18 November 2010
Confusing Faith and Religion
Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin
I’ve just finished reading Seth’s Godin’s book, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us. It’s a good, quick read, full of Godin’s unique wisdom and perspective. I recommend it. One of the things I like is how he describes our confusion between “faith” and religion.” I’ve heard this distinction made many times before, but what’s unique in Tribes is how Godin speaks of these terms in what I can only describe as a secular way. He’s not a church guy, so he’s not trying to defend a particular position within the church. This stance offers church insiders a good perspective on our own assumptions and use of religious language.
Faith and Religion
Godin says that faith is essential to life and leadership.·It leads to hope, overcomes fear, gives us resilience, allows us to look ahead accomplish great things.··On the other hand,“Religion....represents a strict set of rules that our fellow human beings have overlaid on top of our faith.· Religion supports the status quo and encourages us to fit in, not to stand out.”
Religion, he writes, is not the sole prerogative of churches.··There are lots of religions - like, “the IBM religion of the 1960’s...which included workplace protocols, dress codes, even a precise method for presenting ideas (on an overhead projector).”
It seems ridiculous to think of a corporation like IBM running the same way it did in the 1960's, and yet, oftentimes in the church, we think its okay.
Godin argues that religion works best when it amplifies faith.· “Religion at its best is a sort of mantra, a subtle but consistent reminder that belief is okay, and that faith is the way to get where you’re going.· Religion at its worst reinforces the status quo, often at the expense of our faith.”
And this will sound familiar to church folk: “The reason its so difficult to have a considered conversations about religion is that people feel threatened [because] it feels like criticism of their faith.”
This is right on. It is hard for us church folk to have an honest discussion about what is or isn’t working with our religious practices and/or traditions because we often confuse it with our faith. When that happens, we become defensive. We feel attacked. The conversation goes nowhere.
It can also happen, when we try to have this conversation, that people think, “Oh, we’re throwing out the old stuff (and people) and doing something totally new (with new people).” That’s not it at all. In fact, so many of the things that are life-giving in the church today are recoveries of gifts in our tradition that have been in the background, which people are now bringing to the fore.
So, how do we have this conversation? Godin would argue - and I would agree - that a helpful question we can ask is: “Do these religious practices (rules, conventions, traditions) amplify our faith or do they obscure or even suppress it?” Do they have anything to do with faith at all? Do they help us live into God’s future or do they preserve the status quo?
Making the distinction between faith and religion can help us lay our defense down and start talking.