Diane speaks with Susan Glasser, staff writer at the New Yorker where she writes a weekly column on life in Trump’s Washington.
Nearly a quarter of Americans attend religious services of more than one faith or denomination. More than one-third are now married to a person of a different religion. As American society becomes more open and tolerant of diversity, a growing number of interfaith couples are raising children in both religions. They say this encourages open-mindedness and gives extended family equal weight. But others caution that these mixed-marriages can be strained by conflict over religious practices and are more prone to divorce. As the holiday season approaches, a look at the growing trend of interfaith marriage and what it means for family life.
- Alan Cooperman Deputy director, Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project.
- Susan Katz Miller Journalist, former reporter for Newsweek and author of “Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family."
- Naomi Schafer Riley Former editor, The Wall Street Journal and author of "'Til Faith Do Us Part: How Interfaith Marriage is Transforming America."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Americans are now more likely to marry someone of a different faith than someone who supports a different political party. More than a third of Americans are married to a spouse of a different religion.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me to talk about interfaith marriage trends and practical implications for parents raising children in those families, author and former Newsweek reporter, Susan Katz Miller and Alan Cooperman of the Pew Research Center. Joining us from the NPR Bureau in New York City, author and former Wall Street Journal editor, Naomi Schafer Riley. I invite you to lend your voice to the conversation. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send an email to DRShow@wamu.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And welcome to all of you.
MR. ALAN COOPERMANThank you, Diane.
REHMGood to have you all with us. Alan Cooperman, let me start with you. Do we actually know how many Americans are married to someone of a different faith?
COOPERMANYeah, we have some pretty good survey data on that. But part of it depends on your definition of what's a different faith. So the figure that you cited at the beginning, more than a third, that's true, if you count marriages between Protestants of different denominations: a Presbyterian to a Baptist, a Baptist...
COOPERMAN…to a Lutheran. If you count those as intermarriages, then in our data, it's 37 percent. If you don't count those marriages inside Protestantism as intermarriages, then the number's still pretty high, but it's closer to a quarter, 27 percent.
REHMI see. Have the numbers gone up in recent years?
COOPERMANWell, we don't have good data for all religious groups in recent years, but we do have a fresh survey with some very interesting data on Jews. And Jews are a small religious group in the United States and, in many ways, a very interesting religious group, high socio-economic status, as we know. And Jews are marrying outside of the faith in apparently higher and higher numbers. In our survey, among Jews who got married before 1970, just 17 percent married outside of the faith. Of those who got married in the 1980s, about four in ten married someone who was not Jewish.
COOPERMANAnd of our respondents in the survey who've gotten married since 2000, it's pushing six in ten, 58 percent.
REHMHow do you account for that?
COOPERMANWell, I think we see the same thing in terms of ethnic and racial intermarriage as well in the American public. Those rates are also rising. On that we have excellent data from the census. And that's rising over time. Back in 1980, only about 3.2 percent of all American marriages were across racial or ethnic lines: that's black, white, Hispanic, Asian. As of 2010, it's already 8 percent. And in the latest marriages, as of 2010, it's 15 percent of all new marriages that are across racial or ethnic lines.
COOPERMANSo I think religion is part of a broader picture in which Americans, as you suggested from the outset, are increasingly involved in, well, very differentiated marriages.
REHMIndeed. And, Susan Katz Miller, I gather you're a living example of what we're talking about. You grew up in an interfaith family. How -- tell us how it led to the book you've just written.
MS. SUSAN KATZ MILLERWell, my parents met in 1953. My father's Jewish. My mother's Episcopalian. So they were really at the tip of this interfaith iceberg coming up. And they agreed to raise us in Judaism, as most clergy would urge, even today, to choose one religion. They followed that pathway. And so my siblings and I were raised as reformed Jews. When I met my husband, he's also Episcopalian, we made this controversial, new choice to raise our children with both religions. And so my book tells the story of our three-generation, very happy interfaith family.
MS. SUSAN KATZ MILLERBut it's also a chronicle of this grassroots movement of parents choosing both for their children and choosing to raise children with both religions rather than feeling forced to choose one.
