Faith Has Nothing to Do with Religion. ~ Ben Neal

Via Ben
on Jul 17, 2013
get elephant's newsletter


People often confuse faith with belief.

So many seem to think that “to have faith” means “to believe something without question.” But I think that there is an important distinction. In the words of one of the greatest sages and philosophers of the 20th century:

“Faith is a state of openness or trust. To have faith is like when you trust yourself to the water. You don’t grab hold of the water when you swim, because if you do you will become stiff and tight in the water, and sink. You have to relax, and the attitude of faith is the very opposite of clinging, and holding on. In other words, a person who is fanatic in matters of religion, and clings to certain ideas about the nature of God and the universe becomes a person who has no faith at all. Instead they are holding tight. But the attitude of faith is to let go, and become open to truth, whatever it might turn out to be.”

~ Alan Watts

It is no sign of great faith to go through life carrying the same set of beliefs as your parents. To accept without question the teachings of your culture (or any culture) is to submit to psychic conditioning and mental confinement.

A mature, intelligent and free-thinking person does not accept anything without question—and they certainly don’t settle for readymade answers to life’s ultimate questions. Rather, different perspectives are considered in the light of one’s own reason and intuition; every idea is explored and tested through direct experience.

A deep and meaningful faith is born out of questioning, searching, testing and exploring.

It begins when we step away from religion and fixed belief systems; when we can humbly admit that we don’t have all the answers, and step out into the mystery…

That which is infinite and absolute certainly transcends human language and understanding. It can never be fully defined or explained. It can never be laid out in any fixed doctrine whatsoever. So ultimately we must have faith in the unknown—nay, the unknowable.

Faith has nothing to do with religion. Faith is what enables us to let go of our beliefs and convictions, and let go of our need to understand and control. It is not our church or our creed that makes us people of faith, it is a life of daring openness and authenticity.

It doesn’t matter whether or not we believe in God, or whether we call it Allah or Jehovah, Krishna or Jesus. What matters is that we face the universe as it is, without any preconceived ideas; that we dare to be who we are, without pretense; that we open up and taste this mystery that we are all immersed in.

It is not belief that transforms us, it is an encounter with the sacred—when we go go beyond our understanding, beyond the limits of the human mind, and experience the presence of awesome beauty, cosmic order and unfathomable intelligence…

This is the place where true faith is born.


Subscribe to elephant journal’s Walk the Talk Show, free for now.


Ed: B. Bemel


About Ben



10 Responses to “Faith Has Nothing to Do with Religion. ~ Ben Neal”

  1. Dana says:

    Beautifully written! Thank you.

  2. Padma Kadag says:

    I agree with your point. But though "blind faith" is certainly blind it can also be beneficial for those without the benefit of qualified spiritual guidance, the leisure time to practice or study, or the acumen to understand. We are all afflicted with ignorance. Those who have a blind faith need to believe in something and for that they can benefit from that. There are many stories of those with blind faith so strong that their efforts have granted them authentic realization.

  3. bneal817 says:

    Thank you Dana! I appreciate your comment.

  4. Well put, Ben. Enjoyed reading and reflecting on this.

    Bob W.
    Yoga Demystified

  5. bneal817 says:

    You make a good point, Padma. Indeed, I personally know people who are faithful Christians – who wouldn't dream of ever questioning the teachings of the church – whose relationship with Jesus has transformed them. It seems that for some people, having "blind faith" in a religion or spiritual path can bring them to real faith. I think that sincere devotion (or love, adoration, gratitude) can bring us in touch with the Divine, simply because God is Love. And as I stated above, it is that encounter with the Divine that transforms us, and brings about realization.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    ~ Ben

  6. bneal817 says:

    Thanks Bob, that means a lot. I enjoy your work as well.

  7. anita says:

    So timely for me! thank you for the openness you express so beautifully…beginner's mind/faith like a little child 😉

  8. bneal817 says:

    Thank you Anita! I'm glad you liked it.

    ~ Ben

  9. Roy says:

    Thanx for the article. Especially since I was born and raise as a moslem, and live in a predominantly muslim country. It’s a bit barbaric here in terms of religion. Minorities should follow many restrictions, and the non believers considered as satanic or crazy 🙂

  10. bneal817 says:

    Thanks Roy, I appreciate your comment!

    I have had close friends from Iraq who were Shia muslims, very devout. Religion was definitely a cornerstone of life for them. Their spiritual path gave them peace and strength, and helped them to be virtuous and compassionate people – and I support practices and disciplines that help people to live better lives. But we had so many deep discussions about God and spiritual life that always boiled down to an unbending belief that their way was the right way, the best way, the true way. It is this intolerance and inflexibility that I cannot condone.

    Peace, my friend.

    ~ Ben