I was raised to believe faith should be a private affair. To me, it's a personal relationship with a higher power which improves and nurtures the person who experiences it. I don’t believe you have to attend church, declare a denominational preference, or support the church financially in order to have faith.
I don’t believe religion and faith are the same thing. Organized religion is mere trappings. It's the pomp and circumstance of earthly traditions that have little to do with faith. Having faith, to me, is believing there is a higher power and trying your best to live as a caring being in accordance with your better instincts.
I have little use for those who try to project a 'holier than thou' image. I’ve seen too much in my life to believe anything but that all men are fallible and imperfect beings. I’ve never trusted anyone who said God spoke to him. I found it curious that these pious men usually got messages from God requesting more money in the collection plate.
My dad used to tease my mother by saying Catholics got out of Mass so early so they could beat the Baptists to the liquor store. I laughed, Mom didn’t. I have my father’s skeptical outlook on religion as an institution, but I do have faith. I believe there is something much greater than myself out there, somewhere. I wouldn’t bet on it being a big guy with a snowy-white beard. I think it’s personified only by the inner voice that guides my actions. But I do believe it’s there.
I no longer adhere to a specific denomination. I don't claim to know the Bible inside out, nor do I particularly care to. I remember the most important parts and try to follow them. I treat the people I meet with dignity, I try to be charitable and kind, and I do the best I can to be a good neighbour to my fellow men. I’m convinced I should consider my own life and failings before consigning anyone else to Hell for their beliefs or lack thereof.
Maybe I've become jaded, but I believe the interpretation of religion contributes greatly to the upheaval and unrest of our times. I don’t believe in injecting religion into our political process, and I despise attempts to classify our political differences as a battle between good and evil. I'm quite sure that God will not ask what party I belonged to on Judgement Day.
Looking at the world today, it's not difficult to find examples of religion run amok. There are so many twisted ideologies pitting different faiths against each other, and each party in these conflicts believe absolutely in the rightness of their cause. Is this truly what religion is? If you're different from me and if you don't believe exactly what I do, is it my Christian/Muslim/Catholic/Protestant duty to kill you?
If so, you can have it. You can kill and maim in the name of your gods. I can't stop you, as much as I'd like to. And because of such madness I've chosen not to have any religion at all.
What I have elected to have is faith. I have faith that people will someday rise above cherry-picking scriptures from the Koran or Bible that justify murder and hatred while they ignore those that expressly condemn them. I have faith that each day is a promise and a gift, and that what I do with it is up to me. I have faith that God is benevolent, and won't sentence me to an eternity of suffering if I've truly attempted to treat men, His greatest creation, with dignity and respect.
And I have faith that for every Osama Bin Laden, there are a million like me who refuse to kill in God's name. I hope that the maniacs murdering innocent people in suicide bombings will realize God won't rewards such acts with Paradise. I have faith that Muslims will reclaim the mantle of Islam from the lunatic fringe that’s taken it over, and that they find a way to co-exist in peace with other denominations.
To all the people arguing over what the Bible or Koran says or means: I don't care. I'm tired of wars being fought, young men dying, and people suffering over the supposed Word of God. If that's all God does for society, then society would be better off without Him. I have a feeling that those who have all the answers about what God wants now will someday see His sad face turning away, as He says, “depart from me, I never knew you.”
Jesus defined true religion simply: "Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, strength and mind, and love thy neighbour as thyself." He never advocates killing someone who disagrees with you. But Christians and the rest of mankind have perverted the scriptures of the gods they believe in to serve their own worldly purposes. So I'll keep my faith, and you can have your religion.