Thursday, 14 March 2013

Should Catholics Date Non-Catholics?

This was the last Seraphapalooza question, and a controversial one to be sure. I keep writing and erasing everything I write.

First of all, it's just coffee. Just go for coffee. Have a nice chat and drink the coffee. If you discover halfway through the coffee that he absolutely detests Catholicism, insist on paying your half of the bill and smile when you say good-bye. There are a lot of Catholics out there. You do not have to date people who hate what and whom you love.

Second, you don't have to marry someone just because you had coffee with him once and dinner with him twice. In fact, you don't have to marry someone just because you had dinner with him every Friday night for two years. (It would have been kinder, however, to call it quits rather sooner than that.) Indeed, you don't have to marry someone just because you have been his mistress for the past ten years and have had three of his children although you should consider it if he's actually available.

I do not see any problem with befriending non-Catholics. In fact, we probably should befriend a lot of non-Catholics so as to not get all isolated and triumphalist. This does not mean, however, that we should put up with anti-Catholic sneers. Anyone who sneers at what you love in front of you is not a good friend.

Third, if you don't want to date non-Catholics, don't feel guilty about it. One of the biggest mistakes of my life was allowing myself to be bullied into dating a non-Catholic after I had explained that I had been taught not to date anyone I wouldn't want to marry, and I wouldn't want to marry a non-Catholic. From his reaction, you would have thought he was Dante catching Beatrice in the act of killing a kitten.

Fourth, some Catholics can marry non-Catholics and be delightfully happy, and some cannot. It is up to you to figure out what kind of Catholic you are. I myself have spent enough time with Muslim, Jewish, Anglican, Baptist, Wiccan, agnostic and atheist men to know that I would be miserable if I married a non-Catholic. In fact, I did marry a non-Catholic once, and I was miserable. My house was a mini-Belfast. His clergy were horrified when they heard how we sniped at each other in the back of their car one day. They said they hoped we didn't talk like that at home. Ah ha ha ha.

However, my old pal Boston Girl (of my book) married an American mainline Protestant, and she is very happy. She is still a devout Catholic, and her baby was baptized Catholic, and all is well.

At this point you may be terrified and wondering which kind of Catholic you are, and all I can tell you is that you have to know yourself.  You have to understand which are your core values.

Fifth, when it comes to marriage, core values matter more than religion.

I am reading a very amusing memoir about the tens of thousands of Polish soldiers who made their way to Scotland during the Second World War.  The Scots hastily adopted them and the Presbyterian Church of Scotland laid on tremendous suppers for them, astonished and delighted that Catholics were actually eating their food. Of course there were efforts to convert them to Presbyterianism, but the Poles couldn't speak English and didn't mind the Scots chattering on about whatever while they ate.

When the two or three Scottish Catholics around during World War 2 told the Polish soldiers that they shouldn't be taking food from Scots Protestants, they said they'd rather take food from Scots Protestants than from German Catholics, and considering what the Germans were doing to Poland, you can see their point.

The core values of Polish soldiers in Scotland in 1940 were 1) defeating the Germans 2) eating 3) chasing girls. Although Catholicism ran through their blood (and to some extent was their blood), they had exactly zero interest in the terrific resentment of the Scottish Catholic minority for 400 years of marginalization.

Although you may be a devout Catholic, it may be that your core values do not include agreement with a spouse on religious matters (which Catholic couples do not necessarily have either). It may be more important for you to marry someone of your own ethnic group, or someone of your own political party, or a vegetarian, or a fellow Marine. Social or economic class may matter more to your psyche than sectarian solidarity, and that's just who you are. It's okay.

Sixth, we don't choose our core values. They choose us.  As it happens, one of my own core values is indeed agreement with my spouse on religious matters. This is because I am the eldest child of a very traditional, patriarchal family where the default position was always "Obey Dad." (Fortunately, Dad is a great guy, so the family flourishes.) Therefore it was absolute torture to be married to someone who wanted me to stop being Catholic and be something he thought more classy (i.e. Anglican) instead. I was like those robot women on "Star Trek" whom Captain Kirk tricked into attempting to solve a paradox: my head exploded. Ka-blooey. It took about seven years to put it back together. :-O

Today the Biblical verse "Wives obey your husbands" doesn't trouble me because my mother always obeyed hers, and I find it easiest just to obey my proper Catholic one although I wish he would let me have a guinea pig. So it is a good thing he is a Catholic, and I would not have married him if he weren't. "Catholic" trumps wifely obedience in my psyche ten out of ten times, and when the conversation around my table gets rather nostalgically Anglicanish I roll my eyes and make remarks.

