Friends General Conference

Together we nurture the spiritual vitality of Friends

Things I’ve Learned as a Person Who Practices Two Religions

By Sarah Haber, Institutional Assessment Implementation Committee Member | 8/03/20

 

Sarah Haber is a member of the Institutional Assessment Implementation Committee. She contributed to FGC's Anti-Racism Ministry update in March 2020, and this past July, she co-facilitated the Self Care for People of Color workshop at the Virtual FGC Gathering. This article was written for the August 2020 Interfaith Issue of the Vital Friends eNewsletter. 

 

 

“But how can you be both? Doesn’t this conflict?”

I get asked questions like these a lot, but this particular memory was a new acquaintance asking me how I can consider myself a part of two religions, while also simultaneously not believing in a God. Like the other building blocks of my identity, my religious experience has been mixed.

I can only speak to my experience, so this isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list of all the ways celebrating two religions can impact your life. I have a feeling that there will be many more in the years to come.

So from this place of “both,” “inbetween,” as well as “yes and”, here’s what I know to be true right now:

Studying and learning other religions will deepen your understanding of your own practice.

In college, my advisor told me that if I chose my classes well, they would all influence and deepen my understanding of each other. This was true - my genetics class influenced the way I read Asian American literature, which influenced the way I read about how NAFTA affects Indigenous people in Central America. Practicing two religions has had the same effect on my spiritual growth. The lessons I learn from one influences the way I practice the other, and vice versa. It’s an infinite feedback loop.

 

Learning about other religions will open your mind to how other people think and perceive the world.

Religions are a framework for how we see the world. When you learn another framework, you learn a new way to look at a familiar situation.

 

“Judeo-Christian” isn’t a thing y’all.

Judaism and Christianity use similar texts, but they are different religions. Stop conflating them, you will only end up erasing Judaism.

 

People will tell you that there are markers or barriers you have to cross in order to “practice correctly”.

That’s ignorant, ignore them. I nearly got into a fight with a boy in high school who told me that because my mom wasn’t Jewish, then I wasn’t Jewish. That might be a small example of how I am constantly told, in various areas of my life, but also by practitioners of my religions, that I am not “enough” or that I’m not practicing correctly. Quakerism, for all its emphasis on equality, has unwritten rules that can send a message that there is only one way to be Quaker. Part of being in between is that I’ve had to define what “enough” is for myself, and I think this can apply to anyone learning new religions and practices - define your own boundaries. That said, make sure not to appropriate.

 

Religion can be fluid.

When people ask me how I can be two or more things at once, they’re often asking me to justify how I can exist in the world. Mixed or biracial people in general tend to live with a degree of suspicion from others because our physical presence asks people to question their assumptions about race. A similar thing happens when I mention that I practice two religions, I see it on peoples faces as I watch them do mental gymnastics. In the same way that gender is fluid, or as a Mixed person my race is fluid, my religion is also fluid. It’s not about what’s convenient in the moment - I am always all of these pieces of myself - but that in any given moment I may identify more with one aspect of myself than another. When I’m in Meeting, I’m identifying more with my Quaker practice and beliefs, but I am still Jewish, that part of me doesn’t go away.

 

Being “between” can mean that you both benefit and don’t benefit from privilege.

This statement supposes that one of the things you’re between is an area of privilege, and in my case that’s true. On the one hand I’m a part of a Christian religion, the dominant religious identity in the U.S. On the other there are people who actively think that I shouldn’t exist for being Jewish. And because, as I said above, I am always all of these parts of myself, I am also always benefiting and not benefiting from privilege at the same time.

 

At the end of the day, all religions are saying a similar thing.

You are a part of something greater in the world than yourself. And it all boils down to: Love thy neighbor. Don’t be a jerk.