REHMTell me why you made a choice very different from that of your parents.
MILLERThe way I see it, any pathway you choose is going to have specific benefits and specific challenges. And so, I benefited from my parents' choice to raise us in one, but I also encountered challenges. And, for my own children, we felt that both of their histories -- the extended family on both side -- had equal weight and importance. My children have a great grandfather who was an itinerant Rabbi on the Mississippi river in the 19th century. And they had a great grandfather who was an Episcopal Bishop of Newark. And we wanted them to know and understand both of those histories on as deep a level as we could.
REHMAnd they seem quite comfortable in that situation?
MILLERThey do. We've raised them as part of this interfaith families community movement and so they went to classrooms for Sunday school where there was always a Jewish teacher and a Christian teacher in the classroom...
MILLER...learning both religions side-by-side. And they're now teenagers and about to go out into the world. And they seem not confused and well adjusted to me.
REHMGood. Good for you. Naomi Schafer Riley, your recent survey of interfaith couples found that Susan Miller's choice is rare. Tell us about your findings.
MS. NAOMI SCHAFER RILEYWell, the most popular choice for, as Susan mentioned, for interfaith couples raising children is to raise them in one faith. The second most popular choice after that is raising them in no faith. And then somewhere down the line, with around 20 percent of interfaith couples, say they're raising them in two faiths. Interestingly, that number actually goes down as the children get older. From research that I did, I also, in addition to the statistically- representative survey, I did of the country, I also did interviews around the country.
MS. NAOMI SCHAFER RILEYAnd when I talked to people about the way they're raising their children, many interfaith couples told me that they felt that it was either confusing or unfair to their children to raise them in two faiths. And, on a practical level, it seemed to be more difficult as the children got older to do that. I mean, first of all, it does take a lot of time, you know, in order to sort of be a part of two different religious communities and kind of have those full religious educations. And also, you know, as children get older, they kind of make their own decisions.
MS. NAOMI SCHAFER RILEYAnd many parents would say, it's hard enough to get our teenager to go to church, let alone to go to church and synagogue every week. So, I think, you know, what happens is that that turns into, ultimately, a very small minority of these children who are raised interfaith and certainly who identify as interfaith as they get older.
REHMYou write about Joseph Reyes and Rebecca Shapiro, an interfaith marriage that did not end well. Tell us about that.
RILEYWell this was, I mean, I think this is a somewhat rare case. But, basically, it was sort of a well-publicized child-custody case, where they had originally agreed to raise the child Jewish. The husband was Christian and the wife was Jewish. The husband did not seem to care that much about faith when they got married. But, over time, he became sort of more adamant and he eventually had their child baptized against her will -- against the wife's will. There was a court case involving this. He was going to be sentenced to six months in prison.
RILEYI mean, it was a very, very difficult situation. I think, you know, what I found in my survey was that there are lower rates of what they call marital satisfaction among interfaith couples. I think many tensions do arise. Rarely do they reach that level where a court must get involved. Although, I did certainly find, when I talked to family-court judges, that issues of religion are coming up more often. People have to make decisions about whether to send kids to Sunday school or summer camp or all sorts of things. And when they're, especially when there is a divorce, those things become much more difficult to navigate.
REHMNaomi Schafer-Riley. Her new book is titled "Til Faith Do Us Part." And here's an email from Betty, who says, "I was at the forefront of interfaith marriage 45 years ago, when the question of how to raise children of such a union was not a topic for public discussion. How refreshing it is not only to have choices, but also to be open about them. Has that changed a lot, Alan?
COOPERMANWell, again, it's difficult to say in the public as a whole how much it has changed. The picture of religion in the public as a whole has changed so much that it clouds it. For example, there's a growing percentage of Americans who don't identify with any religion. Back in and as early as recently as the 1980s, practically all Americans said they had some religion, named one or another. And today it's now one in five American adults and one in three Millennials who say atheists, agnostics or just nothing in particular -- that's the biggest group.
