Cover Story

Double belonging: One person, two faiths

Americans have become accustomed to picking and choosing among various religious traditions and practices, selecting whatever is most useful, meaningful or intriguing at the moment. While such cafeteria-style religion is frequently criticized as superficial, it is common in a pluralistic culture with a wide-open religious marketplace. A person may occasionally attend a Christian church but also find meaning in yoga and in forms of meditation inspired by Eastern traditions—and enjoy attending a Seder at Passover. None of this seems extraordinary.

But some people have taken religious pluralism in a deeper and more radical direction. They have embraced two distinct religious traditions and have tried to be faithful to both at the same time. This is a demanding and in some ways confounding path—hardly a cafeteria-style spirituality. If, as John Dunne says in The Way of All the Earth, religious pluralism is the great spiritual adventure of our time, these people are the frontline ex­plorers.

One such "double-belonger" is Paul Knit­ter, whose 2009 book Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian has had a large impact on theology and on interfaith dialogue. Knitter taught for many years at Xavier Uni­ver­sity in Cincinnati and now teaches at Union Theo­logical Sem­inary in New York. He was a Catholic priest when, in his thirties, he began to struggle with the Christian faith. Much of what he recited in creeds on Sunday morning gradually stopped making sense to him. He was facing a crisis of faith and vocation. He left the priesthood in 1975, though he remained a devoted Catholic.