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  • When One Religion Isn't Enough: The Lives Of Spiritually Fluid People by Duane Bidwell
  • Paul O. Ingram

In Northern Europe and the United States, most people assume that religious identity (meaning "Christian," "Jewish," "Muslim," "Buddhist," "Hindu," or Native American or other primal religious Ways) are clearly defined, singular, and static. This understanding of religious identity as static, unchanging, and self-defining assumes an Enlightenment understanding of the nature of things and events, particularly the views of René Descartes. But, in actuality, religious identity is fluid, processive, and pluralistic because of what Duane Bidwell identifies as "spiritually fluid people." Spirituality fluid people have two or more religious identities, identities that cross complex, multiple religious traditions that blur social categories, evoke prejudices, and complicate religious communities. Their presence also raises important questions: How and why do people become spiritually fluid? Are they merely confused and unable to commit to a particular religious Way? In When One Religion Isn't Enough, Bidwell describes and analyzes the lives of spiritually fluid people, and in so doing reveals that while some people choose multiple religious identities, many more inherit them.

Bidwell addresses three questions: (1) In a world that privileges singular religious identities, how people come to be claimed by multiple religious identities? (2) How do spiritually fluid people integrate conflicting religious beliefs and practices as they participate in multiple religious Ways? And (3) How do spiritually fluid beliefs and practices help people and communities flourish? To answer these three questions Bidwell describes three "pathways"—choice, inheritance, and collaboration. These three "pathways" allow people to sculpt the pluralism inherent in inhabiting multiple religious identities into coherent individual and communal identities that transform human lives and disclose truth over and beyond their adherence to a single religious Way. [End Page 324]

Bidwell notes that three types of people choose religious multiplicity. There are those born into and committed to one religious Way but attracted to another for a variety of reasons. Second, some people convert from one religious Way to another and begin to explore what they experienced as lost when they left their original religious Way. Finally, some religiously multiple people see value in several religious Ways but might not identify with any. Of particular interest to members of the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies (SBCS) is the example of Ruben Habito. After Pope Paul VI's 1965 declaration Nostra Aetate, which encouraged relationships with non-Christian religious Ways, many Catholic Christians began to assume multiple religious identities. Habito was a Jesuit in the Philippines preparing for Catholic ordination. When the Church sent him to Japan as a missionary, he was asked to study Japanese Buddhist tradition as a means of helping the Church understand what God had given to humanity through Buddhism. When he encountered Zen Buddhism, he began an interior dialogue that brought Catholic teaching and practice, Buddhist teaching and practice, and his formation as a priest into conversation. Eventually, Habito left the Jesuit order and Catholic priesthood. He remains a Catholic lay leader and was ordained as a teacher in the Sanbo Kyodan linage of Japanese Zen.

Accommodation and assimilation, Bidwell argues, have their own particular structure. As people learn about a new religious Way, they first tend to assimilate the new Way's teachings and practices into the categories of the old. For example, the idea of nirvana/Buddhist liberation "might be placed in a mental file" entitled "Heaven/Christian Salvation" (48). Later as people explore with greater nuance, they begin to accommodate new religious Ways by making changes to their own original religious Way as they gradually realize that "nirvana needs its own folder because its not a subset of, or equivalent to," what Christian teachings mean by "salvation." (Ibid.) For example, Paul Knitter (another member of SBCS) in his book, Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian, appropriates Buddhist doctrines to shed light on traditional Christian teachings and practices. His conceptual dialogue with the Buddhist Way correlates the Buddhist doctrine of interbeing or interdependence with the activity of the Holy Spirit, equates Christian salvation...


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pp. 324-327
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