COOPERMANSo when someone who's nothing in particular marries someone who's Episcopalian, what is that? Is that an intermarriage? And, as Naomi suggested, we do see, among, for example, the offspring of Jewish intermarriages, quite a few as identify as Jewish, but not by religion.
REHMNo by religion?
COOPERMANBut by culture or by ancestry.
REHMI see. I see. But, Susan, you know, Naomi mentioned something I want to go back to. Here you were, helping your children understand both the Episcopal church and the Jewish faith. Didn't that take a lot of time?
MILLERIt does take time. But for these families that are doing both, we are people who feel that it's important. And I think that a lot of the negativity about doing both has been because there's the -- been confusion between doing nothing and doing both. In the past, families that tried to do both often had no choice but to do nothing, because they didn't have support from clergy. And it's different now. My group has a Rabbi and a Minister working with us.
REHMSusan Katz Miller, her new book is titled, "Being Both." Short break here. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about interfaith marriages. They happen more frequently than -- or am I right about that, Alan? Do they happen more or less frequently than inter-political marriages?
COOPERMANI don't know, Diane. That's an excellent question.
RILEYI did some research on this, Diane, if you're interested.
REHMOh, I'd be interested.
RILEYI wrote a piece about this a few months ago. It was very surprising. There is actually a higher number or a higher percentage of people who are in interfaith marriages than in inter-political party marriages. And the inter-political party marriages actually have not changed very much over time. One of the reasons that I speculate about this, you know, there's this old adage about how you're not supposed to talk about religion or politics at the dinner table.
REHMRight, right, right.
RILEYWell, you know, what's interesting is I think the politics part of that -- maybe more so in Washington -- but even in the rest of the country has gone out the window. Many of us talk about our political views very openly. And so for people for whom politics is very important, even if it's not that important but you have a few big issues that you care about, if you start dating someone and find out they're on the opposite end of the spectrum, that could quickly spell the end of things.
RILEYHowever, I think religion has remained a very private, and in some sense even become more private. You know, you're sort of -- the idea of your personal relationship with God, you know, what you really believe, how often, you know, you go to church, those are things that I think we think of as quite personal and are reluctant to ask about early on in a relationship. And it results in a lot of people getting far into relationships before they even realize that they have different spiritual religious views from somebody else.
REHMHere's a Tweet from Todd who says, "I'm an atheist. My wife is Mormon. We raised our kids Mormon." How unusual is that, Alan?
COOPERMANWell, as Mormon's go that's fairly unusual. And in our data, 87 percent of married Mormons are in-married. That is, their spouse is also Mormon. Only 13 percent are intermarried.
REHMA small percentage, yes.
COOPERMANAnd that compares, by the way, with some other religious groups. That's similar to what we find among Muslims for example. In our data 16 percent of Muslim adults who are married are intermarried.
REHMAnd to you, Naomi, I think Susan wants to take issue with something you said about the difficulties involved in these interfaith marriages. Go ahead, Susan.
MILLERWell, one of the traditional concerns about raising children with both is that they would be confused. And Naomi made reference to that. And I would say that I did what I think is the only survey of teens and young adults actually raised in these intentional interfaith communities with an interfaith education. And more than 90 percent said that they were not confused.
MILLERAnd of the 10 percent who said they were confused, some of them claimed that as a kind of positive spiritual and intellectual wrestling that is part and parcel of religion. So the concern about confusion I think does not really bear out in my work.
REHMTalk about the interfaith families project that you mentioned earlier. Is that something that goes on around the country?
MILLERYes. I chronicled this grassroots movement and there are large programs in Chicago, New York and Washington. Each of these cities there are program with more than 100 interfaith children in Sunday School together learning both with support from clergy on both sides. And there are smaller programs elsewhere. Really, for some families, choosing one religion works and that's wonderful. And in some cases conversion works and that's wonderful.
MILLERBut for a lot of families they cannot make that decision to choose one for a variety of reasons. And so they have really naturally coalesced into these communities to support each other in education and in working out whatever issues there are in the family together in a more neutral space.
