“Oh, You Mean THAT Interfaith…”

meeting-of-the-ways, The Lama Foundation


As an interfaith child, I am acutely aware of the increase in “interfaith” activity since 9/11.  So yesterday, I went to the unveiling of the global Charter for Compassion, an interfaith project launched by the non-profit  TED and one of my intellectual heroes, religion writer Karen Armstrong. Then, I blogged about it at Jewcy.com.

Armstrong is a daring and deep thinker, and when I went up after the presentation to speak to her about the interfaith families movement, she seemed intrigued. But too often, theologians and clergy in interfaith “dialogue” put a heavy emphasis on  maintaining the boundaries between religions. We are exhorted to be very clear about our own personal and singular religious identities, and then make field trips across the boundaries to embrace and challenge each other. As religious adventurers, we are then supposed to return to an even more profound understanding of our own religion. Kind of like going to another country, eating exotic but possibly dangerous food, and then coming home with a renewed appreciation for America, for home.

This is all swell. But it is not particularly relevant to those of us who live with more than one religion in our families, or in our very beings. And surprisingly, the burgeoning cohort of interfaith marriages and interfaith children are rarely even mentioned, let alone invited and included, in these interfaith events. We make everyone uncomfortable, because we represent the blurring of those boundaries. What happens when you cross a boundary to embrace the other, and instead of returning home enlightened, you actually progress to making babies with that other, and commit to forming an interfaith family? The official interfaith dialogues between religious institutions, between clergy members, between well-meaning congregations, do not want to hear about dissolving boundaries.

And yet, interfaith children are here. And I would argue that as travelers who decided to stay and go native, who decided to forgo the comforts of home and instead become bicultural, we have a lot to offer to these interfaith palavers. Some of us who grew up with parents from two religions can act as the ideal tour guides. A lot of us are fluent in two religious languages, and we have spent a lifetime translating from one to the other.

We have gotten ourselves into a semantic situation where “interfaith” has two very separate meanings. Searching for “interfaith” on the web, on facebook, on twitter, turns up a lot of institutions and programs and events, in what seems like every town in America, especially since 9/11. And this is a good thing. But to get to the level of interfaith I’m talking about on this blog, an intimacy found between spouses, between parent and child, between two religions found in a single body, you have to type in “interfaith families,” or “interfaith marriage,” or “interfaith children.”

5 Replies to ““Oh, You Mean THAT Interfaith…””

  1. Susan, I’m glad you wrote about this today. I’ve had a conversation recently with someone who “gets” multiculturalism and ethnic diversity — we talked at a lecture about the Indian Jewish community in Israel — but who was very dismissive of interfaith families when it concerned a Jewish-Christian marriage. So we’re getting there but still very much on a journey.

  2. I never would have guessed that in becoming half of an “interfaith marriage”50 years ago that I would come to think of myself as a member of an important movement. As the song says “there’s a place for us.”

  3. The reluctance of certain religious practitioners to accept an interfaith community is indicative of miscegenation’s threat to their creed. Like elder children, they don’t want to share their primacy in the spiritual playing field with a rival sibling. Interfaithfulness naturally leads us to consider the limited relevance of orthodoxies, making them seem, on the surface anyway, more ceremonial than substantial. No wonder adherents – especially clergy and faith professionals – are threatened by it.

  4. I grew up with a liberal-Protestant mother and an ex-Catholic agnostic father. I became my own kind of interfaith person, visiting a variety of faith homes with friends and later my husband, and reading widely from different spiritual resources. As a result, I have found the common denominator between religions – for those who look beneath the doctrines and legalities – to be the divine light and love that dwells in each one of us. I hope you’ll read more of my interfaith thoughts on my blog: emilyseverydaypath.wordpress.com.

  5. Being in an interfaith relationship myself, I find that you are correct. “interfaith dialog” rarely extends to include couples or relationships. There is a site dedicated to interfaith marriages. I can’t post the website. WordPress thinks that I am spam. But, this site has a comprehensive packet for interfaith couples. It gives lots of good suggestions. Being the sociologist, I expanded on the questions a bit. As far as the USA, I don’t find many groups that are willing to support interfaith couples. Even when they are: they do not include in their ranks couples, for example, that are Christian/Muslim. This combination is too frightening for Imagination. Interesting blog. Glad that I found it.

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