Belief vs. Action

I just heard the wonderful religious scholar, Karen Armstrong, interviewed on NPR. She spent seven years as a Catholic nun feeling very empty and disillusioned before leaving and has since written several books on religion and spirituality which provide much needed perspective and clarity on these issues. Armstrong has a new book out called The Case for God which I look forward to reading. In it she makes a strong case for an impersonal God who is so far beyond human comprehension that it’s futile to even contemplate.

She also said that much of religion has gotten way off track by emphasizing the necessity to believe in dogma as a means of going to heaven. By contrast she says that one’s actions, though more difficult, are a much deeper expression of one’s spirituality and have a much greater impact on our fellow man. Believing in something, after all, is quite simple and doesn’t require much effort on our part. Actions reflect who we really are and reflect our internalized spirituality, not just what we profess.

Many people point to the New Testament where Jesus purportedly said, “Believe in me,” as though belief in him personally as a messiah is a passport to heaven. They forget that the gospels are the result of multiple scribal transcriptions and language translations, all of which are fraught with opportunities for error. It is much more likely that Jesus said simply, “Believe me” when he spoke about how we should lead our lives. Armstrong, who has studied religion and spirituality for over four decades, says that the essence of all religions can be reduced to one simple thing that Jesus said: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

“Do” is an action term, not a belief. I think the world would be a much better place if people placed less emphasis on belief (which can often be divisive) and more emphasis on the actions their religions promote.

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#1 linda williams on 09.25.09 at 12:55 am

I heard just a snippet of Karen Armstrong with Terry Gross; I am blown away by her deep authenticity, her scholarship, the rigor of her thought, and her concept of (should I say, her belief in?) an impersonal God. I have been struggling lately with the concept of a personal God; making the distinction between personal and impersonal makes so much sense to me. The order, the beauty, dare I say, the transcendence of the universe is very profound and seems to support the idea of a transendent God. I am becoming a devotee of Ms. Armstrong’s; I cannot wait to get a hold of her latest book!

#2 John Penberthy on 09.25.09 at 5:57 am

Read all of Armstrong’s books. She’s incredibly brilliant and insightful!

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