Last week's question from the Ottawa Citizen's "Ask the Religion Experts" column was "is there a difference between faith and religion?"
The WSO's Balpreet Singh's response was,
Faith is a deep personal conviction and religion is the structure that is built around faith.
Whenever I think of the word “religion,” I tend to associate it with dogma, rules and rituals. Those are all fine, so long as they enrich and further our faith.
While the term “Sikhism” is often used to describe my religion, it’s not a term that originates from Sikhs themselves. As Sikhs, we refer to our belief system as “Gurmat,” or the teachings of the Guru. We also use the terms “Sikh Panth,” meaning the Sikh path or “Sikh Dharam,” meaning the Sikh duty of righteousness. I tend to use the term “Sikh faith.”
Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith, taught that God isn’t interested in what religious label you give yourself or what rituals you follow; what matters is the content of your character and your actions.
The outer manifestations of religion, whether in the form of dress or religious ceremony, are an external expression of internal faith and can serve to deepen and strengthen our faith. Ritual and dogma without the practice of virtues like compassion, mercy and kindness are not really religion but hypocrisy. If religion doesn’t result in personal spiritual progress and the general uplifting of humanity, it is a detriment to us.
For Sikhs, while it is essential to maintain the Sikh articles of faith and external identity like the turban and uncut hair, there is no promise of reward or salvation in just that act. The Sikh articles of faith announce our beliefs to the world and hold us accountable to live in accordance with the three central principles of the faith: meditation on naam (God’s name), earning an honest living, and sharing our blessings with humanity. The external identity helps further our internal spiritual progress.
Without true faith and the practice of virtue, religion tends towards hypocrisy and risks becoming nothing more than blind ritual.