Blogging about spirituality each week, it can be difficult to navigate the treacherous waters of religion. Most people agree there is a difference between religion and spirituality, although the two are not mutually exclusive. And like many people, my days of participation in organized religion are far, far behind me.
When folks talk about religion, they are usually speaking about the specific tradition they grew up in, such a Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Wicca, or something else. But there are a lot of other terms that get thrown around that might be unfamiliar or even confusing. I thought I’d use this week’s post to touch on a few of those terms and hopefully provide a little context for our readers.
When someone believes in a god or gods/goddesses, they are usually classified as a “theist.” This is as opposed to the term “atheist,” who does not believe in god/gods. But just like ice cream comes in more than one flavor, belief systems have a great variety within the overall headings of “Believer” and “Non-Believer.”
On the Believer side, we have the following:
- Theist: Deity created the universe and actively participates in events.
- Monotheism: There is a single deity. Islam and Judaism are examples of true monotheism.
- Duotheism: There are two deities who are approximately equal in power.
- Trinity: Three persons within a single deity (ex. Christianity, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” or Wicca, “Maid, Mother and Crone”).
- Polytheism: There are many deities, often in a hierarchal system. The religions of Ancient Greece, Rome, and the Nordic religions are examples of polytheism.
- Deist: Deity created the universe, set it in motion and is no longer involved.
- Pantheist: Deity is the inner spiritual essence of everything in the universe.
On the other side of the spectrum, there are the Non-Believers.
- Agnostic: Unsure of the existence of deity.
- Atheist: Does not believe in the existence of a deity.
The wall between Believers and Non-Believers can seem insurmountable, especially when the more ardent supporters on either side lapse into name-calling and mockery. No one has yet proven beyond a doubt whether deity exists or doesn’t exist, so it’s still (as my teachers in Catholic school maddeningly called it) “a matter of faith.”
But why do some people have faith, while others do not? According to Psychology Today, factors like genetic predisposition, a need for control, and group identification can play a role in a person having (or not having) religious beliefs. Beth Azar wrote for the American Psychological Association that religion may “be a byproduct of the way our brains work, growing from cognitive tendencies to seek order from chaos, to anthropomorphize our environment and to believe the world around us was created for our use.”
I have had long conversations on the topic of faith with Believers and Non-Believers of all paths. Each of us have our own journey to walk, and each journey is unique. I believe that if we can remember that and show each other the respect we wish for ourselves and our own journey, we would have a much more peaceful world.
Several years ago, a coworker asked me to explain my faith to her. As a sheltered, highly conservative Christian from rural Kentucky, she’d never met a Pagan before. To her credit, she was open minded and genuinely curious. As I clumsily tried to explain basic Paganism and my specific hodge-podge of faith to her, my friend grew more and more confused. Eventually, she asked me without a hint of irony, “Don’t ya’ll just have a book or something?”
The fact is, for many of us, there is no book to guide our path. Even within the context of an established religion, the road to faith is very personal and difficult to describe. I like to think that I at least gave her something to think about, and I appreciated the chance to discuss an alternative faith with her.
I hope this week’s blog has given you something to think about and maybe to discuss with others. Please feel free to share this post. Feedback is always appreciated, and don’t forget to like us on Facebook . Comments are always open.