Faith drives some to acts of terrorism and others to improve the world.
Everyone seems to have an opinion, and often on what others should believe as well. Even those who don't believe in anything have made a conscious choice.
Along with politics, religion is one of those subjects people are advised to steer clear of in mixed company. But it has been my fascination, my passion, and it almost always comes up when I talk to people.
Last year I put that passion into action, starting a weekly Faith in Motion series for the St. Petersburg Times. Along the way, I have discovered some of the most interesting and inspiring people in Pasco County. They each seem to tap into their religious spirituality in different ways, yet they all use it to try to improve the world around them.
For the most part, the people I write about practice their religion much differently than I do, and interviewing them has proved to be a challenge for me on a personal level. But my background also helps me to relate to what they have gone through.
Over the past three years, my husband and I have delved into our Jewish faith, studied the Torah and incorporated what we've learned into our lives. It's an ongoing and sometimes challenging practice, but it's worth it.
The intermarriage rate among Jews is very high in the United States —- some say 75 percent. Living in a free, secular society has some benefits, but along the way many of us have lost the ties to the traditions Jews have practiced for the past 3,500 years.
There is a movement — called "baalai teshuva" in Hebrew — to return to our roots, and my family has tapped into that. It makes me feel confident and grounded spiritually and with who I am as a person. Raising our young children with those values and daily rituals helps serve as a constant reminder that all we have come from God, despite the materialistic world around us.
So as I continue to learn daily and become stronger and more grounded in my own faith, I learn each week about the specific, sometimes controversial practices of people of other faiths.
I have written about a pastor in Wesley Chapel whose second bout with cancer strengthened his faith even further and strengthened the resolve of his small, growing church community.
I met a Muslim doctor in New Port Richey who uses her faith on a daily basis to guide her in compassionate medical practice and patient care.
There's an American Indian in Dade City who battled his internal dragons to reach a state of peace that he shares with others through his fire circles.
And I wrote about a female priest in Port Richey who chose to take a stand with the Catholic church's doctrine, remaining what she considers to be within the church, rather than leaving and fighting from the outside.
There are groups teaching about God through after-school programs, and some combining their faith with God-given gifts, like the Unitarian Universalist quilters who make blankets for homeless children throughout Pinellas and Pasco counties.
I have spoken to dozens of people and groups so far, and some have tried to probe into my background — maybe to find common ground, or maybe to try to influence my beliefs. But I always try to keep myself out of it. Some have politely tried to help me see their version of the truth, but they have all been respectful.
It is my sincere hope that I have done their stories justice.
I realize there are many paths to spirituality, and many names for God, and that not everyone believes. But those who use their faith in meaningful ways are an inspiration to us all.