Inter-faith Relationships: Can They Work?

A Jew and a Buddhist.
A Muslim and a Hindu.
A Christian and an Atheist.

Sounds like the start of a bad joke, doesn’t it? Actually, I want to discuss inter-faith relationships and marriages. Which may hit a sensitive cord in some depending on your own family, beliefs, and experiences.

Can inter-faith relationships work? Does it matter what is someone’s faith background?

As I mentioned in “Should I Stay or Should I Go Part I”, in order for a relationship to work, we must be able to express the whole of who we are to that other person. That includes our faith and religious beliefs (or lack thereof). With the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life estimating that 37 percent of marriages involve two different religions, it’s a question to consider as we seek to build healthy relationships.

In doing research for this piece, I found plenty of other sites that claim inter-faith relationships can and do work. Citing examples of couples who have found a way to meet in the middle, it seems that this difference is nothing more than any other speed bump that couples have to work through.

But I have to wonder, if you truly believe what your religion teaches, that it’s the truth, how can it not matter?

My faith shapes my worldview, the framework from which I view reality and make sense of life and this world.

It informs my views about people and humanity, whether we are intrinsically flawed or, if people can attain perfection this side of Heaven.

It guides my voting as it shapes what I believe to be the role of government, what motivates individuals, and how to distinguish between a right and want.

It determines how I spend my money, how I give it away, how I invest, and why I save it.

It grounds my life with purpose and meaning that provides hope in spite of what my present circumstances may be.

Even if you consider yourself someone who doesn’t have a ‘faith’ or religious beliefs, you have a worldview. You see the world a certain way, believe certain things to be true and have particular beliefs about what are the driving forces behind the emotions, actions, and decisions of people.

We all have beliefs about how the world operates, about why people do what they do, and what is truth. It will affect every area of your life, whether or not you are conscious of it.

In my home, I am a Protestant whereas my husband is a Catholic. While we were dating, it seemed an insignificant difference. It has only been during our marriage, as we have done life together on every level, that what we thought were nuances in our faith backgrounds have been major issues that we have had to work through.

It may also have something to do with two first-born, passionate, and slightly stubborn people getting married…

But no matter what the scuffle has been about, at the end of the day, we have our common core faith beliefs to which we come back. It has certainly been a lesson in humility, in respecting another person even as you disagree with their beliefs, and in learning to be open to new experiences. Difficult, yes. But as I said, we have core beliefs upon which we agree.

Perhaps the difficulty arises in a relationship when one has a religion and the other has none, or is even antagonistic towards faith. In that case, the beliefs of the former are completely disregarded by the later, considered a joke, a crutch, a figment of the imagination, or a ‘phase’ that someone will grow out of.

How do you do it when your faith beliefs clash?

When what you believe goes in direct opposition to what that other person believes. Do you hold that part of you back?

Are you less inclined to share, to involve the other individual into those experiences? Or does your faith suffer?

Do you begin to compromise that which has been important to you for the peace of the home? You stop going to temple as often. Or brush off getting involved in a church. Or skip some of your daily prayers. It doesn’t seem like a big deal at first, but over time, it will matter.

What about when you have kids, how will you raise them? Many people return to the faith of their youth when children enter their home. Suddenly, being Catholic and Atheist could matter. What will you teach your children? That one parent holds the truth and the other a lie? That these competing beliefs are both truth, as though black can be white at the same time?

When it comes to core values, I do not believe it is possible to be in a serious relationship with someone and not either compromise those values or become resentful at the fact that you’re not able to fully express and share in that experience.

Core values are what unite us, the foundational stones upon which we build a relationship made of two different people.

My faith is interwoven into the very fabric of who I am, it is part of my life-breath, and beats out with every pulse of my heart. To try to separate the one from the other would be death.

Sharing life with another person – intimate, vulnerable, open, and honest life – requires they not merely respect those beliefs but have that same faith coursing through their life.

Perhaps that is just me. What do you think?

Can inter-faith relationships work? Is it better if one does not hold their faith as seriously as the other?

Photo courtesy of stallkerl via flickr

6 thoughts on “Inter-faith Relationships: Can They Work?

  1. I love this post! We are the same as you–I’m Protestant, my husband is Catholic. We think the most important thing is that we are both Christians and have the same basic faith and values. And honestly, over time, I’ve come to feel that God is calling me to become Catholic and to share the faith of my husband and our future children. But my husband knows this is my decision, and even if I didn’t have this calling, we would have made it work, precisely because our core values align. Thanks so much for writing about such an important and sensitive subject.

  2. I as well love this post…I have been struggling with this with my boyfriend and I…he was also raised Catholic and he believes in God, and the Bible but he struggles a whole lot with blind faith. He wants something tangible that he can touch to show him the cognitive truth. I know the devil has gotten into his mind to confuse him and give him doubts, so I daily pray that God will overpower his mind with love and overule those thoughts that satan is trying to plant in Alonzo’s heart. Thank you Joanna!

    1. Thank you Molly, and thank you for sharing where you’re at! We all go through seasons that refine our faith and test our beliefs. Alonzo is blessed to have you there praying him through this.

  3. This is interesting, I am Catholic and my boyfriend was baptised, but never practiced any religion, so I have given this issue some thought. I agree with what you said so beautifully Joanna: “My faith is interwoven into the very fabric of who I am, it is part of my life-breath, and beats out with every pulse of my heart. To try to separate the one from the other would be death.” Because I feel the same way about my faith, I think that a person who does not believe the same thing can not love you completely without loving what you believe – I don’t think it’s possible to say to someone that you love them, but despise their beliefs; their beliefs are what make them who they are.

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