God is so reliable. I was perusing my list of blog post ideas, looking for inspiration, when one caught my eye: Can you have faith without religion?

F is for Faith

The substance of things hoped for, The evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1, KJV

It’s a compelling question, especially since an increasing number of Americans now describe themselves as “spiritual, not religious.” One study reports that as many as 33% self-identify as such. I am among them.

Before I could expound on some of the reasons millions today believe God is spirit [John 4:24], rather than an angry, judgmental and vindictive Being who lives beyond the farthest star, a browser tab caught my eye. I typically have at least a dozen browser tabs visible. They’re frequently visited sites, including CNN, The Weather Channel, a couple of unfinished books on Kindle Cloud Reader, Facebook and Twitter, and sites related to whatever research I’m conducting. Right now I have 18 tabs at the ready.

It was Facebook that lured me from my writing. At the top of my news feed was a story, “My Neighbor’s Faith: The rabbi and the Christian cab driver.” I was instantly intrigued.

Rabbi Brad Hirschfield recounted the time he hopped into a Syracuse cab and was stunned to discover “JESUS LOVES YOU” stickers on practically every surface of the interior. The dashboard bore a crucifix; pocket Bibles hung from the windshield. He quipped, “This wasn’t just a cab, it was a rolling cathedral!”

The scruffy looking cabbie asked the rabbi what he thought of Jesus, and why he didn’t believe Jesus was his path to salvation. The rabbi’s response was profound:

“I can believe that Jesus is a great teacher without believing that he is God’s son and the only path to salvation. One truth doesn’t negate the other. I can love Jesus in my way. And you can love Jesus in yours. There is room for both of our understandings of Jesus. I don’t believe that you have to be wrong for me to be right.”

“I don’t believe that you have to be wrong for me to be right.” The words hit the cabbie like a ton of bricks.

I felt a punch in the gut, too. Why? Because I’m keenly aware that the Loud Mouth can be as strident and judgmental as those who describe themselves as religious, particularly those who describe themselves as Christians.

God's wrath was aimed at you. Jesus took it. Don't reject him.Many Christians criticize those who don’t believe that we need to be saved from God’s judgment and eternal punishment. I, on the other hand, criticize anyone who believes that God is judgmental, sadistic and unforgiving. Neither position reflects Yeshua’s (aka Jesus) teachings.

Days ago, I expressed to a Facebook friend that I wanted to be more mindful of Jesus’s admonition to “judge not” and “condemn not.” It obviously put the spiritual wheels in motion.

Enter Rabbi Hirschfield, stage right: “Why do religious people have to be wrong for you to be right, Pat?”

I’m sure he is only the first of many who will offer me opportunities to rise above my Virgo propensity to criticize and analyze.

Rabbi Hirschfield didn’t say that I have to believe that God is an angry, judgmental, genocidal and vindictive Being who lives in the sky. I don’t have to believe that God’s forgiveness has strings attached, or that God solves problems by killing, banishing, forsaking or sadistically torturing anyone to death. I also don’t have to believe that sadistically torturing an innocent child to death is a divine way to demonstrate one’s love for the guilty children.

What he said was that others don’t have to be wrong for believing any or all of these things. Another great Jewish rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth, probably would concur: “Whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet,” he reportedly said.

I have faith that I can shake the dust off my feet. I can give others loving allowance to believe whatever they want and worship whatever kind of God they want. I have faith that I can practice Jesus’s teachings until they are second nature: Love my neighbor as myself; forgive 70 times 7; judge not; condemn not; God is within.

I have faith that I can experience and radiate the Christ within me, as he did. I have faith that with practice, I will grow in love so consistently that I’m will not be the person I was the day before.

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18 Responses to Can you have faith without religion?

  1. Penny Ayers says:

    Absolutely, I have great faith and totally reject religion….loved your blog….but then I agree with every word you said, so it was easy……I, also love Christians, that was hard….but my faith got me there! Big Hugs

  2. atcarmichael says:

    Interesting post! I strongly disagree with what the rabbi said, though. “One truth doesn’t negate the other. I can love Jesus in my way. And you can love Jesus in yours. There is room for both of our understandings of Jesus.” This is simply untrue. You don’t get to have Jesus anyway you like him. Why does Jesus not deserve the same treatment you would give anyone else? I don’t get to take certain things about my friends and leave the rest because I don’t like those things. That’s demeaning to anyone.

    One truth DOES negate the other, because only one can be right. If you have two disagreeing opinions about who Christ is, both can’t possibly be right! It’s only logical and reasonable. “I can love Jesus in my way.” Only if that lines up with who He really is and how He calls people to respond to Him.

    “What he said was that others don’t have to be wrong for believing any or all of these things.” As mentioned, everyone is not right. It’s impossible.

    I understand if you disagree with me here, but don’t you have to agree that, to be reasonable and consistent, not everyone can be right?

    • Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughtful comment, Adam.