I know that many strong-minded women (I am not strong-minded, just enthusiastic about stuff, which is not the same thing) would be horrified by my docile disposition. However, what can I do? I was basically programmed this way, and I congratulate the strong-minded on their firmness of purpose. I am sure the toughest of them could marry a ranting, raving non-Catholic (or even non-Christian) fundamentalist and just continue being themselves and doing what they want to do and saying "La la la" to his protests and generally being happy.

If you are a strong-minded Catholic woman and are completely bewildered by the whole concept of husbands being the heads of families, let alone of their wives, then certainly go ahead and date non-Catholics. When the time comes (as it almost certainly will), give them The Talk with gusto and drama.

Update: My conscience just told me to add that before the Second Vatican Council, the Church very much discouraged mixed marriages. It was believed that mixed marriages could lead to the deterioration of the Catholic spouse's faith and to the eventual apostasy of the children born to the marriage.

After the Second Vatican Council, the Church more-or-less encouraged mixed marriages as a beautiful symbol of Christian Unity or what have you. The result has sometimes been the deterioration of the Catholic spouse's faith and the eventual apostasy of the children born to the marriage. However, I know families in which the strong faith of one spouse has inspired the children to be true to their faith and the combined influence of spouse and children wafted the non-Catholic spouse into the fold. Of course, there is no faster way to make children despise religion than parents who scream at each other because of religious differences.


c'est la vie said...

ummm... glad you added the bit on mixed marriages. If the primary end of marriage is the procreation and education of children, surely as Catholics we have a duty to marry someone who is likely to help prospective children save their souls. And when one of the parents regards the Faith as optional, that doesn't seem like the ideal climate for raising Catholic children and teaching them that the Faith is not optional. I am pretty sure that I myself, for instance, would have been out of the Church like a shot aged around 18 if one of my parents had regarded Catholicism as optional.

Don't get me wrong--I'm just saying that surely, there should be a grave reason before entering into marriage with someone who won't even consider converting to Catholicism. Christian Unity is all very well, but going to hell because you were raised in a home that was ambivalent about religion is not so hot. Or I guess it is. haha.

I would never marry someone just because they were Catholic, and I fully agree on the importance of Core Values--I just think there has to be a more serious reason than, say, a shared love of dog-sledding, for marriage to a non-Catholic who is determined not to convert.

Jam said...

If we hold that everyone is called to fullness of fath in Catholicism, and given that people often are flat wrong when they declare their wishes ("I could never live in a big city!" - six months later, thrilled to find herself in NYC), I couldn't ever reject out of hand someone who felt that they were called to marry a non-Catholic. Conversions do happen that way! And sometimes that intimate, trusting relationship, over the course of years is necessary to bring someone home. And then again: someone converting before marriage isn't necessarily a pure sign of goodwill; I mean, I would rather marry the non-Catholic, trusting that God would bring him around in time, than insist he go through RCIA as a condition beforehand and risk spoiling him on the concept up front. This is all assuming that you're really really sure he's the one, I suppose. And I'm assuming we're talking about other Christians.

That said, I couldn't myself. I spend too much time being the weird one with the inexplicable belief system, I don't think I could have that muddying up a marital relationship. I don't know that I could marry someone who didn't share or at least understand some of my love for specifically Catholic Christianity. And I do think its the fullness of faith! I might be more concerned about my ability to fully respect his choice to go to the Vineyard Bible Group (not a reference to any real group) than his ability to support me teaching the kids the rosary, sad to say...

But then there's dating and dating. Can you really have a good sense of what someone's relationship to God and religion is without getting to know them personally? In some cases I suppose, but most of the time I would say no. If the religious difference were the only major strike against him, I would be happy to go out with him to get a sense of the situation at least. There are some people who have a shorter path to the church than others.

Jessica said...

Growing up with my dad also prevents me from marrying non-Catholics! :) In that case, it's because he was not Catholic when he married my mom - in fact, he was so staunchly evangelical/Baptist that his parents tried to talk him out of marrying a Catholic girl. I grew up hearing the story of how he started to do research on the "errors" of the Catholic church in order to convert my mom, and ended up being convinced himself. Since I highly respect my dad's wisdom and intellectualism, I don't think I could marry a non-Catholic without deep-down hoping/assuming that he would follow a similar path to my dad - and that's not a fair expectation to put on someone else. So long story short, I wouldn't be fair for me marry a non-Catholic.

Andrea said...

This is an interesting post.

From the perspective of a very faithful, practicing, Christ-following Protestant, it seems a shame to me to not be able to marry a Catholic who likewise serves Christ.

However, it is wise not to be naive about the differences in our practice, I have found.