RILEYYeah -- no, I was going to say, I mean, I visited a couple of the interfaith communities that are out there, one outside of New York and one in Washington. And I think that they're very interesting. They do represent a very small portion of interfaith couples, but these are clearly people who are quite committed and are willing to put in both the time and the effort to make this work. I did speak to some of the children in the communities and I listened in on some of the classes. A lot of what they're devoted to is sort of this idea of religious education. They want to give children what they call a passport into two faiths.
RILEYAnd, again, I think this is, you know, really an interesting idea but at least in a couple of the classes that I sat in on, the children did seem I would say a little bit confused about the specifics of the faith. But what I point out in the book is not necessarily that -- the confusion, by the way -- this is not a concern of mine in particular. I mean, I am not -- I'm doing this as a journalist. I'm reporting to you the fact that many interfaith couples talked about their concern that their children would be confused.
RILEYBut I think the other concern is that even if you sort of get past the specifics, what often comes through is -- you know, I don't -- it's a very sort of milk-toast version of what we -- what both religions can agree on. You know, the kind of values -- I mean, they're all wonderful values but I think that often it doesn't really get into anything more than treat your neighbor as you would like to be treated and be active in your community. That was -- those were sort of the messages that came through to me.
REHMI gather that you, Naomi, are also in an interfaith relationship.
RILEYRight. I'm in what I would call a faith-no faith marriage. So Alan referred earlier to the question of whether to count people who are in a faith and married to someone of no faith as an interfaith marriage. I did because I think that it raises many of the same questions that people in interfaith marriage have. So I am a -- I was raised a conservative Jew and my husband was raised a Jehovah's Witness. He left that faith long before I met him. Yeah, so it's a pretty rare combination.
RILEYHe left that faith before I met him but I knew I wanted to raise my children Jewish. And I told him on our first date that I wanted to do that. So, you know, our children are being raised very much in a conservative synagogue. And just to...
REHMAnd is he fine with that? Is your husband...
RILEYOh yeah. No, absolutely. Right. I mean, I -- you know, and I think, you know, it certainly has raised challenges for us in many ways. But I think, you know, sort of being up front about it is one of the important things that I learned from my research.
REHMGive me an example of the kind of challenge you faced.
RILEYWell, I was just going to say first of all that more than half of the people in my survey who are in interfaith marriages did not talk about how they wanted to raise their children before they got married, which to me was a very shocking statistic. I think what happens in many interfaith couples is you come to an agreement about how you want to raise children. You say, oh we're going to raise them Catholic. And then the Catholic person walks away and says, ah-ha I won. You know, now we can move onto the next conversation.
RILEYBut, in fact, interfaith marriage is a series of small and important challenges. And, you know, each one won't seem like a mountain. But, you know, every single, you know, holiday and every single decision about education, these all raise challenges for couples.
REHMSusan, you did not run into those challenges?
MILLEROh, no. There are challenges, as I say, to any pathway you choose, whether you choose one religion for your children or both or none. But I guess the fact that my parents have been now married for over 50 years -- they have one of the strongest marriages I know -- has colored my experience. And I am in a community of happy interfaith families. We have an extraordinarily low rate of interfaith divorce in our communities. And I think that's because these are families that are given a place to talk about these issues and to deal with what often -- the challenges are coming from outside society often and not from inside the marriage.
MILLERThere are challenges of being excluded from religious institutions, from extended family who still don't accept your marriage. And all of that puts pressure. But I maintain that those pressures are becoming less and less overtime. So whatever statistics we have on interfaith divorce I think reflect an earlier period. If you married 20 years ago and you got divorced ten years ago, what does that say about what's happening right now in society? I think things are getting a lot better. And I think there's a lot more hope.
REHMAlan, can you talk about the rate of divorce?
COOPERMANWell, there have been a number of studies, not our studies, and I can't really vouch for them. But there are a number of studies that suggest that interfaith and interethnic or interracial marriages do break up at a slightly higher rate than in-marriages. Again, I can't vouch for those studies. There are a lot of factors you'd have to control for and I think it's a very difficult thing to study.
