“Will religion hunker down, insisting on the answer that locates an eternal kind of life in another kind of world, or will it walk back into this world as a partner and learner participating in the goodness outside its boundaries?”
I have dual citizenship. I was born in South Africa and a number of years ago I also became a US citizen. I now belong in two countries. But this dual citizenship stuff gets tricky and messy. One nation will always see me as an immigrant or foreigner. And the other nation will see me as a… well… as an emigrant… or someone who left, or jumped ship… or maybe a traitor?
Some countries flat out disallow dual citizenship. The only way to obtain citizenship in a new country is to forfeit your native citizenship. A painful choice indeed. And also so unnecessary.
It seems that humanity has a deep propensity to enforce these hard lines of belonging. It feels safer when we have high walls around our tribe or nation. And we prefer that people stay in their place.
This anti-migration tendency seems to apply even more deeply to religious communities. In most religions leaving your religion is quite possibly the most unforgivable and damnable sin possible in this life. And god forbid the possibility of applying for dual citizenship.
We all struggle with a bit of tribal pride. We like believing that our group is superior to others. Whether that is our family, or sports team, or city, or nation. We love the reassuring sounds bouncing off the walls of our communal echo chambers. But as much as we might think or feel that we are better, we wouldn’t normally go as far as insisting that we are divinely certified as being superior to everyone else.
And yet, this is exactly what normally happens in religion. We believe and declare that our group and our way of understanding is in fact divinely sanctioned as the best. Not only are we superior, but we might also go as far as saying all others are deceived, or worse, under demonic control. Even more shockingly, this isn’t merely the condition we are in, it is in fact the expected behaviour.
I have now lived in four different countries. And that has truly ruined any possibility for nationalism in my life. Once you live in another country, and you taste the food, you make new friends, you learn the language, and experience the national treasures, it becomes intellectually impossible to maintain the idea that one country is supreme to another.
But something else has happened to me over the last 10 years. I have started to have a similar experience in terms of my religious and spiritual life and belonging.
And the more I “travel” spiritually, and the more I encounter people of other faith backgrounds, the more I’m losing my native religious nationalism.
Maybe this happens when you have children, and you start to see the world through fresh eyes once more. And yet, I can’t stop the wonder from impacting and interrupting, and disrupting, my life. The more I look and learn and discover the more I am amazed. This world is rich, beautiful, and so full of wonder and mystery, that simply no single group can properly describe or define or capture the majesty of it all.
And maybe this is and should always be even more true in terms of God. Maybe Jews are onto something by resisting to even write or say the name of G-d. Maybe that is the most humble and worshipful and honoring thing we can ever do. To acknowledge that at the most basic level, we can’t even properly pronounce God’s name, let alone insist on possessing completely and exclusively the full revelation of God’s nature.
I love my native country. I love my immigrant country. I love all the other countries where I have lived. I love the earth. I love humanity. Actually, I feel increasingly more like a global citizen rather than a dual citizen. I feel more that I belong to humanity than to my native religious community. This doesn’t mean I reject where I come from, or that I no longer cherish my stomping grounds. It simply means that my world is expanding, I am finding my home in more than one place.
Perhaps it is time for religion to open its borders.
To realize that every human and community has a voice and something divinely beautiful and important to contribute. No human is an island. No nation can survive or thrive in isolation. And religion is no different.
Can we finally have the courage and the humility to open our religious borders? Can we at least start to become religious tourists? And can start to realize and appreciate just how much we have to offer one another? And can we finally allow for religious dual citizenship, or even global citizenship?
If you would look closely, you would find that God seems to be exactly everywhere…already….generously… without reservation…ready to be rediscovered in entirely new ways… in others… in others who are so different from you…and yet so the same.