Millennia of interreligious bloodshed has instilled a distrust between factions that has not dissipated in our modern moment. Those that hold power weaponize opposing spiritual belief systems to keep the populace mired in conflict and distracted from the shenanigans of the ruling class. There are many gentle souls that believe deeply in their chosen religion and still treat nonbelievers respectfully. But, despite their best intentions, they do not inherently have the perspective to understand those who believe differently. Our entire sociopolitical structure is therefore swayed by stereotypes and suppositions, creating a latent hostility that is easily triggered into destructive action. Despite remarkable advances in our society, we are hamstrung by archaic tendencies.
I was raised by a Catholic father and a Jewish mother whose paths first crossed in kindergarten. You would be hard-pressed to find a Christian that embraces the spirit of Christmas more than my mother or a Jew that makes a more healing pot of matzo ball soup than my father. They were critical models of religious tolerance, even if their own parents might have had a harder time adjusting to their intermarriage.
There is nothing magical about being half-and-half (or some other fraction, depending on the complexity of your upbringing). The only superpower that it provides is one of empathetic understanding. I have attended Mass in ornate cathedrals and simple churches. I have attended services in sex-segregated Orthodox synagogues and rejoiced in the collective of a reform temple. I have heard sermons in languages that I did not understand, nonetheless intuiting the message from rhythms and gesticulations. I was lucky enough to have a Jewish grandmother churning out brisket and a Belgian Catholic grandmother crafting many epicurean delights.
These experiences let me witness firsthand the differences between the religions and the cultures that they spawned. More powerfully, they illuminated the marked similarities that united the traditions. Instead of being siloed into only one worldview, I was captivated by the panoply of interpretations that comprise the rich tapestry of the Judeo-Christian world. Bolstered by these explorations into the respective religions of my forebears, it was only natural that I would then seek to know other religions. Blessed to be embraced in Buddhist chaityas and Taoist temples and Muslim mosques around the world, I have felt the heartbeat of one humanity as it pulses in its many forms.
Already suspicious of doctrinal rigidity, my sojourns physical and mental convinced me that the mutuality of the Golden Rule was the only non-negotiable tenet of my faith. The world of belief being so intensely personal, it is not my purview to judge another for their views, only my prerogative to seek understanding and to levy compassion. Perhaps I would have come to this conclusion raised solely as a Methodist or a Jain, but my framework was laid early on and for that I am eternally grateful.
There is tremendous power in being brought up in a single tradition. There were times that my religious heterogeneity cast me as an outsider, leaving me wishing to be ensconced in one community and to be comforted by generations of certainty. Hewing close to a specific religion is an enviable position, with one caveat. Any believer who seeks knowledge and peace must be constantly vigilant to keep one’s mind and heart from hardening against one who believes differently. We do not have to agree with others in order to recognize the validity of their personal thoughts.
With Christmas and Hanukkah overlapping this year, our home is bedecked in the multiple trappings of the season. We have a menorah and a tree and other religious and secular symbols of our broad-based faith. Fortunately, we also have the flexibility to believe in the power of Ullr to grant the Valley a snowy bounty.