'Keeping the Faith:' Roger Housden on How Faith Differs from Belief

This article originally appeared in Religion Dispatches, and is reprinted here with their permisison.


Religion Dispatches: What inspired you to write "Keeping the Faith Without a Religion"? 

Roger Housden: I've always written about and been fascinated by the core existential questions — How can I know more deeply know who I am? How can I see beneath the surface of my habitual perceptions? What is consciousness? Can I find some response to these questions in my daily life rather than in a religious setting?

Because they are spiritual questions, but not necessarily religious ones, and although I have been exposed to the practices of several religions in my life, I do not ascribe to any one dogma or creed. So I wanted to explore and clarify in writing my own relationship to questions like these, which I assumed were not my questions alone!

RD: What’s the most important take-home message for readers? 

RH: That your current life circumstance gives you everything you need to know yourself more clearly, to feel more alive, to feel that you belong. We all experience change, we are all imperfect, we all know periods of darkness and also of joy; we all know beauty when we see it; we all know the taste of love.

These are among the givens of our existence, and they are the very conditions that, if embraced rather than denied, can give us faith not only in ourselves and our own life but in the human spirit itself.

RD: Is there anything you had to leave out?

RH: Not that I'm aware of.

RD: What are some of the biggest misconceptions about your topic?

RH: People easily confuse faith with belief. The word belief goes back to the Latin, opinari, to have an opinion. The faith I am interested in does not need a church a mosque or a synagogue. It is not a faith in anyone or anything. Far from being irrational, this kind of faith is a non-rational intuition of the rightness of life as it is expressing itself in the moment, however dark or wrong it may look. It is a non-rational intuition of the truth, the beauty and goodness that lies alongside the darkness in any human heart.

RD: Did you have a specific audience in mind when writing?

RH: Yes, people like me, who would call themselves spiritual but not religious — a fast-growing sector of the population.

RD: Are you hoping to just inform readers? Entertain them? Piss them off?

RH: Perhaps I will piss off those who hold steadfast beliefs about the one true way of their own religion, but I doubt these people will even pick up the book.

I want to inform people of a middle way — by which I do not mean Buddhism, although there are parallels in the way many teachers are taking the meditative technologies of Buddhism into mainstream life without any of the religious trappings — a middle way between science and religion, and also between atheism and religion. I call it secular spirituality, grounded in our everyday life and experience. But more than informing my readers, I hope to inspire them to look at their own life with fresh eyes.

RD: What alternative title would you give the book?

RH: I love the title of my book and would not want to change it. Both the publishers and I agreed that we did not even want a subtitle. 

RD: How do you feel about the cover?

RH: Deep bows and gratitude to Sounds True, my publisher, for coming up with a cover that I find completely appropriate in an abstract kind of way, and that is also visually engaging.

RD: Is there a book out there you wish you had written? 

RH: Yes — "From the Holy Mountain," by William Dalrymple — a wonderful exploration of the sparse remains of the Byzantine world that are still scattered around the Middle East. Some of these—like the Holy Mountain of Mount Athos itself, in Greece — I have visited and even written about myself, but not with the thoroughness and depth of curiosity that Dalrymple brings to his travels. 

RD: What's your next book?

RH: That would be telling!

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