REHMAll right. We've got lots of callers waiting. Let's open the phones, 800-433-8850. And to Steve in Lansing, Mich. Hi there, you're on the air.
STEVEHi, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.
STEVEI was involved in a marriage in which it was she was Catholic I was more of a Baptist. And the children were blended. And then we ended up having a child of our own from the marriage. And it did become a very quagmire thing, how to raise the children. I chose Baptist for mine from a previous marriage, she chose Catholic. And then we had to make the choice of what was we going to do with ours.
STEVEAnd unfortunately, the children looked at the way we handle our religion and then they start questioning, you know, why if you have all of this great faith and stuff are we having all of these problems and then you guys end up divorced? Does religion really work getting involved with when you guys can't even handle it yourself?
REHMAnd is that what happened, Steve, that you did get divorced?
STEVEYes. We ended up divorced and because we have a mutual child together, I'm still involved. And I hear about her children and my children. And none of them really are very much on religion now because of the way, unfortunately, we lived out our faith.
STEVESo I think it really comes down to you can be involved in religion but how are you living it and how are the children perceiving you living...
REHMExactly. All right. Thanks for your call. Naomi, do you want to comment?
RILEYYeah, to answer your earlier question, my survey of 2500 people was nationally representative. And I found no different in the divorce rate between interfaith and same-faith couples. However...
REHMSort of half and half.
RILEYIt was -- right. It was the same likelihood that a couple would end up divorced, however when you picked out particular combinations that seemed kind of far apart, an Evangelical and a Nun, a Jew and a non-Jew, the likelihood that it would end in divorce was actually significantly higher than for the general population. So overall, no but definitely in particular combinations.
REHMSo as we heard from our guest on the phone, he was sort of a Baptist and she was sort of something else. And then they...
RILEYWell, I agree with Susan that the cultural pressures have really lessened significantly. You know, if you look at -- three was a study of interfaith marriage that was done in 1964. And it was terribly sad to read about the families, the way they were ostracized because neither community would accept them. I don't think you will find that as much today certainly. I think most of the pressures that are on interfaith couples and that are resulting in the tensions that I saw both in my survey and in my interviews, are coming from inside the relationship. They're about how you spent your time, how you spend your money and how you raise your kids.
REHMThe book that Naomi Schaefer Riley has written is titled "Til Faith Do Us Part: How Interfaith Marriage is Transforming America." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's take a caller in Greensboro, N.C. Hi there, Scott. You're on the air.
SCOTTHi there, Diane. Longtime listener, huge fan. Thank you for taking my call.
SCOTTI would (word?) that the purpose of religion historically was to provide a cultural mythology, not only to the finer belief system but also a social construct in which people could preserve a traditional way of life. My question would be, how has the rise of atheism, agnosticism and human secularism contributed to a lack of necessity for that cultural mythology offered by religion?
REHMAlan, you actually mentioned that earlier. Can you speak to that?
COOPERMANWell, I can't speak to the big theoretical question but I can talk about the rise in the percentage of Americans who don't identify with any religion, which has been pretty dramatic, you know, as it's now 20 percent of all Americans overall. If you simply ask them what is your religion, they will say nothing or none. The biggest difference between intermarried couples and in-married couples in many respects is how much less important religion tends to be in general for intermarried people.
COOPERMANNow the question of causality is a difficult one. Whether people are more likely to intermarry because religion is not particularly important to them or religion becomes less important to them once they intermarry, I can't disentangle that. But I can tell you that there's lots of statistics, all different ways of measuring religiosity. And people who are intermarried tend to be less religious on all of those ways.
MILLERWhat's interesting in our communities is that these are families who feel that religion is important, that rather than doing nothing they are doing both. Our program here in Washington starts Hebrew literacy in pre-kindergarten. So I do not see this as something that is watered down. I see these as families who might have been doing nothing or been doing very little. But now that we have this opportunity to have support from both sides, it's possible to maintain those connections to both religions.
