I'm an interfaith child, raising interfaith children. As part of a three-generation interfaith family, I am the product of American pluralism. Celebrating more than one religion does not make me feel alienated or apathetic. Instead, it inspires me, and many of the interfaith children I interviewed for my book, Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family, to explore and appreciate the histories and cultures and practices and theologies of multiple religions.
Yesterday, Pew Research released a new study on how Americans feel about different religious groups. It seemed self-evident that most people had the "warmest" feelings about their own religion. But what about those of us who claim more than one religion? Pew has done great work previously on the fluidity and flexibility of religious practice in America, including the high rate of those who attend more than one house of worship. But the new popularity poll did not really take into account the complex family ties between and among religious groups in America. It sorted poll respondents into single-faith boxes. And many of us don't fit into those boxes.
Pew's most notable conclusion seemed to be that if you know someone from a particular religious group, you develop warmer feelings for that group. Robert Putnam and David Campbell, authors of American Grace, call this the "Aunt Susan Principle." But for interfaith children, it is not a question of whether or not we are lucky enough to have an Aunt Susan, a beloved figure of another religion perched somewhere on a branch of the family tree. Instead, we are born with the inherent and formative reality of parents of two religions. The result goes beyond the Aunt Susan effect. Let's call it the Interfaith Parents Principle. If your parents are of two religions, and they love each other, and they love you, then you are more likely to have warm feelings for both religions, and for multiple religions beyond your own family.
For instance, I found it distressing, but not surprising, to see the antipathy towards atheists and Muslims in the new Pew study. I'm not an atheist or a Muslim, but I have warm feelings towards both of these groups. In part, this is because interfaith families can feel marginalized, and as marginalized peoples we identify with and support each other. But also, my formation in an interfaith family has heightened my interest in spiritual, theological, cultural and philosophical differences. And I have purposefully woven an intricate tapestry of atheist, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Jain, Pagan, Jewish, Catholic and Protestant friends and colleagues in interfaith dialogue and activism, as well as people (like me) with complex religious identities.
As a member of an interfaith family, I have a predilection for peacemaking. I believe that religious identities are determined by geographic and cultural coincidence, or personal choice, not divine plan. And I have an aversion to exclusion, triumphalism, and religious violence. I am a bridge between religions: an embodiment of the idea that love can prevail. In my book, I survey and interview grown interfaith children with similar warm feelings for both, and many, religions. I invite Pew to study those of us from interfaith families, and explore the Interfaith Parents Principle.
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