2013 Archives

TEXAS FAITH: Is it more important to do the right thing or to have the right beliefs?


The following is from a collection of responses to a Texas Faith blog published July 30, 2013, in The Dallas Morning News. William Lawrence is dean of SMU's Perkins School of Theology and Professor of American Church History.

August 9, 2013

Compiled by Wayne Slater
The Dallas Morning News

What does it mean to be a religious person? Is it about what you do or what you think? A new study finds that about two-thirds of Americans say being a religious person “is primarily about living a good life and doing the right thing.” About a third hold that being religious “is primarily about having faith and the right beliefs.”The report was just published by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution. . .

No doubt, living out one’s faith is a virtuous thing. But is that what it means to be religious — or simply virtuous. To invert a Christian idea, are works without faith dead? What does it mean to be a religious person?

WILLIAM LAWRENCE, Dean and Professor of American Church History, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University

To be a religious person is more than to believe certain things or behave in certain ways. In fact, to be religious is not merely a matter of believing and/or doing. It includes both of those things. But it includes a lot more. One can recite commitments to moral or intellectual convictions, ranging from the USA Pledge of Allegiance to the Scout Oath to the Ten Commandments. But reciting such affirmations and refusing to kill do not make one religious. They may make one a moral human being, a good citizen, or a nice neighbor. But they do not collectively make one religious.

To be a religious person is to accept the premise that reality is not limited to what human beings can control or understand or experience. To be a religious person is to embrace the principle that knowing what is real cannot be limited to what human beings have a capacity or desire to perceive or to measure or to comprehend. To be a religious person is to think and live with an acceptance of this premise and this principle.

To be a religious person is to presume that something bigger than human proportions and pride define the cosmos. To be religious is to see beyond what the scientists see, what the ideologists demand, what the economists calculate, what the organizational behaviorists measure, and even what theists posit. To be a religious person is to refuse to reduce human life to its political dimensions. Religious persons have more hope than politicians find comfortable. Religious persons have more courage than crusaders for justice can muster. Religious persons have more joy than either individual or social conditions of existence can justify. To be a religious person is to trust in more than what is knowable, to strive for accomplishments that go beyond what is doable, to pray for outcomes that exceed what is reasonable.

To be a religious person clearly involves both believing and behaving. But it involves more than a manner of life. It involves an attitude toward all of the boundaries of life — that they can and will truly be overcome.

Read the full blog.

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