My musings on the change-producing effects of pluralistic, multi-faith communities upon our religious identities, committments, and groups/traditions

From her book, A New Religious America, Diana Eck writes, '…our religious traditions are constantly influencing one another.  Christians encounter the faith of new Sikh and Hindu neighbors and rethink what it means to speak of God's universal providence.  A Lutheran undersecretary of defense finds himself addressing Muslims at the Pentagon on the holiest night of the Muslim year. Jews in Sacramento find new allies in Christian and Muslim neighbors in the wake of synagogue burnings.  Christians in Roslindale find themselves moved by the spirit of forgiveness they find in their Viatnamese Buddhist neighbors.' 
So what do you think about the effect of constant multi-faith encounters, especially on our personal religious identity, committments, and our particular faith group's religious identity (assuming that the person(s) are open and vulnerable to listening and empathizing with the religious other, honestly dialogue about agreements and disagreements on worldview, participating in the other's customs, etc.?  Diana Eck defines a truly pluralist environment as:
  • First, pluralism is not diversity alone, but the energetic engagement with diversity. Diversity can and has meant the creation of religious ghettoes with little traffic between or among them. Today, religious diversity is a given, but pluralism is not a given; it is an achievement. Mere diversity without real encounter and relationship will yield increasing tensions in our societies.
  • Second, pluralism is not just tolerance, but the active seeking of understanding across lines of difference. Tolerance is a necessary public virtue, but it does not require Christians and Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and ardent secularists to know anything about one another. Tolerance is too thin a foundation for a world of religious difference and proximity. It does nothing to remove our ignorance of one another, and leaves in place the stereotype, the half-truth, the fears that underlie old patterns of division and violence. In the world in which we live today, our ignorance of one another will be increasingly costly.)
    The Effect of Strenghtening 'Home' Tradition
    As a Christian, is my Christianity strenghtened by encountering other religions?  For example, when I observe and experience Buddhist Meditation and the spiritual discipline of awareness by dialoguing with buddhist students, and then in response, does my Christian faith identity become stronger and fuller (become more Christian)  because I am encouraged to find similar spiritual disciplines like contemplation and centering prayer in my own tradition (this is Eboo Patel's take, the Interfaith Youth Core founder), and then incorporate them into my practice and committment?  This effect is especially the result of people engaged in pluralism who believed their faith is revealed truth and exclusive or the best way.  But it's not that they are total unaffected by the other religious encounter in terms of the other, not just the change in their own religious home tradition.  One can develop a real awe or 'holy envy,' as Diana Eck has said, for the other tradition that connects us and keeps us at the 'table' together, breaking down walls, and destroying prejudice. 
    The Effect of Multiple 'Home' Traditions
    As a child, I attended a Jewish pre-school and simultaneously attending Church and sunday school.  Simultaneously, at the beginning of my development, I was part and participant in two religious traditions.  Reciting 'Baruch atah' is as comfortable and natural, even inherent to my being, as reciting 'Our Father.'  Is this like being born in a bi-lingual family?  This effect is similar to the following effect.
    The character Pi in Life of Pi is a Multiple 'Home' Tradition' as he adheres to Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism.  In the book, his parents and religious leaders believe he is only one of the three religions, but Pi has other ideas.

        After the "Hellos" and the "Good days", there was an awkward silence. The priest broke it when he said, with pride in his voice, "Piscine is a good Christian boy. I hope to see him join our choir soon."

        My parents, the pandit and the imam looked surprised.

        "You must be mistaken. He's a good Muslim boy. He comes without fail to Friday prayer, and his knowledge of the Holy Qur'an is coming along nicely." So said the imam.

        My parents, the priest and the pandit looked incredulous.

        The pandit spoke. "You're both wrong. He's a good Hindu boy. I see him all the time at the temple coming for darshan and performing puja."

        My parents, the imam and priest looked astounded.

        "There is no mistake," said the priest. "I know this boy. He is Piscine Molitor Patel and he's a Christian."

        "I know him too, and I tell you he's a Muslim," asserted the imam.

        "Nonsense!" cried the pandit. "Piscene was born a Hindu, lives a Hindu and will die a Hindu!"

        The three wise men stared at each other, breathless and disbelieving.

        Lord, avert their eyes from me, I whispered in my soul.

