Sunday, 6 June 2010

But What About the Children?

A kind reader sent along this fascinating link to an article by Naomi Schaeffer Riley about interfaith marriage in the Washington Post. In short, interfaith marriage is a high-minded, tolerant, multicultural, spiritual route to divorce.

Now I do know people who are the fruit of interfaith marriages (usually Catholic mother and Protestant dad), and their mums and dads are still together, alleluia. I also know people whose Protestant dads became Catholic dads eventually, much to the joy of their Catholic mums (and probably resigned indifference of their Protestant grandparents). However, I, Seraphic, had a miserable short marriage with an Anglican, got a divorce and got an annulment within a year of the divorce. That is quick in annulment land, let me tell you. And what did we fight about most, eh? We fought about religion. It was like Belfast on speed. By the end, I was calling the ex a Sassenach, and he was telling me the Irish were all murderers. Really, it was hell.

As for those of disparate cults, I dated a Muslim guy and Jewish guys from time to time in my tender youth, and post-Protestants quite often in my overly exciting twenties. It took me until the ripe old age of 32 or so to realize that I would only ever be happy with a Catholic guy. I felt a bit ashamed about that, as if it proved an embarrassing inner bigotry. But I grew up in a Jewish neighbourhood, and I understood that it was important to my neighbours that their kids marry other Jews. And it occured to me that the idea that marriage is at the heart of religion (or religion at the heart of marriage) was true and good.

(Interfaith dialogue note: The Jews and Muslims taught me the importance of preserving your sacred language, too.)

When I heard, as a college student, that if you married a Ukrainian Catholic guy, you'd have to become a Ukrainian Catholic, too, I decided that was okay. (No idea if you really do, by the way.) The important thing was being in communion with Rome. So it was not really hard to give up going to the Novus Ordo every week and just pin a black mantilla to my head and become a Triddie like Benedict Ambrose. I do draw the line at anything that carries a whiff of Anglicanism, though, except (huge concession) the Anglican version of the Psalms, sung loudly, often (by B.A.) in the shower.

Anyway, I think in general, and with the Catholic Church before 1963, that interfaith marriages are risky and to be avoided. However, if one party is not so enamoured of their childhood faith, it might work out okay.

And sometimes accepting that you can't (or shouldn't) marry into another faith is a way of RESPECTING that faith. I had a lot of respect for a very talented Jewish friend named Y--. (Ah, Y--! He was a cantor at a conservative synagogue. Last I heard, he was a successful opera singer.) And so I called it off before it became serious. He had a Slavic soul, and so he complained bitterly to our mutual Catholic friend. He too had a Slavic soul, and so upbraided me for my hard heart. But it all worked out. Well, it all worked out for me. I hope Y-- found someone nice, too.


IA_ said...

Back when I was a searching single in college I was always left scratching my head when I found out so many of these supposedly serious Catholic girls were dating protestants.

True, I live in the South but in the city I lived 48.5% of the population was Catholic, 51% protestant.

What is more is many of these churches were very anti-Catholic, with over a quarter of their population former Catholics, many of whom married an evangelical or converted while dating.

From all the anti-Catholic protestants I met in College it seemed to me the second surest way to loose your faith is getting involved in an interdenominational relationship.

Christine said...


Very good post! It's so true. I'm a single in my 20's, and even though there are some great Christ-centered non-Catholic men, I've [in my mind] designated them as off-limits...and rightfully so, I believe. Because when it comes down to it, what man will wholeheartedly raise our potential children in the fullness of the Catholic faith? A wholeheartedly Catholic guy, that's who. Thumbs up, Seraphic.

Louise said...

Well, in some places it's not really a matter of much choice - here we have 3 choices: seminarians-to-be, womanizing drunks, or non-Catholic nice boys. All the serious Catholic girls here who are dating are dating non-Catholics; 2 of the girls have married non-Catholics and converted them (one before the wedding, one after). At least from the ones I know, I really doubt any of those girls will lose their faith, but even if they were dead set on dating a practing Catholic boy, they wouldn't be able to find one.

Shiraz said...

Actually, there was a study done in Australia (I'll have a dig around for the link and send it on later; I don't have it to hand) that said that different religions was not actually a factor which made divorce more likely. However, (if I'm remembering right) differences in age and education were. I wondered if this was because differences in religion are usually something a couple goes into marriage knowing all about, whereas a big age gap can lead to being in a different place in life further down the road (which is not necessarily anticipated by the couple at the time of marriage).

I suppose you can find a study for everything though :-)

Shiraz said...

Aha! Here's a media account of it. And it seems education was another of things that was NOT a factor.

If you want to read the study itself I think you can google the title and author and a pdf should show up.

Not sure what I make of it all, but it's interesting.

Seraphic said...

Maybe this changes from country to country. Sometimes writers talk about circumstances in their own countries as if they were the same in all countries. My guess is that people care more about religious identity in the USA than in Australia... True?

Sheila said...

I agree. I spend a lot of time on Catholic Answers Forums (a good place to hang out, if you don't mind the occasional anti-Catholic who gets on there to scream at people), and it seems the most common thing to see is a thread entitled "Marriage Problems" or some such. Inside, a Catholic woman pours out her heart about her unhappy marriage. And somewhere in the story she mentions that her husband is not Catholic. A very common cause of marital discord in mixed marriages is Catholic sexual teaching -- so very different from what the surrounding culture practices! So the non-Catholic husband will have no idea why his wife is so dead set against contraceptives, or odd sexual practices, or not having kids for the first ten years, and meanwhile the Catholic wife is grieving because she simply can't make him understand something he doesn't believe in.

There are some instances where it might be the right thing to marry a non-Catholic -- but in 90% of cases, the smart thing is to marry someone who shares your deepest beliefs, even if they are different from you in many other ways (like living in a country across the ocean!) or if you have to wait a long time to find them.

Shiraz said...

Seraphic, you're right in pointing out that the results might be culturally specific there - Australia is overall a much less religious country than the US. That said, religious background and cultural background can be entwined and with the high percentage of migrants etc in Australian society you would have thought it would have been a factor at least to some degree. It would be interesting to see what demographic studies in Canada or the UK turned up.

(Meanwhile, Sheila you raise a good point about unspoken tensions in not necessarily divorced couples - so they wouldn't enter the stats. My parents used NFP and my Mum is Catholic and Dad isn't. I always did wonder how he felt about it; it's never been discussed.)