Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes: What Exactly is the Interfaith Lesson Here?

In recent days, I have been frustrated by bloggers who cite the breakup of celebrity couple Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes as a cautionary tale about interfaith marriage.

Interfaith marriage does not have to be difficult. My parents have been happily intermarried for over 50 years. In my community of interfaith families, out of hundreds of couples, my minister and rabbi can only think of a handful who have gotten divorced. Over 25 years of marriage, my husband and I have often argued. We have never had an argument about our religious differences.

It is particularly frustrating to see writers citing the outdated statistic that interfaith divorce is “three times more prevalent.” I recently spoke to one of the authors of the study that was the source of that statistic, the American Religious Identification Survey of 2001. Barry Kosmin confirmed to me that there is no valid measurement reflecting the current divorce rate or prevalence among interfaith couples. A survey from 2001 reflects divorce in the previous century, in the decades prior to that study, when interfaith couples were often excluded and shunned, and still had little support from extended family or clergy or houses of worship. Times have changed, and no one has produced the updated statistics.

I am not questioning the idea that religious difference, and pressure Holmes felt to raise her daughter as a Scientologist, may have been a factor in the Cruise and Holmes breakup. Press reports speculate that Holmes, who was raised Catholic, will return to Catholicism. What lesson do I take from this? The same lesson I take from the spectacular Reyes interfaith divorce case, in which a Catholic father who felt forced into converting to Judaism took his daughter to church for a stealth Baptism.

Bullying or sweet-talking a spouse into giving up his or her religion “for the sake of the child,” does not contribute to the stability of the marriage or benefit the children. The belief, often promoted by well-meaning clergy, that choosing one religion for the family will “solve” the challenges of being an interfaith family, can backfire if both parents actually have deep roots in and strong connections to their own religions.

Do I conclude that interfaith couples should not get married? No. Do I conclude that they should only get married if they don’t care deeply about religion? No. Do I conclude that they should only get married if they are willing to capitulate and subsume their own religious beliefs and desires for the good of the child? No.

I conclude that parents have the right to freely share their beliefs and family history and beloved rituals with their children. Both parents. And that the children will benefit from this rich religious and spiritual education.

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2 Replies to “Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes: What Exactly is the Interfaith Lesson Here?”

  1. The media makes a huge assumption that their split is even about religion. Perhaps they split because he is an egomaniacal and controlling jerk. Or other issues. He’s always appeared arrogant and even mentally unstable, such as when he jumped on the couch on Oprah. He appears bipolar to me. I think that the media speculation about Scientology is just religious intolerance. (although I think Scientology is weird, but its as if in this case the media wants to love to make it about a “weird religion” hijacking Suri cruise).

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