Tales of a Southern Pagan Mom

Religion, Faith, Beliefs

This week’s ‘Pagan Blog Prompt’ is on the distinction between the words and concepts of

Religion
Faith
Beliefs
and what they mean to me.  The point was made that the words are used interchangeably, and I find that to be true. I use them in place of each other at time, but there are times when I use the individual meanings.

To start with, let’s define the words.

re·li·gion/riˈlijən/

  • The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods.
  • Details of belief as taught or discussed.

faith/fāTH/

  • Complete trust or confidence in someone or something.
  • Strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.

be·lief  /biˈlēf/

  • An acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists.
  • Something one accepts as true or real; a firmly held opinion or conviction

According to those definitions, ‘religion’ is defined by belief and faith; and yet faith is defined by the doctrines (beliefs) of religion. It’s a twisty-turny concept to wrap your mind around – is it any wonder why people get so confused and some get so offended when talking about their beliefs, faith and religion? Instead of trying to buy into someone else’s definitions of those words, I think I will outline how I look at them when I use them to mean different things (or different aspects of a thing).

When I say ‘my beliefs’, I refer to the things that I, personally hold to be true for me. I believe that no two people can or should have the exact same beliefs – no two people can experience deity/divinity/The All in the same way. As such, our individual beliefs are as myriad as there are people to hold them. This is, of course, just my personal idea; I am sure there are many out there who are more than willing to tell me how wrong I am. Far be it from me to tell other people what to believe; I feel the same way even about my own children. I am a long-time proponent of the sentiment that we should teach our children how to think, not what to think. We undertake ‘religious studies’ as a topic in our household, because I feel both that there is value in most religions, and that you cannot truly know what you believe until you know what else is out there.Even though I am finding myself more and more on the path to becoming Pagan Clergy, and as such one of my roles may be that of spiritual adviser, it is still not my place to define beliefs for others, but to help them define beliefs for themselves.
When I use the term ‘faith’… honestly, it’s usually derogatory. I was raised with the idea that the definition of faith is ‘the assured expectation of things yet unseen‘. I always had a hard time swallowing that, and I still do – not without proof. I went through a fairly long phase of atheism because I just couldn’t buy into that sort of ‘faith’. My beliefs as I hold them now do not require faith beyond my own will. Magic (spells, meditation, energy, etc.) is dependent on my own will and I have faith in myself. When I pray, or meditate, or cast spells (which is something like the equivalent of making positive affirmations or prayers, IMO), I don’t just pray and that’s all. I pray, but I also see what steps I can take to make the thing I prayed for happen. For example, I am currently ‘praying’ to be able to attend a Leadership Conference with Covenant of the Goddess at Merry Meet in August. MM is in New Mexico; I live in Texas. For me and my co-leader of our Circle to attend, we’ll need close to $1,000. We’ve both asked Divinity for assistance, we’re in a constant state of meditation and prayer – but we also are both saving money, and looking for ways to raise money. I’ve opened an Etsy shop to help raise money for travel expenses. I trust that through those efforts, I will be able to attend.
The word religion has two meanings. The first one, ‘belief and worship’, I am familiar with in my personal practice. The second, not so much. One of the things that I enjoy most about the various Pagan faiths is the endless possibility of ways that one can personalize his or her practice. With those personalizations, there is no ‘one religion’. There are traditions; my Circle is currently tossing around the idea of creating our own tradition – but even within that, it’s less a standard of beliefs and more a standard of ideals. Whereas a group might agree on similarities, the ways to connect with Deity are limitless; the meaning of those interactions are likewise subject to individual interpretation. I don’t think it is fair, or even healthy to attempt to force your personal perception of the Divine into another’s mold.
I think that those three words have different meanings depending on a variety of factors, including who is using them, and in what context they are being used. They can be used interchangeably, and often are, but they have distinct meanings as well. I don’t know how well I have defined my personal perceptions of those words, but since I use them somewhat in place of each other, I suppose my own idea of them is somewhat fluid.
If you’re interested in this topic, click the PBP picture below to see the other posts on this topic.

Brightest Blessings,


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One response

  1. I apologize for not reading and responding sooner – something happened this past summer where my internet life went askew.
    Anyhow, I am back making the rounds to catch up on old PBP responses.
    I wanted to thank you for being a continued supporter of Pagan Blog Prompts!

    As for this specific post, I love it. You’ve done a wonderful job explaining the differences, without being pushy about any of it!

    February 4, 2013 at 6:56 AM

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