In Faith and In Doubt: Secular/Religious “Interfaith” Families

McGowan cover

My review of a new book by Dale McGowan, In Faith and In Doubt, the first book on secular/religious mixed marriages, just went up on my Huffington Post blog. No matter what you believe, or what you practice, I think you will find this book useful in negotiating family dynamics with respect and compassion.

 

Susan Katz Miller’s book, Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family is available now in hardcover and eBook from Beacon Press. You can also pre-order the paperback now.

 

 

Ask Interfaith Mom: What About Humanist or Atheist Interfaith Families?

Dear Interfaith Mom:

We’re a family that is interfaith by heritage, but we don’t belong to any religious community. And we’re fine with that. We’re atheists, we lead a secular life, and we already have plenty of communities (through our neighborhood, schools, family and work). Why do you put so much emphasis on the importance of interfaith family communities? Not every interfaith family feels a need to commune with other interfaith families.

–Sincerely, Happy Humanist

Dear Happy Humanist,

If you have the communities you feel you need, that’s great. There is no single “solution” that is going to work for every interfaith family. Some will be fulfilled choosing one religion. Some will be just fine choosing no religion. Some families with humanist or atheist parents have traditionally found homes in Unitarian-Univeralist (UU) communities, in Ethical Culture, or in Humanistic Jewish congregations.

With the increase in interfaith marriage, and the decrease in religious affiliation (the rise of the “religious nones”), innovative new communities have been growing at the grassroots. There’s been a lot of recent media coverage of emerging atheist congregations, designed with many of the benefits provided by religious communities (singing together, reflecting together, community service and support), but without the need for God.  In fact, this idea is not new: Ethical Culture (the movement that supports Ethical Societies in many areas)  has existed since the late 19th century.

But it’s not always easy for interfaith families to find the right spiritual, religious, or humanist community, and not every community specifically addresses the issues faced by interfaith families. That’s why I spend a lot of time writing about meeting the needs of interfaith families. The major communities designed by and for interfaith families celebrating both Judaism and Christianity (in Washington, Chicago, and the New York area) include many atheist, humanist or secular parents, as well as parents with a broad array of beliefs in God. The one thing these families share is a desire to give their children an educational foundation, or literacy, in both family religions. So parents who choose these communities need to be comfortable with their children learning about different approaches to God in dual-faith Sunday Schools (while understanding that these programs never tell children what to believe).

When the school-year ends, my own interfaith families community does not meet formally for Gatherings or Sunday School. But in this endlessly hot summer, I have still felt strongly connected to this community, in the way that many people feel connected to a synagogue, temple, mosque, or church. As a group, we are bringing food weekly to one family with a parent facing cancer. Last week, our minister organized a healing service for family and friends of a young adult child in crisis. Meanwhile, our rabbi is planning High Holy Day services for early September—a time when we will return to celebrate together the Jewish roots we share (through our own parents, or through our interfaith children and grandchildren).

In short, Happy Humanist, you may not want or need this type of community. But know that there are communities (whether UU, Ethical Culture, humanist, or interfaith families communities) that would welcome you as atheists, or with any theological or non-theological label you choose, should you ever feel that you want or need us.

–Interfaith Mom

Interfaith Community: Why it Matters

 

For the second week in a row, it looks like our interfaith community is going to be snowed out on Sunday. While getting up on Sunday mornings sometimes feels like a sacrifice, now I find myself pining to return, and frustrated about the cancellations. I often describe myself as an interfaith zealot. Why? I grew up on the margins of Jewish life: always a little different, a little suspect, because of my Christian mother. But in our interfaith community, all families are on equal footing, all parents have equal standing, all children are equally welcome. Everyone takes part in our rituals. This radical inclusivity is powerfully seductive for me, after a lifetime of feeling like a religious outsider.

The interfaith families in our community range across a spectrum in terms of race, ethnicity, sexual-orientation, ideology. We are atheists and God-lovers, liberals and conservatives. But our common bond–the shared condition of having created an interfaith family, the desire to build something joyous out of our differences, the determination to see dual religious heritage as something positive and enriching rather than simply as a problem–this bond thrills me.

When we do not meet, I think of all we are missing. Last week, my seventh-grader was supposed to lead our Tu Bishvat gathering with his “Coming of Age prep” class. This week, we were supposed to hear from our Rabbi and Minister about the trip they just took to Israel with their friend, Imam Yaya Hendi, and students from Georgetown. My husband, who once lived in a seminary in Haiti, was supposed to say the Lord’s Prayer in Haitian Creole for us. And the children were supposed to file up to drop smooth stones into the bowl of concerns as we think of the people of Haiti. My teenage daughter was supposed to work, as she does each week, reading stories and helping with crafts in the kindergarten classroom. And we were supposed to schmooze and eat bagels together, and sing together to our rocking house band.

So I’m hoping the deep snow melts soon, and I can return quickly to my community, to my beloved motley crew of non-joiners, reluctant religionists, visionaries, brilliantly cynical secularists, and passionate mystics. We call ourselves the Interfaith Families Project because we are building the community as we go along, never sure exactly where we are going to all end up. All I can tell you is that wherever we are going, that is where I want to go.

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