All Relationships Are “Interfaith”

That’s the argument of Susan Katz Miller, author Being Both, a book about interfaith families. She explains what she means:

Whether or not two people have the same religious or nonreligious label, they are never going to share identical beliefs, practices, culture, family history. Both partners could be Reform Jews and one could be an atheist, the other a mystic. Or both partners could be secular humanists, and one loves to celebrate a huge Christmas and the other, not so much. Or both partners could be Protestant, but one sees Jesus as the Messiah and the other sees Jesus as more of a teacher or rabbi or even as a metaphor. What we teach children in interfaith community religious education is that you cannot accurately determine anything about someone’s beliefs based on their religious label.

Her advice on making such relationships work:

[T]here are a significant number of atheists, agnostics and nonreligious people married to people who do maintain religious affiliations, or atheist couples from two different religious cultures, so there is an important overlap between secular and interfaith communities. For atheists in “interfaith” or faith/nonreligious relationships, I think the keys to success are the same as they are in any other interfaith relationship: listen to each other, be specific about the beliefs and practices that you want to share and why, be open and tender and loving, and above all, see interfaith or faith/nonreligious bridge-building as something that is inspiring, as a form of calling, rather than as an insurmountable problem.

Late last year, Katz Miller argued for raising children with two religions. One reason she gave? Doing so “promotes transparency about differences”:

Neither parent’s religion is being suppressed, so children are less likely to feel confusion, guilt or even resentment on behalf of the “out-parent.” Meanwhile, interfaith children trying to formulate an identity as solely Jewish or solely Christian often struggle against society’s assumptions about their religion, based on physical characteristics, name, and extended family. An interfaith child raised Jewish may be presumed otherwise because of brown skin or even blond hair. An interfaith child raised Catholic, but whose last name is Cohen, will be presumed to be Jewish. Children allowed to identify equally with both sides of the family may more easily integrate the reality of their hair, their name, and even their grandparents. And while the children must learn to integrate two worldviews, as rebellious teens and young adults, they often appreciate the respect their parents show them by allowing them to make their own decisions. “No one is dictating to me what to believe and what not to,” reports a thirteen-year-old girl in the Washington interfaith group.