        All eyes fell upon me

    Pi didn't see a problem by being 3 traditions at once.  He later likened to having multiple passports, being a dual or multiple citizen
    The Effect of More Complex Multi-Religious Identity, Traditions
    Can I acquire additional religious identity, becoming wholly Christian and also part Hindu, when I personally integrate yoga into my identity that I learned from and practice with my Hindu friends?  If this were the case, then complexity of my identity grows.  This would especially be the case if my tradition did not containt a similar or equivalent spiritual discipline, that addressed that same need.  And in this, I don't become more fully Christian, but I am (still fully?) Christian and also Hindu because I have committed myself to Christian disciplines and Hindu disciplines.  And if my friends also incorporate yoga alongside their Christian identities, then the group identity becomes more complex as well. Would this be like speaking English as my native tongue, but also speaking other languages like German as well?  Or maybe it's like always having your immediate/extended family, but then becoming a member of another family through marriage or friendship, etc., simultaneously holding both identities?  In this case, I am still fully Christian, but have supplemented my Christian identity with a Hindu practice/committment, remaing Christian, but taking on a (partial) Hindu identity as well, that is beyond my already whole Christian identity.  And whether learning this new language or becoming a member of another family is in the past or present, these are still part of your religious story and memory, which will have a lasting effect on identity and the group practice of religion.
    I contradict myself?
    Very well, then, I contradict myself. 
    I am large,
    I contain multitudes. 
    -Walt Whitman
    The Effect of a Syncretist Identity, Traditions
    Let's face it, religions have been borrowing, incorporating, and blending beliefs and customs since the beginning of time.  Pagan Yule and Christian Christmas was blended.  Greek Orthodoxy and really much of Christendom incorporated Greco-Roman philosophy and religion into the faith. This is syncretism, and I call it less complex because the two or more are blended together into one or a whole, rather than the two or more fully existing alongside each other (as the above effects suggest) within a person or group's religious identity.  The Abrahamic faiths have syncreetist parts to them, as well as Bahai'i and Unitatrian Universalism and many other faiths.  Syncretism happens either subconsciously or consciously, and more visibly and purposely happens with inclusive/universal religious philosophies, as opposed to exclusive, revelation-driven religious schemas.  One can argue that syncretism exists within (and possibly is causal) in the creation of every religion, even those with revelation as a central tenet.  Jesus was revealed truth to followers (who became Christians), however, Jesus' revealed truth can be found in Jewish/Israelite theology.  One example I observe happening often in America, especially since information is so widely available and since America values indepence and consumerism, individuals can 'shop' for a religion by taking parts of many other religions and spiritualities as they see fit.  Especially with a more private, free, inclusive, or universal mass mindset, forms of religion are as many as there are people or groups in America.
    I believe all of these effects are happening , through the interwoven and complex web of America's religiousity. And all effects manifest in any combination simultaneously and respectively to persons and groups across America.  In other words, persons and groups can experience any number of these effects, any combination, at any time.  These effects of multi-faith encounters are constantly changing and influincing our identities and our committments and our respective, particular religions. 
    The strenthening of one's 'home' tradition, is clearer and possibly easier to accept and deal with as we try to live into a pluralistic community.  It seems to be the more scholarly acceptable stance as well.  On Diana Eck's The Pluralism Project website,the second part of her definition of pluralism applies to this:
    • Third, pluralism is not relativism, but the encounter of commitments. The new paradigm of pluralism does not require us to leave our identities and our commitments behind, for pluralism is the encounter of commitments. It means holding our deepest differences, even our religious differences, not in isolation, but in relationship to one another.
    • Fourth, pluralism is based on dialogue. The language of pluralism is that of dialogue and encounter, give and take, criticism and self-criticism. Dialogue means both speaking and listening, and that process reveals both common understandings and real differences. Dialogue does not mean everyone at the “table” will agree with one another. Pluralism involves the commitment to being at the table — with one’s commitments.

    This 'new paradigm' of pluralism that retains or strengthens ones own identity is noble and attempts to preserve the diversity and sacredness of the unique religions. It also commends us attempt a very difficult spiritual and emotional task of loving another who disagrees about the most important and pressing questions of human existance.  That's quite difficult, and for our purposes as an American community might be a wonderful and necessary paradigm to follow…to disagree on religious tradition and philosophy, but to exist in relationship and love each other and respect each other, making our communities better by working as a whole. 

    However, the other effects are also happening, whether one likes it or not, whether one agrees with it or not.  I do agree there are positives and negatives to both the paradigm suggested by Diana Eck and Eboo Patel, and there are positives and negatives about the multi-faith and synctretist effects as well, especially as our American society becomes more diverse religiously, as we are living closer together among diversity, as the internet and social media creates instant global connections and provides multitudes of religious information and even the reality of cyber-religious communities, the blending or combining of religious traditions is a reality.  For some people, retaining a particular religious identity in the face of pluralism, is not possible.  They are willing to sacrifice the particularity for a more inclusive world-view and a multiple or combined faith identity, in hopes to refrain from hurting others and in order to create deeper and more real connections with others.  Further, love seems to be the deepest connector of all.  Love is something we all share, something that can bridge the deepest divide and breakdown the strongest wall of prejudice.   

    "Whenever I groan within myself and think how hard it is to keep writing about love in these times of tension and strife which may, at any moment, become for us all a time of terror, I think to myself: What else is the world interested in? What else do we all want, each one of us, except to love and be loved, in our families, in our work, in all our relationships? God is Love. Love casts out fear. Even the most ardent revolutionist, seeking to change the world, to overturn the tables of the money changers, is trying to make a world where it is easier for people to love, to stand in that relationship to each other…There can never be enough of it."
    Dorothy Day


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