      I agree: Conventional wisdom says that everyone cannot be “right.” But when we’re talking about non-judgment (that hot potato I’m trying to embrace without screaming bloody murder), there is no right or wrong; things are simply “different.”

      I think that’s the point Rabbi Hirschfield was trying to make. It is the point where inner peace and peaceful coexistence start, the place where differences in opinions or beliefs don’t collide; instead, they’re respected.

      We only need to look at the world’s endless holy wars to see how deadly and counterproductive “I’m right” and “You’re wrong” can be. In every case, both religious factions thought they were doing what God wanted them to do: annihilating those who had different beliefs. Each side was doing the “right” thing, in the name of God.

      Away from the religious battlefield, we daily have the option of convincing, cajoling or violently coercing others to share our views, beliefs and definition of “right”–or allowing them the right to be “right” without abandoning our own opinions.

      This is one of those occasions for me. So instead of disagreeing with you, Adam, I’m going to give you loving allowance to be right.

      Thank you for giving me an opportunity to practice non-judgment!

      Much love to you,

      • Thomas C. says:

        I am going to have to almost take Michael’s side here, there is a third option in any debate between two people who hold contradictory truths, both could be wrong. For example, Bob thinks the Scott Dixon won the Indy 500 in 2011 while Jack thinks Dario Franchitti won, both are wrong until Jane comes along and enlightens them that it was Dan Wheldon. There can be an infinite number of wrongs, but only one truth that is correct.

        If we are to play the “everyone gets to be right” card then Westboro Baptists are just as right in their beliefs as the Greek Orthodox as you are. (I would be willing to bet that two of them think the other two are wrong) We can stretch this to morality as well (most of morality is based on beliefs anyways) which means that I get to go around killing kittens (or whatever you find suitably despicable) “because that is my truth” at which point you could try to convince me that your truth is better, remember I have the “right to be right,” but if I reject your truth there isn’t much to do except let me go about my business.

        Now I am not saying inter-religious conversation is not good, or that all religions are bad (seems to me that many of them have a pretty good chunk of truth inside of them) I am just saying that to give up on the search for truth because there are so many different people claiming to have it seems odd to me. Whenever there is a discovery of gold in the world people rush in to “strike it rich” I think one’s spirituality values higher than gold (though its seems there are plenty of people who would disagree with me so we might want to throw out group consensus on truth as well) so why give up the search for truth by saying “there is no true gold?”

        • Thanks, Thomas!
          The last thing I would ever suggest is that we abandon our search for truth. In fact, I actually annoy people when I urge them to find their own truth, instead of blindly accepting others’. I believe that the blind faith they hold so dear is the primary reason that religious wars have been a constant force in human life.

          Regarding the rabbi’s position: Our little piece of the truth can be totally true without being the whole truth. But to your point, we must search for the whole truth. Today, there are still millions who believe that Jesus was Christian and that he started the Christian religion and founded the Christian church–despite the high rate of literacy. That simply is not true–but it is their truth. Any literate person can easily discover that Jesus was born and died a Jew.

          Even if they don’t do any independent research, there are clues. For example: Before the Romans tortured him to death, they ridiculed him as “King of the JEWS”. The Christian religion itself was founded after Jesus’s death. And almost everything we think we know about his life was written by men who didn’t know him and weren’t even contemporaries. Many of those written accounts, although they appear in the same book, conflict with each other. But religion dictates that we believe every account–even if it’s impossible for both of Jesus’s birth and death narratives to be true, for example.

          Any literate person can also easily determine that the birth and death narratives ascribed to Jesus mimic those of mythical gods who predated him: They were born of a virgin mother a god father; they healed the sick and raised the dead; they were killed by the establishment and they rose three days later.

          I agree with you that we must decide what’s of greater value to us, and in what we will place our faith: Is it in the teachings of the Jewish rabbi named Jesus or the stories that our religions hold so dear? It’s at the heart of the question: Can we have faith without religion?

  3. You can have faith without religion. I know people who will probably never step foot anyone’s place of worship again unless it’s a funeral or a wedding that have stronger faith than people who warm seats every Sunday. Essentially, faith is one’s relationship with The Universe, which has different names to different people. The stronger the relationship, the higher level of faith.

  4. Well said Pat! “I don’t believe that you have to be wrong for me to be right.” is a great quote, for all to remember.

  5. Sheree says:

    I love it when people of different faith come together to express their thought, feelings and beliefs. We all learn in the process. This is what faith is all about. As we age, our faith should expand and grow as we do.

  6. Charles says:

    “He may not come when you call him; but He’s always on time.” That was exactly my thought when I read the Loud Mouth’s blog this week. Let me explain.

    There is a woman at my office that wears a scarlet letter. No, not an ‘A’, but rather a ‘C’ for Christian. Every word written in the bible is beyond gospel…e v e r y w o r d! To question any verse or chapter or book is to invite the wrath of God on you, your family, and anyone you speak to. I put the question of this blog to her, “Why must I be wrong, for you to be right?” Her jaw is still a bit out of place from the shock it took in dropping to her knees with that question.

