If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? If I am only for myself, then who am I? –Hillel
Sophomore Alexis Grant considers the spiritual gray area that coexists with interfaith.
Interfaith is complicated. Even after participating in almost a semester’s worth of interfaith service, event planning, and research, I still find it difficult to define the word with certainty. Is interfaith a movement or a belief? A floaty, unrealized concept, or a vision of a reality that might be worth working towards? It seems to me that these difficulties stem from what might initially look like an inherent contradiction in the term ‘interfaith’.
How can a cohesive movement rightly stand for honoring both the similarities and the distinctions between different faiths? How can something logically call for a simultaneous togetherness and apartness? The interfaith relationship, one can assume, must be complex in order to encapsulate such oppositional concepts as generalization and distinction at the same time. I must admit that throughout this semester working as an interfaith scholar in the Chaplain’s Office, I have sometimes allowed my idea of interfaith to be reduced as such—as a complex term laden with insupportable contradictions. Somehow, though, in spite of this, interfaith exists, is in motion, and is progressing. So, how?
I think medieval Jewish philosopher Hillel said it best when he said, “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? If I am only for myself, then who am I?” Basically, Hillel calls on the grey area between individual identity and membership within a pluralistic society. He posits that individual existence depends wholly on this middle-of-the-road relationship between pure self-interest and connection to the common good. Interfaith exists in this grey area—in this principle gap.
I can’t define interfaith. But I think it’s possible that I don’t need to in order to walk in this spiritual grey area, assisted by tolerance, appreciation for the beliefs of others and love for my own traditions. Through interfaith I can be for myself and others.