Many world religions claim to be mutually exclusive, meaning you can’t maintain beliefs and practices from more than one religion. Their paths are depicted to be utterly separate, with no opportunity to walk more than one at any given moment. This mutual exclusivity is often written into sacred scripture and doctrine. But the anthropologist in me has been wondering lately about the practical, rather than spiritual, benefits of proclaiming to the ‘one true way’.
I find mutual exclusivity a strict, over-kill method used to help ensure loyalty. For the religious establishment, this tactic keeps funds coming into their coffers and limits the funds going to their competition. It keeps people promoting the establishment’s ideology and, perhaps more importantly, limits followers’ exposure to other ideologies. Finally, mutual exclusivity focuses and limits the exposure of followers’ children, ensuring the longevity of the respective religious establishment.
All of these benefits are for the religions establishment, not the follower. The one benefit mutual exclusivity has for the follower is the opportunity to dedicate themselves to one religion in order to gain an in-depth knowledge of scripture, doctrine, and ritual. Beyond that, I find the principle is only limiting, in both social and spiritual life. With some freedom, followers can explore many spiritual expressions, make new connections and find meaning that deepens the experience of their own religion. This would engage people further, encouraging followers to remain loyal believers rather than becoming disinterested or disillusioned with their faith. Moreover, reducing religious boundaries gives one more exposure to people of diverse spiritual backgrounds, and helps one better understand Others; which can only be a benefit in this global world.
Food for thought: In what other facets of life might mutual exclusivity be limiting in a negative way? In what ways or facets of life might it be advantageous?