MILLERAnd this may be important for cultural reasons, historical reasons. Some of these families are secular on both sides, but they still want their children to have that religious literacy. And one of the metaphors I often use is, it says if you have a family with a French-speaking parent and an English-speaking parent and they want the child to be literate in both, to be religiously bilingual, if you will.
REHMAnd that makes perfect sense to -- as far as language is concerned. What about the language of religion however? Are there different tenets that each religion may put forward, and perhaps, as Naomi has said, provide some cross measure and some confusion?
MILLERWell, what we do in the classroom is to prevent confusion by providing a variety of possible beliefs. And we don't say if your mother's Christian she believes this and if your father's Jewish he believes that. Because what we're teaching children is, you can't make assumptions about what someone's personal beliefs are based on their religious label. You could have a label of Jewish and be an atheist or be a mystic. Just because someone's label is Christian you don't really know what that person believes about what Jesus meant to them. Whether they see him as a Messiah or they see him as a great Rabbi and teacher.
MILLERAnd so we teach these children to ask people what their beliefs are, ask their own parents what their beliefs area. So we're not teaching them what to believe but we're giving them this variety of beliefs from which they will choose.
REHMSusan Katz Miller. Her new book is titled "Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family." Short break here. When we come back, we'll take more of your calls and email. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. Here's an email from Risha, who says, "I find myself in the same situation. I am a Hindu married to a Mormon and we are about to have our first child. Do your guests have any comments on those interfaith marriages of two faiths that do not share the same basis origin? Hinduism and the LDS Church are 180 degrees apart in almost every respect." Alan?
COOPERMANWell, both Hindus and Mormons have relatively low intermarriage rates. In our data only 6 percent of married Hindu adults in the United States are intermarried. Only 13 percent of Mormons are intermarried. Of course these are very small religious groups in a U.S. perspective. And, you know, if you think about it, while there's a lot of intermarriage, in some ways the more surprising thing is how much in-marriage there is and how little intermarriage. Among these groups that are a very small portion of the U.S. population, if love were truly blind and people were just marrying randomly other adults, there would be much more intermarriage.
COOPERMANEven take Catholics for example. Three-quarters of Americans are not Catholic. Catholics make up a little less than a quarter of the population. But only about 22 percent of Catholics who are married are intermarried. Most are in-married.
RILEYWell, I was going to say -- well, first of all, I think in some sense it is surprising, although I think you'll definitely see those numbers go up, particularly for Hindus. I mean, right now about one in five Muslims in America is intermarried, which I think is a surprising statistic for a lot of people. And as we get further and further away from what was the big Muslim migration here in the 1970s, that number has continued to rise. It's sort of a part of a simulation here. But as far as the emailer, I was going to say I did interview people who were in interfaith marriages, who were members of the Mormon Church. And they have a very interesting attitude.
RILEYThey're very accepting, in some sense. of intermarriage. I talked to people at the highest levels of leadership of the church, who were themselves products of intermarriages. They were not shunned by the community, but there is this sort of tacit assumption that all of us non-Mormons are sort of Mormons waiting to happen. And so there's this kind of quiet confidence. And this happened in many of the cases where after 10 or 20 years of marriage the non-Mormon actually converted. So it wasn't a lot of harassing or haranguing, but I have to say this is one way in which the Mormon community kind of deals with this issue.
REHMAll right. Let's got to Sam, who's in New York City. Hi there, Sam.
SAMHello. Yeah, I’m a 15-year-old and my mother was raised Catholic and my father was raised Jewish. And my parents decided not to raise me religiously at all. And I actually, over the last few years, have come to a point in my religious life that's very good for me, which is that I've chosen not to follow either of their faiths. I've decided that I'm becoming a Buddhist. So my point being that I think something that there is sort of interesting idea might be that it's really a good thing for children, perhaps, who have a really wide range of religions.
REHMAny comment, Susan?
