W.Religion is the set of traditions, rituals, scriptures and theology that we use to express our faith. Sometimes religious people believe, think and act like only religion can lead to an experience of the Holy and thus to faith. Sometimes it can. Maybe most of the time it does otherwise religions would not be so persistent. Yet it is also possible that it may not. And it is always true that religion never is the only path to experiencing the Holy and to faith.
W.Religion is a human construct. Faith is something that happens to us. In this way all religions are equal -- they are all abstractions inspired by the Holy. However they are not all equal in content and therein lay the distinctions which either degenerate into arguments about which is the "right" religion or grow into dialogs which allow the faithful to share and expand their spiritual horizons.
W.The situation is not unlike that of science where scientists seek to construct models to describe the physical world. Scientists don't often mention this but they are really in the business of constructing models. Edward Harrison in the beginning of Cosmology , the Science of the Universe (Cambridge University Press, 1981) does a great job of explaining this. Science's models attempt to capture some of the essence of physical reality. But they are not that reality. Most scientists will admit if pressed that the physical world exists independently of any model they construct and that their theories apply to the models and not to reality itself.
W.Like science religion is a collection of models -- of the Holy, of who we are, of what we should do. And like scientists religion's practitioners are not always clear either within their practices or when discussing them with outsiders about the true nature of religion. They are not always honest with themselves or with others that religion is only a model that attempts to capture the essence of the spiritual world but is not what the spiritual world really is. Little wonder since this is not an idea well known among religion's own practitioners. It seems antithetical to faith. It seems to fly in the face of the certainty that religion seems to offer.
W.To those who do not live at the edge of of their world where varieties of religious experience are likely to intersect the relation of faith and religion is neither obvious nor important. In a world increasingly characterized by culturally diverse societies, populations that are highly mobile and communications that are increasingly global the opposite is true. We are more and more coming to find such intersections in the midst of our previously isolated societies. Not that this view of faith and religion is a product of our modern situation. Rather that our situation both brings this truth to our attention and also makes it an important idea to understand.
W.I have admitted elsewhere on these pages that I am an American Protestant Christian acknowledgeably confined by accidents of birth and culture to think and believe that one way. In this I do not believe I am unique -- most people are born live and die in the confines of one religion. I do not believe this is either a trap or a limitation or even a fault if we realize both that it is true and that we do not thereby inherit access to the one true religion. The point is that we are all products of our cultures and upbringing. Even rebels have a reference point for their rebellion.
are two challenges we face as faithful people. The first is to come
to terms with the faith we are given as expressed in the religion to which
we are born -- to become true believers in the best sense. The second
is to humbly approach other religions and their practitioners as also faithful
people -- recognizing the insightful content of all religion. We
are not obliged to believe everything. They who believe everything
believe nothing. We are only obliged to remember that the Holy is
not ours alone to know and to act accordingly.