Short anecdote: One of the worst (and most serious) relationships I have ever had was with a Catholic, many years ago. We met in university. It was a terrible relationship not because he was Catholic and I was Protestant but because, and I can't stress this enough, we WERE BOTH VERY WEAK IN OUR FAITH and unable to see the bigger picture.

It was a major problem at the time. Other things in the mix led to the most explosively sad, emotionally horrible breakup I've ever had.

Looking back, I wish I were more mature in general, but also more mature in my faith.

I still today cannot practice many of the practices of the Catholic Church, while I respect the Catholic Church as a whole. And so someone wanting their children to be raised Catholic would have a hard time with that. However, said person would need not worry about their children being raised Christian, and passionately so, to the extent that parents are able to control this. I would be happy if my children were practicing Catholics because practicing Catholics are practicing Christians. And I'd be happy if my children were Christian from their own conviction, rather than mine.

I am very much offended by concepts of conversion, I might add. In my mind, it's asking me to convert from following Christ to following Christ.

Of course it comes down to the nitty gritty of HOW we follow Christ, and again, it's wise not to be naive about the differences.

I would personally date an RC but I'm not confident an RC would date me and I've made my peace with that, whilst still thinking it's too bad. Christian unity is an evasive thing.

Withmycupoftea said...

I agree big-time about core values! I dated a non-Christian, and at the time agreeing about Catholicism wasn't one of my core values. What was essential was agreeing that truth wasn't relative, and for that reason we didn't end up together.
To be honest, if kids weren't involved, one could pretty much be with anyone. But children are central to marriage and so much unity is needed to raise them. At this point I think I would only marry another Catholic.

Seraphic said...

Jam used a very good expression: "fullness of faith." Catholics who know and practice their faith accept that other Christians are indeed Christians but do not always have what we called "fullness of faith."

Being a practising Catholic, especially in an anti-Catholic country or society, is socially difficult and that is probably another reason why most practicing Catholics would prefer to marry another Catholic.

I imagine--I don't know, of couse, but it seems reasonable--that Protestant and Eastern Orthodox Poles who practise their faith would really rather marry fellow Protestants and Eastern Orthodox Christians. There is certainly a lot of pressure on Eastern Orthodox kids in Toronto not to marry Catholics.

Kate said...

I grew up Catholic in a mixed marriage (Dad was Methodist, Mom was Catholic). After we started attending the Latin Mass, my Dad realized that he had nothing in common with the Methodists (or Novus Ordo Catholics, for that matter) and did convert. If and when I ever get married, I'd like to think that my husband would be the spiritual head of the family. The older I get, the more important it is for me to only marry a Catholic so that our children have a strong male Catholic example. (I'm still correcting my Dad on matters of faith and morals....and words of prayers.)

Sarah said...

The faith is such a part of my living-breathing every day life that I just don't think I would have enough in common with a man who was not Catholic. Not to say I'm particularly pious or anything, but I just can't find the same common ground with someone whose life doesn't also rotate around the liturgical year, or who couldn't pray with me in the same "language."

I would, of course, go on dates with non-Catholics if I were asked, because anything can happen. Maybe my core values would change in doing so (I doubt it) or maybe God meant for me to be his path to conversion. But I would need proof soon that he was at least open to learning about the faith pretty early on for me to continue seeing him.

Seraphic said...

By the way, I should stress again, for those non-Catholics who are in Catholic-heavy professions and communities, that not all Catholics feel they HAVE to marry a fellow Catholic.

Many Catholics feel very drawn to ecumenism and love to hang out with people of different branches of Christianity and with non-Christians, and many would also be open to marrying non-Catholics and non-Christians without worrying about this interfering with their own faith life or the faith of their children. Sometimes a commitment to a cause might be the "core value."

And of course there are men who (like some women) just really really really want to get married and have a family, and just finding the first really kind woman who wants kids who comes along is what they want most.

MaryJane said...

I just want to add what I think is implicit in Seraphic's guidelines, but whether or not you (as a Catholic) could happily marry a non-Catholic is not necessarily related to how much you love the Church, etc.

(I'm adding this b/c I have friends who, if they read this, would probably start feeling guilty about being ready to marry a non-Catholic, and would start thinking they didn't love Jesus enough or something.)

Some people are happy to lead a quiet exemplary life and some people just naturally like to argue more. If you are an argue-er, it would probably be more difficult to marry someone of another church, ecclesial community, or religion, than if you are a happy exemplar.

I used to think I could never marry a non-Catholic. But as I've gotten older, I've realized that other things grate on me a lot more... like socialism. I could never marry a socialist, no matter how much they claimed to (or actually did) love God.