    While she’s thinking of a response, I want to express my enjoyment of the Loud Mouth’s blog this week. Thanks for continuing to keep the blood flowing in my brain.

  7. Hi Pat.

    Someone forwarded your blog to me because you write to me at a less used email address for me. Here was my response:

    Yes. You can have faith without a “religion”. You must have a practice of some sort in order to have faith. Jesus said “Faith without works is dead.” And I believe that there has to be an expression of that faith. Otherwise, there is simply a theory. I forget who said it (other than Mary Morrissey): Information without action is simply entertainment.

    There are so many cultures and organizations of religions that have merit, but some times people focus on the problems and not the reason for the religion. It’s not about the personality but it is about principles. Religions provide principles. We need to have a way to remember Who We Are and what we are here to be. We have many ways of approaching religious institutions. We must go where we are fed. Support of the Infinite is ever present. The more often we are around people and energies that reflect that, the more secure we feel. The more secure we feel, the less fear has control over us. The less fear has control over us, the more love has control. Love leads us to Joy, Freedom and abundant living!

  8. Bill says:

    Does god care if we build a great big church to him? Does he care if we build monuments to him? Or does god just want us to love, love him and our fellow man? Does god want us to do good in the world? Does god want us to listen for our calling and believe that we were put here to do something with our lives?

    There are many denominations of religion. We can learn from all of them. But almost all of the religions tell us the same thing, “If you don’t follow our way and our religion you will not be saved and you will not go to heaven”. Do you honestly think that God cares what religion you are and do you think god is up there favoring you because you are Islamic, Christian or Jewish? Do you think just because you have religion that you have faith or are spiritual?

    I have seen too many people of all religions that have no clue of what real faith, spirituality or belief in god is all about. They think that just because they go to church every Sunday that they will be saved. Does making sure you are in church every Sunday make you a better person then the person who does not have religion but has enough faith to throw caution to the wind and charge a machine gun nest in battle to defend his country? That man may turn to god at that time in battle and ask for help and do you think god cares what religion he is? Do you think that the entrepreneur who starts a business not knowing what will happen does it without faith? Starting a business is nothing more than believing in something you can’t see. It takes more faith then most people sitting in church will ever have and it takes faith that god will see you through. Do you think that a person who goes to another country to help the poor does it for religion? Or is it to get in touch with and find the spirit of giving, the spirit of goodness that is in each of us? Do you think the person who helps a homeless man on the street does it for religion or for the love of his fellow man? Do you think that the man who does all of these things in the name of god will be turned away from heaven because he did not have religion in life.

    True faith in God has nothing to do with religion. People all too often think that faith in god and religion are one in the same and they are not. Faith is a firm belief in something for which there is no absolute proof. I have a strong faith in god without religion. I have a strong sense of right and wrong without religion. I have a strong sense of spirituality in my life and I know that god is using me as his vessel without religion. I have a great love for god and thank him for the wonderful life that I have each and every day without religion. I live life to its fullest every day knowing that it could be my last without religion. I know god is at work every day in my life and that he has put me here for a purpose and that makes my spirit soar without religion.

    I do not claim to have everything figured out but I keep searching everyday and listening and looking for signs from god. I have had real struggles in my life and I thank god for those struggles because they helped me to see life in a whole new way. I go out and live life to its fullest and try to do it without fear believing that if I am a good person god will provide and that if I do good for others god will do good for me. That if I love the ones close to me and set a good example for them that they will become good loving people and set good examples for others. I don’t need religion to tell me this. God guides my spirit every minute of every day. This is what it means to me to have faith without religion.

  9. loudmouthinthebalcony says:

    Wow, Bill! That was a blog post itself–and a great one. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment.

    Clearly, I agree. Sadly, most use religion to establish themselves as better than others–or “highly favored” by God over others. I’m not sure they’ve thought it through. In fact, they take great pride in the fact that their faith is so strong that they don’t need to think about it or ask questions.

    In fact, they think that asking questions is offensive to the Almighty. Are we talking about a loving God or a despot? Are they offended when their children ask tough questions?

    They go through life without asking: If God is Love, does Love give everyone free will and then satanically brutalize them throughout all eternity if they actually use the gift? Is that why I need to be saved?

    They don’t ask: Does Love threaten, smite, judge and sadistically punish? Shouldn’t we, if that’s the divine way to respond to human error?

    They don’t ask: Would Love demonically solve human problems by killing every living thing? Is that how we should solve problems?

    They don’t ask: Would Love refuse to forgive the guilty unless an innocent child is heinously tortured to death? Is that fair?

    They don’t ask: Would Love make someone like Job suffer to test his faithfulness? Is that how we should treat our loved ones?

    All I can do is send these souls Light, knowing that God loves them unconditionally, even though they demonize the Divine–without question.

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