Are You Religious?

I have often pondered the question of what constitutes a religious person and have never felt satisfied with the responses I have heard others give when asked this very personal question. This question usually comes up when someone inquiries about another’s religius affiliation and the response is frequently, “I am Jewish and a member of our Temple, but I really do not believe I am a religious person.” Other common responses include, “I am more of a spiritual person than a religious one,” and, “I am more a secular Jew than a religious one.” So, the big question, is what exactly one has to do to consider themselves a religious person


The famous German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer stated that, “God has given everyone a conscience and with this conscience they are God.” A person is religious when one listens to this still small voice within each of us and is guided in a direction of being a good and thoughtful person who believes in equal justice, is empathetic, peaceful, and loving when dealing with others. That can all be summarized by what is quoted in Leviticus, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” I believe following the Golden Rule is all one really needs to do to be a religious person.


In his book on Abraham Lincoln entitled, “And There Was Light,” historical writer Jon Meacham writes that, “To Lincoln, God whispered His will through conscience calling humankind to live in accord with the laws of love.” That was Lincoln’s description of religion. Deed was more important to him than creed. Lincoln had more to say on this subject. Responding to a Tennessee woman whose husband was a Union prisoner and who she described to Lincoln as a religious man, Lincoln told her, “In my opinion, the religion that sets men to rebel and fight against their government because, as they think, that government does not sufficiently help some men to eat their bread on the sweat of other men’s faces, is not the sort of religion upon which people can get to heaven”.


In 1930, Rabbi Julius Mark of the Vine Street Temple in Nashville, gave a talk to a group of assembled Jews and Christians at the Ryman Auditorium and stated, “Whether a man belongs of a Synagogue or Church or Mosque or no church at all, he needn’t worry about his soul, provided he lives a righteous life on earth and if he belonged to every church in the world and went to one every day of his life and prayed with all his being, I shouldn’t give a rap for his soul if at the same time he was dishonorable, unjust, unkind, a cheat, and a liar or a hypocrite.”


That still small voice that resides in all of us is what should help us know how to act in this world. It is the same conscience that Lincoln speaks of, and it is the voice of God speaking to us. Being religious is to listen to that voice and treat our fellow human beings with kindness, fairness and understanding. It is not how often we attend religious services or practice the laws and rules of our religion. It is the deed and not the creed that makes one a religious person.



(Dr. Frank H. Boehm is professor emeritus in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and can be reached at


Add Comment
Subscribe to posts