Why faith is better than religion

Published May 17, 2012

The Rev. Steven Greenebaum explores how we can celebrate religious diversity without losing our own spiritual identity.

In this religiously pluralistic age, “interfaith” usually entails people of good will from differing spiritual traditions meeting temporarily for a service or a project-homelessness, say-and then going back to their own paths.

In The Interfaith Alternative: Embracing Spiritual Diversity, the Rev. Steven Greenebaum, the Jewish founder of the Living Interfaith Church in Lynwood, Wash., argues that today’s divided world needs more. Interfaith, as a spiritual practice, he writes, can serve as a new model for how we deal with each other and a new vision for how we act on our religious beliefs to live compassionate lives and share the world in harmony.

In this book, which at its core is about human community and justice, Greenebaum explores how we can celebrate religious diversity-what he sees as our different religious languages-without losing our own spiritual identity. He posits a new creed, Interfaith, which is a faith rather than a religion with systematized beliefs. Of himself, he says: “My faith is Interfaith. My spiritual path is Judaism.”

Interfaith does not try to establish a new religious language but rather, writes Greenebaum, “seeks to acknowledge that whether you seek a life of love and compassion with the Christian or Jewish or Hindu languages, what is important is that your spiritual path leads you to seek love and compassion in your life.”

Greenebaum tackles provocative topics such as religions as languages, the sin of tolerance and right belief versus compassionate action.

A former choir director in synagogues and churches of several denominations, he challenges religion-specific orthodoxy as the cornerstone of faith. His theology of Interfaith is based not on a paradigm of “right belief” but rather, he writes, “of God or Spirit or Love or Conscience as a Cosmic Diamond-a diamond of infinite facets.” This diamond can accommodate all religious traditions, most of which have common central tenets of universal love, acceptance and compassion.

Within this theological framework, says Greenebaum, we can all look at what our belief systems-from atheism and Islam to Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism-ask us to do. “We come together in what we are called to do, not what we are called to believe. We are to live lives of compassion, justice, mercy and love.”

This brief and clearly written book may rekindle hope for the possibility of an inclusionary and harmonious world.

The Interfaith Alternative: Embracing Spiritual Diversity by Steven Greenebaum, New Society Publishers, 2012, ISBN 978-0-86571-705-3, $14.95.


  • Diana Swift

    Diana Swift is an award-winning writer and editor with 30 years’ experience in newspaper and magazine editing and production. In January 2011, she joined the Anglican Journal as a contributing editor.

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