By Rachel Puryear
For people who have a spiritual practice or faith, it’s usually assumed that they belong to one – and only one – of the many religions and traditions in the world.
But does anyone actually belong to more than one spiritual tradition, religion, or faith? Can you even do that?
Actually, you can – and some people do it, to a greater or lesser extent, and in varying ways.
So, let’s explore the ways in which people draw from multiple spiritual practices:
Some people are raised in a particular faith, and then follow a different path as they get older. As they discover their own values and beliefs, they may find a better fit in another belief system than in their original one.
Sometimes, people might decide that they don’t believe in anything at all, despite being raised with a religion. Or, vice versa.
They might marry someone of another faith, and decide to convert. Or they might convert because they are simply drawn to another community.
When people do change faiths during their life, they might retain some relationship to previous ones, as well as to their current ones – and this is totally okay. They might celebrate holidays of both, sometimes attend services of both, and participate in rituals of both.
They might also have interfaith parents. Growing up, I had a good friend who had one Jewish parent, and one Christian parent. They celebrated both Christmas and Hanukkah in their household – I thought that was so cool!
In many Asian countries, there are multiple religions commonly practiced, and people often belong to more than one. This is not viewed as inconsistent, though – because not all traditions necessarily require exclusivity the way that Judeo-Christian ones tend to do.
Syncretism means blending belief systems from multiple religions or spiritual traditions, and creating a new one from those.
This happens for many reasons.
Sometimes more than one faith is popular in a region, and they influence each other over time.
Sometimes one culture will conquer another and force the conquered people to convert, but those conquered still maintain some of their own traditions.
For instance, as Europe shifted from Paganism to Christianity over time (through a mix of both peaceful conversion and violent conquest), people retained many Pagan traditions.
As examples; ornaments on Christmas trees resemble Pagan fertility symbols (I’ll let you think about that 😉 ), ancient Pagans would drink and feast and walk to neighbors’ homes naked and singing festive songs (like caroling) during Saturnalia (Pagan Winter holiday), and Christmas and Easter both arise out of Pagan celebrations of Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox.
Interestingly, though frowned upon by some conservative Christians, Halloween is one of the few holidays which actually does have Christian origins.
In many Western cultures – especially northern California, where I’m from – New Age movements have been very popular in recent decades. New Age is a spiritual practice loosely based on a combination of Eastern and Indigenous American belief systems, and the New Thought movement going back to (at least) the 19th century.
New Age is pretty much decentralized, with no generally agreed-upon authority or hierarchy, in contrast to most major religions. New Agers often pick and choose beliefs and rituals to adopt. Many older New Agers were also hippies in the 60s and 70s.
Omnism can be broadly defined as drawing some teachings from all religions, while not believing exclusively in any particular one.
I’m also an omnist (among other things) to an extent.
I believe that most faiths have some wisdom and ideas worth exploring. At the same time, I don’t believe that any particular faith (or individual) has all the answers, or ever will in this lifetime – and some major religions have some outdated ideas that I would never adopt (like fundamentalist sects, as well as any patriarchal or bigoted teachings that unfortunately have been forced into many popular religious teachings – though this doesn’t have to be inherent to religion. Also, omnism doesn’t include cults.)
Sometimes people don’t have a connection or exposure to more than one spiritual tradition – but they have a sense that they could learn something valuable from all of them. Maybe they don’t want to choose just one.
In that case, they might want to still stay with a preferred religion, but explore other faiths and learn more about them – and will often find their spiritual life enriched by doing so, even if they return primarily to their chosen faith.
Do you have more than one spiritual faith or practice that’s important to you? Feel free to comment below! In an increasingly global world, for spiritual people, interfaith might just be the future.
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