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Religion vs. Faith?


A decrease of people with a religious affiliation does not equal a decrease of people with faith.

I was struck today by the results of a large nationwide research study that indicates less people now consider themselves identified with a certain religion as opposed to a study in 2007, and it concluded that therefore less people now believe in God. It implied that there is a shift away from people believing, people having faith. This is not my experience over the last ten years of doing my spiritually-based work; quite the contrary. To me, the research questionnaire erred on both its questions and its conclusions.

Oftentimes, I see that people's religion has gotten in the way of their faith, where what they have been taught in their religion does not resonate with what they have come to believe in living their lives. The research study missed the point that there is a fundamental difference between 'religion' and 'faith' - the words are not necessarily interchangeable. Religion is a collection of external doctrine according to differing belief systems; faith is the internal belief and personal reliance on that information and/or - most importantly! - a person's own inquiry and experience.

When there is a conflict between religious doctrine and internal belief systems or experiences, you will move away from the external doctrine that makes you feel uncomfortable toward the internal truth that rings true to your heart. This accounts for the apparent 'decreasing numbers of people having faith' in the research study, and it is incorrect. The numbers of people who are searching for faith-based answers is increasing because the lack of answers and/or conflicts in many religions has created a void that demands to be filled.

When the shift away from religion happens, you may think you are having a 'crisis of faith,' when in actuality you are having a 'crisis of religion,' even as you are growing stronger in your faith. To be solid in your personal belief system without the framework and support of religious teachings requires internal spiritual reliance. To live a faith-based life in your daily choices without the support of a faith community requires a strong belief and resolve.

You are not less faithful if you choose to be less religious. Faith resides in your heart; faith is the personal relationship you have with your Higher Power (I call mine "God," but it doesn't really matter whatever name you ascribe to that which is greater than we are), and no one can tell your heart how to feel. Only you know what resonates with your heart; it is a very personal decision. If a certain religion fulfills that calling of faith, that is truly a beautiful thing. If it doesn't, then it is also beautiful to nurture a faithful relationship with your God that is true to your heart.

I long to see a world where there is respect for all choices of how faith exists in a person's heart, as long as that faith is rooted in love and respect for others. I ache to see the wall of judgment that is so divisive, so much a part of many religions (the 'what I believe is more right than what you believe' mentality) disintegrate, and instead be replaced with open doors of understanding and respect between differing beliefs.

The research study has it all wrong - faith is actually increasing; the growing desire to live in peace, harmony, and respect is a powerful connective belief that can truly move mountains.


Nan O’Brien is an internationally-renowned Spiritual Teacher, known for her philosophy that each person has an individualized life lesson plan that transforms the question "Why me?" (not "poor me") into "Why have I attracted this person/situation/circumstance into my life?”  To learn more about Nan or book a private phone session with her, click here.

This article was originally published at An original Facebook Fan Page article I wrote for my "DayStarter" message on August 25, 2017. Reprinted with permission from the author.


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