MILLERI think he was talking about the idea of educating children in more than just their two family religions, educating them in all religions so that they would have all of those choices. Of course all of us have any choice we want to make as adults. And part of what we teach our children is that the burden of choosing a religion is not something that's placed only on the shoulders of interfaith children. Every human being grows up and has to make their own decisions about their religious practice…
MILLER…and their spirituality. And so I think though what we've decided to do is to give our children that basic literacy, rather than give them nothing or rather than try to do all religions. Because the more religions you're teaching, you know, there's only so many hours…
MILLER…in a year to teach your children.
REHMSusan, you heard Naomi say that on her first date with the man she married she made very clear what her religious beliefs were and what she expected in terms of raising children. I find it curious that more and more people don't talk about these issues before they get married. They sort of fall in love and, you know, talk about lots of things other than religious beliefs. Did you and your husband discuss that before you married?
MILLERWell, we certainly did. I think because I'm an interfaith child myself I was very aware of all of these issues growing up. And so that was certainly on our minds. And we were lucky because when we married this interfaith families movement was already underway. And we were able to find a home, which for me was really the home I'd been looking for all of my life, as an interfaith child. I feel that in a community of interfaith families I can be at the center, rather than at the periphery. And I think, especially for me growing up in the '60s and '70s as an interfaith child, sort of ahead of my time, that was more difficult. Now, it's almost the norm in many Jewish communities to have a large percentage of the families be interfaith. And so I think it's easier for those kids these days.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Rachel, in Annapolis, Md. Hi there.
RACHELHi. How are you?
REHMI'm fine, thanks.
RACHELI’m a longtime listener, first time caller. Thank you for taking my call.
REHMGlad to have you with us.
RACHELI just wanted to call and share my experience because I was raised in a household where my father is Jewish and my mother is Methodist. And I'm 25 years old now. I have three other siblings. And I just wanted to say that for us personally I don't think it was confusing at all. I think that, if anything, I learned so much about a variety of religions and the importance on being able to choose and be educated. My parents did decide to put us in a Unitarian Sunday School as children. So we not only learned about our parents' faiths, but all other faiths, including Buddhism and Wicca and anything you can imagine. And we celebrated both Christmas (unintelligible) holidays. And I think that we've benefitted from it greatly.
REHMAll right. I appreciate your call. Sounds right up your alley, Susan.
MILLERYes. I think this caller is expressing what a lot of us as interfaith children feel about feeling positive about being part of an interfaith family, that this is not something tragic or problematic all the time, that we feel we are bridge builders and peacemakers and a kind of glue that is binding different religious communities so that there is less friction between them.
REHMAll right. And to Max, in Durham, N.C. Hi there, you're on the air.
MAXHi. Thank you for this topic. I came from a very liberal Protestant background. I married a very conservative Roman Catholic woman. And we agreed early on to sort of split the -- you know, compromise and go to the -- become Anglicans. And that worked out well, but what we wound up having trouble with is the predominant attitudes of the, like, you know, Catholics have a certain way of looking at family and money and entertainment and so on, as do Jews and, you know, all different faiths tend to raise different attitudes. And we were fine with going to the Anglican Church, even though neither of us were raised that.
MAXBut what we had trouble with was the deep-rooted attitudes that came along with the faiths.
MAXWell, like I said, attitudes about money, how to deal with money, how to raise children, you know, how to deal with your spare time, entertainment, that kind -- those sorts of things is what we conflicted over.
REHMAnd I gather ultimately you came to divorce?
MAXWe did. After 28 years, but, yeah, it…
MAXWe did divorce, but that was what -- we had no conflicts over religion. What we had conflicts with was the attitudes that came along with the different faith backgrounds.
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call. Naomi?
RILEYYeah, this is very representative. When I asked in my survey, do you disagree about religion with your spouse, about half of interfaith and half of same-faith couples said yes. There was very little difference. However, I think what people think when you ask that question is do you disagree about the tenets of the faith, like, do you spend a lot of time arguing about whether Jesus was the Messiah? Do you spend a lot of time -- and most couples -- you just -- the day-to-day life is not like that. The ways that we disagree about religion are manifest in exactly the ways the caller was talking about.
