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?




“The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ The Lord replied, ‘If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” – Luke 17:5-6

Here Jesus claims that even the tiniest amount of faith is enough to accomplish great things. But the apostles think they need more. They ask Jesus to give them more faith. In much the same way, Christians find their way to church each week hoping to feed and increase their faith. Believers from a multitude of religions spend time in prayer developing their spirituality. But is all of this internal effort necessary? While the apostles are worried about increasing their faith, Jesus is much more concerned about the apostles using their faith, no matter how little they possess.

While there is nothing bad about increasing faith, maybe that’s not where the emphasis should be. Rather than spending so much time bolstering ourselves up to go out into the world to do good, perhaps we ought to venture into the world with the whatever faith we have and see what can be accomplished. Then we can see how even a little faith transforms the people and the world around us. In seeing these affects our faith grows. Seeing becomes believing. Here action leads to spiritual growth. We are called to live out our faith, bringing light to those shadowed parts of our world. When we act on faith we show others our trust in the divine and create opportunities for our faith to reseed, expand and grow. Rather than isolated in churches or alone in prayer, this is done in public for all to see; helping plant the seeds of faith in others.

I’m not saying we do away with worship, prayer, ritual or liturgy. But by exerting the same amount of effort toward faith-filled action, we can span the religious / secular divide and learn how to live our lives entirely steeped in faith. And by which inspire faith and a spiritual life in others.