Seraphic said...

Yes, that is implicit in my guidelines. I am sure there are utterly devout women who might certainly be happy with someone of another faith and that there are women who are merely cultural Catholics who would feel really uncomfortable dating a non-Catholic, from feelings of tribalism, for example.

Anonymous said...

I learned through dating that I really couldn't marry a non-Catholic. Not only that but I couldn't marry a "cultural Catholic". Coming from converts myself I didn't really relate to people who were Catholic because of their family background but didn't go to Mass regularly or even know much about their faith. This was a long lesson I had to learn about myself and in the end I knew I would rather be single forever than compromise on that. The thought that haunted me was " if I died, could I trust my spouse to raise our children in the faith without me there?".
So I did marry a practicing Catholic who is also cultural (Irish). However, much to the surprise of us both, we don't see eye to eye on everything. I would happily drive for 30 mins every Sunday to attend a beautiful High Mass and he would rather be part of the local parish, no matter how bad the liturgy. Ahh well, marriage is compromise whatever you do!
The biggest relief to us both is that we both follow the churches teaching on contraception etc. which can be a big problem for Catholics marrying non Catholics. That is one thing I warn my single friends and relatives about. Arguing with your spouse about contraception and/or IVF would be a huge strain.

Aussiegirl in NZ

Woodbine said...

Andrea, you sound a lot like my mom (in the best possible way). My parents have a "mixed" marriage - Dad Catholic, Mom Protestant - and it seems to work as well as any. My mom considered converting before marrying my dad, but was put off by the thought of her parents not being able to take communion in the same church. It didn't stop her from becoming an active member of the parish, as she sees faith as very important.

I think in some ways I got the best of both: an intuitive, constant spirituality from my mom, and an intro to Catholicism (a strange world to navigate) and sense of religious obligation from my dad. Both take their faith seriously but are accommodating enough that it doesn't come between them.

Lisette said...

Ahhhhh, this is the post/question I've been waiting for. You hit on a lot of good points. I come from a mixed marriage-- a Catholic mother and a lasped Shiite Muslim father.

1) First all, beware ladies, the eventual conversion of the spouse doesn't always happen. My mom was one of those strong women who told my dad on no uncertain terms that her children would be Catholic. But his acceptance of her terms never resulted in his own conversion. And despite their love for each other, I know that in the years leading up to their separation and divorce, it was an uphill battle for her to raise my siblings and myself Catholic. Sundays were more like arguement days. Based on the other comments, it seems more likely if the guy is already a Christian of some sort...

(Sidenote: They did have similar values which I suppose was the reason they were able to be together for over 10 years. Thank you for helping me see that.)

2) I agree that the religion of the children is a deal breaker. I would never want my (hypothetical, lol) children to experience horribleness of watching their parents fight about religion, in particular, the tenets of the Catholic faith. It's beyond awful. As they say, a house divided against itself cannot stand.

3) I sometimes feel an attraction toward guys of the same ethnic background as my dad who, of course, are never Catholic. It's usually spurs a huge internal conflict within me. All the bad memories come to mind and I tell myself it wouldn't work. So I like what you said about coffee being just coffee. I think it would better to decide that that handsome guy isn't the one upon better getting to know him vs. a preemptive decision on my part.

c'est la vie said...

I know I've said my piece, but I really can't agree that it doesn't matter whether you decide to marry a Catholic or not. Catholicism has to be one of your core values, because it's the only way to save your soul and the souls of those you love. It's simply not optional.

There are certainly exceptional cases in which mixed marriages are advisable and quite successful.

Nevertheless, it is naive to assume that children raised in a household divided on the essential--which is, fundamentally, whether salvation is necessary, and how it is attained--will grow up strong Catholics.

Ok, I'll stop pontificating now. But it's the children I'm worried about. You grownup women can look after yourselves.

MaryJane said...

C'est la vie - I don't think Seraphic was trying to say (I know I was certainly not trying to say) that it doesn't matter at all if a Catholic marries another Catholic. I think the point was that there are *some people* for whom it is less important, for a number of reasons: perhaps the non-Catholic spouse is a good Christian; perhaps the Catholic feels called to marry this particular person who is not Catholic at the time; perhaps the Catholic is the kind of person who is strong and content with the idea of raising the children Catholic on her own - basically, it isn't a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. The key is just to know your own size.

That being said, I think it is more rare than not when it works, but it can. Two immediate examples come to mind: Elisebeth Lesure, whose atheist husband became a priest after her death, and Kate Wicker, a current "catholic mom blogger" who has written about having a "mixed marriage."