RILEYYou know, for instance, how much should we give to the church? You know, whether we should send our child to Sunday School. How important is it that we celebrate this holiday? These are things that people don't think of as theological disagreements, but they are disagreements about the way religion manifests itself in our lives.
REHMSusan, do you want to comment?
MILLERYes. I think that that's very true and it's hard to really extricate the cultural from the religious from the spiritual. They are all bound up together. So you can't really say that the conflict is not theological or it's only cultural because these things are all bound up.
REHMAbsolutely. All right. But I must say, it does seem to me that trying to talk these things out before you get into a situation where you're talking about marriage might be a good way to go. Not that it's going to necessarily change anything, but you might just try it. Let's go to Dustin, in Dallas, Texas. You're on the air.
DUSTINHi. It's a great topic and I just wanted to say I appreciate all the great work you and your team do every day.
DUSTINI'm an atheist and I'm happily married to a woman who was raised Catholic. And since we've been married my wife has come to realize that I'm a very moral person and that I don't, you know, you don't need religion or a belief in a God to be good and have a good moral foundation. We're both kind of big science buffs and believe that science and reason are kind of opposing forces to faith. And because of that she's grown more and more non-religious, to the point where she now considers herself to be an atheist, as well, and does not want to raise our children religious.
DUSTINMy question is (unintelligible) one of the fastest growing "religious sections" of America, being those who are non-religious, do you see more situations like mine and my wife's occurring and consequently fewer children being raised religious?
REHMInteresting. Alan, I'm sure you cannot see into the future, but as you were saying earlier, younger people tend to perhaps put religion and religious belief aside.
COOPERMANYes. Younger people are less likely to identify with a religion. That doesn’t mean that they necessarily have no religious beliefs or practices. Atheists are growing, but they're still a minority of the people who have no religion.
REHMAnd it certainly does not mean that they're any less moral in their behavior and/or attitudes than someone in the Roman Catholic Church, does it?
COOPERMANWell, I don't have a way of measuring how moral people are. I can tell you how people answer that question.
REHMHow do they?
COOPERMANWell, a lot of Americans say that it is necessary to believe in God to be a moral person. A lot more Americans say that…
COOPERMAN…than say the British do, for example.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." How do you react to that, Naomi?
RILEYWell, one of the things that I think is interesting, again, this came out of my survey. The idea that he convinced his wife, sort of over time, to come around to his viewpoint. One of the things that was very surprising to me was a quarter of the people in my survey who were in same-faith marriages, actually started off in different-faith marriages, which tells you a lot about sort of the fluidity of American religion. I’m sure Alan can speak to that, too. But people are willing to change their religious beliefs over time, which is one reason why always talking about it ahead of time is not necessarily the key.
RILEYHowever, I think our spouses have a great influence on us when it comes to religious beliefs. And those are malleable, it turns out.
REHMAll right. And let's see, we have time for just one last caller. To Alayna, in Amherst, Mass. You're on the air.
ALAYNAHi. My question actually goes along with kind of the way this discussion has been moving. I'm Agnostic, Atheist, whatever. I guess when you're in an interfaith marriage does that put into doubt a lot of your religious beliefs and I guess if one was to go from one religion to the other, like to go with the same religion as their partner, does that put into doubt religion in general, that you can kind of switch over like that?
REHMNaomi, any comment?
RILEYYeah, I mean I think, you know, there's a high-rate of religion switching in this country. And you could say that it's either because people care very much about faith or they care very little about faith. And I think it's easy to interpret it either way. But I think that is an important trend in American society today.
MILLERThe interfaith parents in our communities reported in my survey that they had a deeper knowledge of interest in their own religion, as well as the religion of their partner. So I think in some cases interfaith marriage can deepen both your own spirituality knowledge, interest and the interest in your partner's religion.
REHMSusan Katz Miller, her book is titled, "Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family." Naomi Schafer Riley has written, "'Til Faith Do Us Part: How Interfaith Marriage Is Transforming America." And Alan Cooperman. He's at the Pew Research Centers Religion and Public Life Project. Thank you all so much. It was good to talk with you.
COOPERMANThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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