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.


  1. To answer your friend's question, I would ask her to explain more specifically what she's wondering about, in the Baha'i Faith. For example, what would she need to know, to decide for herself whether to call it a religion, or a faith, or both, or neither? I disagree with imagining that we're conveying information about anything, by putting a label on it.

    I like very much your impulse to consider how God uses those words, or rather whatever words have been translated into those words.

    It might benefit you to read "One Common Faith" again. I think it brings a lot of light to everything you've discussed here. You might learn a *lot* more from it now than you ever have before.

    One thing that I think needs to be clear in our teaching about the oneness of religion is that it isn't saying anything about any agreement between all the ideologies and claims to allegiance that are commonly called "religions."

    I won't take the time now to try to explain what I think our scriptures *are* saying about the oneness of religion, but I want to share some thoughts about one kind of faith: what Abdu'l-Baha calls the "spirit of faith."

    "The fourth degree of spirit is the heavenly spirit; it is the spirit of faith and the bounty of God; it comes from the breath of the Holy Spirit, and by the divine power it becomes the cause of eternal life. It is the power which makes the earthly man heavenly, and the imperfect man perfect. It makes the impure to be pure, the silent eloquent; it purifies and sanctifies those made captive by carnal desires; it makes the ignorant wise.

    (Some Answered Questions, p. 144)

    I equate that with the saving faith that the Apostle Paul says (Ephesians 2:8) is a gift from God, not of our own doing, and therefore not a reason to pride ourselves over others.

    When God calls Jesus "the Spirit" or "the Spirit of God," that might mean that a specific part of His mission was to personify that spirit of faith.

    One possibility I see is that in the book of God, His Faith is faith in His Manifestation; and His Religion is learning to know Him and love Him, and to walk in His path. None of the claims to allegiance that are commonly called "religions," including the Baha'i Faith, can claim to have any monopoly, or even superiority, in that Faith or in that Religion.

  2. Is Faith not conscious knowledge? From my own perception (take it or leave it), conscious knowledge is a heart and mind in balance with the spirit of things.

    1. Yes, 'Abdu'l-Baha actually refers to faith as "conscious knowledge in action". Thanks for the reminder.

  3. Good question! Good answer. I wouldn't have thought of it that way. Religion is God's gift to us and faith is a virtue that we have and can exercise through His religion? Just like 'Abdu'l-Baha says about faith,"conscious knowledge in action".

    Keep the Faith...