This I Believe

Paul - White Lake, New York
Entered on January 10, 2008
Age Group: 30 - 50

I believe there is a difference between faith and belief.

I’ll admit it: I grew up hating religion; but now I respect faith. It’s belief that I can do without. Now, I don’t want to redefine these words (it’s ok NPR you should still call the series “This I believe”). I just want to explain a useful distinction between religious faith and religious belief.

For most of my life, I thought belief and faith meant the same thing. Then I ran into trouble when I tried to write about my son’s baptism. After a few drafts, I remembered that Aldous Huxley once wrote, “Give us this day our daily Faith, but deliver us, dear God, from Belief.” That line helped me understand my position. You see, I’m spiritual but remain outside the walls of organized religion. So what do I do for a child who may never understand my problems with religion? I have to make faith possible without imposing belief. That is hard to accomplish today because so many believers hide behind the shield of faith.

So what is the difference anyway? I think faith requires hard work, study; and creative critical thinking. If the answers to questions are unknowable, work out the possibilities and place faith in what makes the most sense. Faith means you know that you may not be right, and it is too powerful and mystical to impose on another.

Belief is faith without the critical thinking. Believers think they know the answers to the unanswerable questions. Lazy belief leads people to houses of worship a few times a year. Violent belief motivates suicide bombers. Conformist belief guides those who want to impose their religious values. Each type of belief starts by limiting or censoring spiritual options, especially for the young.

So how do you know if you have faith or belief? I’m not sure, but I know that one day I’ll try to explain this to my boy. I think I’ll tell him that if you ask hard questions, push ideological positions, and look at alternatives seriously, then you can have faith. If you never seriously consider the questions, then you probably have belief. I hope I motivate him to study other religions, other philosophies, other conceptions of god. Really, though, I just want to help him figure it out on his own.

Huxley helped me realize that I didn’t oppose all baptisms, just ones founded in belief. I didn’t want one for my son because I don’t have faith in those rituals. I prefer decisions and actions based on a broad spiritual education. So I want to prepare my son to ask and answer the tough questions. Am I sure that he’ll make good choices? No, but I have faith.