In an old joke, a man says he's in an interfaith marriage.
"Yes," he says. "I'm a Methodist and she's Satan."
Well, I didn't say it was a good or funny joke, just old. But it brings me to share with you one of religion scholar Martin E. Marty's recent "Sightings" columns in which he talks about some of the ramifications and complications of interfaith marriages.
Marty is writing about Naomi Schaefer Riley’s book, Till Faith Do Us Part: How Interfaith Marriage Is Transforming America, which I have not had a chance to read, though I've read some about it.
And he raises the question others have raised: Is the growing trend toward interfaith marriages a welcome sign of tolerance or a dangerous dilution of faith itself?
I think the answer is yes.
Which is to say: Interfaith marriages can provide rich ground that allows both spouses to learn from the other's faith tradition and to grow, thereby, into a deeper commitment to their own tradition. That's generally how interfaith dialogue works and there's no reason it can't work that way in interfaith marriages.
Indeed, I have seen it work just that way in some of the interfaith marriages with which I'm familiar.
But there also are cautions about the practice that should be taken into account. For instance, it's possible that both spouses will drift toward no commitment at all just to avoid any conflict about faith within the marriage, especially when children are involved. And it's possible that both spouses will become increasingly rigid and ideological about faith so that, in effect, they break up the marriage and view the other spouse as eternally damned.
Both of those dangers grow exponentially if there has been no thorough discussion of matters of faith prior to the wedding. Good pre-marital counseling is always important, but especially when crossing some untraditional boundaries.
Finally, each major world religion has so many branches and divisions within it that sometimes what amounts to an interfaith marriage can happen between two Christians, two Jews, two Muslims or two Buddhists. In such cases you don't need two people as different as a Methodist and Satan.
* * *
AN UNSURPRISING STUDY ON GAYS AND RELIGION
A new study shows that the LGBT community is less religious than the population in general and that almost one-third of them have felt unwelcome in a house of worship. No shock. You tell people that they're damned sinners and they're not likely to feel very loved. For my essay on what the Bible really says about homosexuality, look under the "Check this out" headline on the right side of this page.