In his latest book, Keeping the Faith Without a Religion, teacher and best-selling author Roger Housden examines the concepts of faith and belief, and argues that spirituality need not be tied to religion. In an interview with Psychology Today, Housden defined faith as non-rational rather than irrational, an intuition of an immaterial intelligence present at all times, whereas belief is something like a mental concept tied to opinions. For Housden, faith is “secular in the sense that it can be part of our everyday ordinary existence if we are open to it”.
I took these opinions to UTM students and religious clubs on campus to suss out their ideas on the relationship between spirituality and religion, and to help define faith and belief.
Paul Filaber, the external relations officer of UTM’s Catholic Club, says the distinction is that faith is trust put into a foundational belief (such as the existence of God), and involves some sort of dependence. It requires a personal commitment to the truth of said foundation.
Belief alone entails less of a personal commitment than does faith. A belief in the existence of God, for example, is not the same as having faith in God, he said.
On the other hand, Pastor Scott Plavnick of UTM’s Baptist Student Ministries believes that faith and belief are one and the same. He pointed out that in the Christian New Testament, the same Greek word is translated as “faith”, “belief”, or “trust” depending on the context.
Neither interviewee believes that religious commitment is necessary to have faith or be spiritual. Filaber says that for some people, faith is religiously informed, while others may have faith in some other foundational belief that resonates with them. Therefore, he believes that religion isn’t necessary for spirituality, but a foundation is.
For Plavnick, a religion is defined as an interest that’s held by a group of people as very important. Therefore, any deeply held belief can be religious. Religion doesn’t have to be “organized” to be religion, in his opinion.
Filaber defines spirituality as the quest for truth. Some people don’t find anything that resonates as true for them within a religion. Many continue to search for that resonance outside of organized religion. This is a commitment to the search for truth, and it’s active spirituality without committing to a religion.
However, he warns that active spirituality should first and foremost be a quest for objective truth, not for things that one would merely like to believe or that are convenient. To be faithful and spiritual, one must be prepared to accept the uncomfortable fact that one may need to change.
Filaber adds that the real question shouldn’t be whether non-religious spirituality can exist, but rather, “Has a person put their faith in something that is true or false? It’s essential to put one’s faith in what is true.”
Muslim student Sosan defines faith as believing “110% that there is a reason for why things happen.” She believes that faith allows a modicum of certainty and permanence in a world where nothing else makes sense, while belief is a weaker form of faith with less personal commitment. “Anyone can be spiritual because anyone can discover their own valid path towards a realization of truth, with or without religion as a guide,” she says.
Unitarian Universalist student Kal believes faith and belief are any metaphysical beliefs. He distinguishes between religion and spirituality, opining that “spirituality is organic, religion is mechanical. They do not and will never belong together. Religion is only an institution that tries to systematically administer spirituality.” He says it was “created by man to serve a function”.
Sikh student Puneet believes that faith is that which gives you hope and imparts peacefulness, guiding you to find yourself and your place in the world. “When I lose faith, I feel lost and life loses its spark,” she says. “Spirituality is all about finding what is meaningful to you.”
Of his book and beliefs on secular spirituality, Housden says, “Belief is more connected to opinion. Faith is like a fragrance, if you like, of the heart’s knowing. There’s an intuition of the transcendent that isn’t confined to a church or a mosque or a synagogue.”