There are lots of saints who were married to unbelievers... esp. queens and political figures. Again, I don't think it's the rule, it's just that it can work sometimes. (And occasionally you even get a St. Augustine out of the mix.)

Your point that Catholicism has to be a core value was exactly what I was trying to get at. "Core value" in this instance (Seraphic, correct me if I am wrong,) doesn't mean something you choose for your salvation. It means something that you can live with in a spouse or not, and it isn't something you really choose - it has more to do with your personality/ upbringing. I would guess that many or most Catholics reading this blog personally value their faith quite highly as the means Christ established for the meeting out of salvation. That's not a personality thing. "Being intellectual" or "being sporty" are examples of core values.

Otherwise, any "good Catholic" could just marry another "good Catholic" regardless of personality - which would of course be a giant disaster for most of us.

Mandy said...

Totally agree with your 5th point that core values matter more than religion.

Just thought i'd share my 2 cents that in today's culture and among my mid-20s group of friends, including lots of Catholics, even being Catholic does not necessarily mean you share similar core values.

One would probably be better off with an anonymous Christian (those who Rahner speaks of) than with a Catholic who thinks the institutional church created man made rules over the centuries that one is free to obey where it suits or disobey when convenient.

c'est la vie said...

Ah, thanks for the clarification, MaryJane, I think I understand what you meant better now. I'm with you 100% on a couple needing much more in common than religion for a successful marriage. And I agree that there are cases of successful and happy mixed marriages that led to the conversion of the non-Catholic spouse and where the children flourished and became saints.

I just think that people considering such a marriage ought to remember that although their faith may not be threatened, that of their children may be, and there has to be a good reason to take that risk.

MaryJane said...

I agree, c'est la vie! In marriage preparation for mixed marriages, the non-Catholic spouse is supposed to agree to help raise the children Catholic, or at least not hinder it. Marrying someone who could not agree to that would be very serious indeed, should the woman be of a childbearing age/situation.

Like all aspects of marrying someone, it seems like a really individual, vocational matter of serious discernment.

Seraphic said...

@Lisette. Honestly, I would never recommend a Catholic woman date a Sunni or Shiite Muslim man. I think it is great to befriend Muslims of all kinds, girls and guys, but dating is out.

Neither Catholicism nor the main branches of Islam have any time for syncretism, and religion still plays a huge role in marriage. So going for a coffee, great. All in the spirit of Nostra Aetate. But anything else, no, unless the guy AND HIS FAMILY are completely committed to religious tolerance and think Christianity is great. I guess this information might come out over coffee.

If one of your core values is a guy who resembles your dad, take heart that the majority of Middle Eastern Christians now live outside the Middle East. (Sadly, this is because of growing Islamic intolerance for the presence of Christians [not to mention the "wrong kind of Muslims"] in the Middle East.) And if your dad is South-Asian, well, there are millions of Indian Catholics.

Alisha said...

C'est la vie - totally agree. I had to make a decision like this and I made it primarily for the sake of my future hypothetical children and it was the saddest thing of my life. I have a responsibility to caring for their soul, so how could I wilfully enter into a marriage where I know that it would be compromised? Of course situations like this sometimes work out but that is not because the situations are necessarily good, but because of God's mercy...yes, many saints were married to unbelievers but it was usually women who had been forced to marry someone by their family and who had heroic virtue.

Had it not been for the possibility of children, I'm fairly certain we would have remained together because we didn't have any other conflicts and he was not an obstacle to my faith...(though one might say that someone who is not an obstacle is still not going to be the 100% encourager either, most of the time, so you might miss out on growth you would have otherwise had.)

An important Swiss study was done on the importance of fathers in children's religious development - good things to keep in mind:

In short, the study reveals: “It is the religious practice of the father of the family that, above all, determines the future attendance at or absence from church of the children.”

In summary, the study reveals:

1. If both father and mother attend regularly, 33 percent of their children will end up as regular churchgoers, and 41 percent will end up attending irregularly. Only a quarter of their children will end up not practicing at all.

2. If the father is irregular and mother regular, only 3 percent of the children will subsequently become regulars themselves, while a further 59 percent will become irregulars. Thirty-eight percent will be lost.

3. If the father is non-practicing and mother regular, only 2 percent of children will become regular worshippers, and 37 percent will attend irregularly. Over 60 percent of their children will be lost completely to the church!

What happens if the father is regular but the mother irregular or non-practicing? Amazingly, the percentage of children becoming regular goes up from 33 percent to 38 percent with the irregular mother and up to 44 percent with the non-practicing. This suggests that loyalty to the father’s commitment grows in response to the mother’s laxity or indifference to religion.