What Difference Does Religion Make?

I’m in New Orleans attending an annual conference for law professors. One of the panels on which I spoke yesterday was on the subject of Faith and Corporate Law. One of the other participants on that panel raised a question that goes beyond the question of corporate law and that deserves serious consideration by all of us who call ourselves religious or spiritual persons: Do religious people behave differently than other people? Do people of passionate faith make different decisions than do others?

One of the criticisms of religion made by a good friend of mine is precisely the claim that religion does not seem to make a difference in the lives of people. He argues that people who claim to be religious, those who claim allegience to some organized religion, are no different (and, he would claim, are often worse in their behavior) than people who are not religious.

If my friend is right – if the answer to the question posed by my co-panelist is “No” – then I think religion has failed. Our faith cannot be simply about what we say we believe or think, but must make a difference in who we are in the world, in how we behave in the world, in how we live our lives. I think that is particularly true of those of us who call ourselves Christians, who believe in a God who became man in the person of Jesus Christ, who made some very direct statements about how we are to live in this world.

If religion means something, it has to make a difference in what we do and not just in what we say and think. It has to affect how we deal with others and how we make actual decisions in our day-to-day lives. It is not enough to recite the Creed with fervor during Mass and then forget about it for the rest of the week. Not enough to say, “I’ve accepted Jesus as my savior, so I’ll be saved at the end of the day.” It has to make a difference in everything.

Maybe a starting point is for each of us to spend time seriously and concretely reflecting on: what difference does my religion make to who I am in the world?