of it, I began reading some of the Writings a little differently.

Shoghi Effendi, who was always so careful with his words, often refers to the "Faith of Baha'u'llah", and rarely to the "Faith of God", and then usually prefaced by the word "true". He almost never uses the phrase "Religion of God"; I think there are only three examples of it in all of his writings. The same is true with "God's Faith". It's almost never used.

But "Faith of Baha'u'llah" seems to be the standard.


Well, I think it's a reminder to me that my own faith is just that: my own. I am not doing anyone justice by teaching them my own faith. My job is to better understand Baha'u'llah's Faith and to try and share that. We often read that religion is one, but what do we understand by that? To me, religion is one, but faiths are multiple attempts at striving to understand that religion. Christians strive to understand Christ's faith in the religion of God, while Baha'is attempt to get a better understanding of Baha'u'llah's vision of God. The religion, that light that shines down from on high, is singular. Our understanding of that light, however, and what it means, is multiple. But the more that we strive to get a better understanding of what Baha'u'llah meant, of what He actually taught, and what comes from our own filtered understanding, the more we will recognize that religion truly is one and the same. All the differences come down to our own understanding of that, to our own individual faith.

Now, when I see either of those words in the Writings, either faith or religion, I check to see if that difference of being internal versus external, holds true. And you know what? It sure seems to. And that, dear Reader, has changed how I read the Writings.