by Project Interfaith Development Intern, Gabe Kreifels.
Interfaith, it is such an interesting concept to me. I grew up with very limited exposure to other faith systems. So after I graduated high school and moved out I began to experience the beauty of diversity, it was both frightening and mind blowing. Looking back I think of this experience with a hint of humor. I remember hearing about people with different beliefs, reading about them, or catching wind of their existence, but I rarely encountered it.
When I was around 17 I realized that the faith of the church I grew up in
didn’t really fit me. I went on a Richard Dawkins binge and began a process of “God withdrawal”. I remember how at first it felt devastating, like I had lost a good friend. Then it became exciting, and I felt like a child exploring a new world. It was comparable to learning a new language, not a better one, just a different one, one that came more fluidly to me. I had a friend, who was an atheist also at the time, and they would recommend books on evolution and different YouTube videos on how humanity came into being (I was strictly taught from a creationist perspective so I knew virtually nothing about evolution). For the first time I felt excited about my beliefs, I would hide books by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennet, under my bed unsure of what would happen if my Mom found them (although, she probably knew. Mom’s know everything). I think I was mostly afraid of causing her pain, opposed to being afraid of the repercussions that would occur if they were found.
While I began to accept these new ideologies for myself, those around me seldom reflected them, as the community I grew up in was predominantly Christian. When I moved out I began encountering communities that were accepting of not only my spiritual convictions but also other identities that I had. It was like a door had been opened into a world that I had always thought was a fairytale. I started attending Clarkson College and in one class we were required to watch RavelUnravel videos. They were very addicting. I began to see that the people in those videos were incredibly passionate about what they believed, in the same way I was, and in the same way that the people in the church I grew up in were.
It started dawning on me that who was right mattered less in the light of the collective beauty that formed this immense tapestry of human diversity. I was enthralled, overcome by the commonality that was threading its way through our differences. Soon after, I began volunteering with Project Interfaith and attended a speed dialogue event, which astounded me. I was amazed that there were so many people willing to share what they believed and listen to what I believed without trying to change each other’s beliefs. It was empowering, and I found myself falling in love with interfaith dialogues.
I find interfaith to be crucially important, not only because it can bring people who are different together, but also because it can bind us together in our difference. The contrast of our difference brings out the colors of our humanity. Again, I am like a child in a new world curiously exploring, and anxiously awaiting the next mind blowing experience that is bound to happen.
Gabriel initially heard of Project Interfaith through piloting the Ravel Unravel program at Clarkson College, and shortly after began volunteering. He is currently the Development Intern with Project Interfaith. Gabriel thinks that creating dialogue between people with differing beliefs is an incredible learning opportunity and is excited to be part of an organization that promotes this. Presently, he is attending the University of Nebraska-Omaha in pursuit of a Bachelors of Science in Sociology with a specific focus on Anthropology. Gabriel is interested in learning how Queer identities are perceived, and influenced within various religions, cultures, and societies as well as how they influence those entities.. In his spare time he enjoys reading, running, and watching an excessive amount of netflix.