Reflections on Interfaith Identity from a Coming of Age Student

Being interfaith is confusing. How does a person believe equally in two different systems of beliefs, much less two different systems of belief that inherently contradict each other? Christianity believes in the Holy Trinity– that God is three parts, among which is Jesus, who was the Messiah, and also the central figure in the whole religion. But a central idea of Judaism is the idea of God as one, and Jesus isn’t a part of that God. Jesus isn’t even the son of God, and the Messiah certainly wasn’t him, because the Messiah hasn’t come yet. And this is just the most obvious of many differences and debates between the two religions– it doesn’t make sense even before you stop to consider holy books and culture and history.

Sometimes people assume that interfaith people aren’t aware of these numerous contradictions. One time I did a school project where I was asked to list my religion. I put interfaith, and two of my friends asked me what that meant. When I explained that it meant that I was Jewish and Christian, they didn’t get it. They kept saying, “No, but which one do you believe?” I kept telling them that I was both, but they were only satisfied when I said that I sometimes leaned a little Jewish. It’s funny how much they didn’t get it. But I’m sure you can tell that I do know about all the contradictions in religion, I just don’t see it as necessary to pick a side. When people see a contradiction like that, it seems like the obvious choice to pick one side that you believe is true, and the other as false, but being interfaith is about knowing how to be both.

So how does a person believe in both religions? Religion is nebulous and, like I said, full of contradictions. Often, even just one religion can feel too big to comprehend– it’s hard to relate to something created in a time before you can imagine. However, that is the reason why it’s endured so long– it’s extremely applicable. Religion is defined as a system of beliefs, and it’s therefore shaped by the people who have those beliefs. It’s meaningless without people to give it meaning, and as a result, the people get to decide how to interpret their religion. In other words, the religion doesn’t define the follower, the follower defines the religion.

I think it’s easier to find meaning when I think of religion like this, when I simplify it down to different people’s thoughts on how a person should live. Thinking of everything in the Torah or the Bible as explicitly physical events makes it feel too big again, alien and unknowable. Because if I am aware of those contradictions, I should assume every other religious person is aware of those contradictions, and that those contradictions aren’t some form of cosmic lapse in judgement for me to ignore, but an intentional conflict I should think about and grapple with.  When I don’t understand the purpose of a story, I try to see it as a metaphor. Maybe the stories in the Torah and the New Testament aren’t supposed to be the answers. Maybe they’re supposed to be the questions. Like I said, religion is too vast to have a few or even a hundred books as the final destination, so it’s my job as the reader to try to understand where the map is taking me. There’s another reason there are so many different opinions and interpretations within religion– I don’t think any one person could have the exact same answers as any other person.

An interfaith person can look at two religions and see where they cross, and not where they contradict. An interfaith person can look at contradictions between their two faiths and learn from them without believing in any one side more or less. And I can look at contradictions and still not understand them, or even the thought behind them, but religion is about faith. And having faith in anything at all isn’t about waiting for answers that may never come, it’s about believing that you are trying your hardest to find those answers.

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