How Are You Navigating Religion and Marriage?

And integrating them together

Two weeks ago, on Elisabeth’s post “You Brought Me To Church,” commenter Amy March said, “Can I leave a request for an open thread on religion and marriage here?” And if there is anyone particularly suited to opening that thread, it’s me.

Growing up, my parents used to joke that as a liberal Baptist and a somewhat-high-church Episcopalian, they were about as interfaith as a marriage could handle. (Joke explanation for those that didn’t grow up on pink church punch: on the formality and theology scale, Baptist and Episcopal are as far away as you can get from each other, while still staying Protestant.) Of course, I did them one better when I got together with David. Liberal Baptist meets Jew, what do we do? The first few years of our relationship were an intense exploration into religion. I took him to church, he took me to shul. We took classes together (Difficult Texts, co-taught by two female Rabbi’s and two female pastors, for the curious). We read books. We talked a lot. We tried to figure out if we both could find a way to make a bridge between our two different and important religious traditions.

In short: we have and we haven’t. I converted, but stayed a high-WASP. (It’s cultural, what are you gonna do?) I wrote our son’s Bris liturgy, but after swearing we’d never do it, we had a Christmas Tree last year. Life is long, religious history is complicated, and we’ll probably never figure it out, though we’ll die trying.

But over the years, some of the most important conversations we’ve had about religion haven’t been the interfaith ones. They’ve been the personal ones, the conversations about our individual belief systems. The best one I can remember is when we talked about prayer (we both knew that the other believed in God, so that bit was out of the way). That day, David found out that I regularly made personal petitionary prayers to God, “What, like you ask God for things? You think that works?” And I found out he didn’t, “Wait, so what are you doing when you pray in synagogue? You just find it meditative? You’re kidding.”

Today, in the spirit of encouraging each of you to go home and ask your partner questions about their personal belief system, here is your open thread about religion and marriage. What are your struggles? What are your triumphs? What are you proud of, and what are you figuring out? (And yes, agnostic and atheists are obviously encouraged to be part of the discussion.)

Photo by Allison Andres Photography for A Practical Wedding

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  • Copper

    As an atheist marrying a lapsed Catholic, I wanted to chime in on the issue of how to do the ceremony. When we talked about it, the bar for entry (of god, jesus, and the like) became “who are we making these promises to? And will they feel true if made in this way?” We’re winding up with a god-free ceremony because it turned out that Mr. Copperbeard would feel like his promises were valid and true whether he made them just to me or to god, but that I would feel like it was all a sham if I made those promises to god. Thankfully it turned out to be something I cared very much about and he cared very little about (which I insist is the best basis for compromise) but when I started the discussion was terrified of what would happen if it turned out that he needed to promise to god in order to feel married.

    • meg

      That’s a pretty interesting question in general. I would say that we made our promises in front of our community. Talking about things like faith were an important part of our service, and I would say that I was also making the promises in front of God/ a higher power/ something bigger than me, but the community was in many ways the most important factor. And, we only made the promises TO each other.

      Interesting stuff.

    • Laura K

      Similar situation, but I’m the lapsed Catholic. It really clarifies things when you put it in the context of who the promise is being made to, and how it will feel most true to us. Strangely I hadn’t really thought of it like that, it was always about what my family would think or whether the Church would accept my marriage if I decide to come back to it sometime in the future. Thanks for posting!

    • Well actually, as we learnt in our premarital courses, for the Catholic faith, marriage is the only Sacrament in which both parts of the couple act as a minister the sacrament to each other by their vows and their commitment to a communal life together. The priest (and the community, and God) act as a witness, but you are “administering” the sacraments to yourselves by making vows to each other. (Which is not the case for other sacraments).

      So because of this, I guess it could feel true because you are making the vows to each other and are therefore valid?

      • I meant “minister” the sacrament to each other..

      • meg

        This is exactly how I think about weddings. (Not that I’m encouraging people to include religious elements in their ceremony that are not authentic to them!) But I do think it’s a helpful and clear way to think about what’s happening. For you the witness might be: God, community, JOP, some combination of above.

        • That’s an interesting way to think about it. For us, as atheists who eloped to a different country, we were really making those promises to each other. If our government recognized marriages done completely in private, we might have gone that route – gone into the woods somewhere and said “I marry you” three times or something.

          And yet, *being married* is something that has drawn our community into our relationship in subtle ways I didn’t anticipate, even though they weren’t there for the act itself (not because we don’t like them or anything, just because we’re lazy shy jerks).

      • ElfPuddle

        However, in order for it to be valid (in the sense of the Catholic Sacrament, not in the sense of valid for the couple, especially if they aren’t practicing Catholics), there is more required than just making the vows to each other.

        I’m a practicing Catholic, married to a practicing Catholic. We’re co-leading the RCIA program this year, so if you have any questions about what it means to be valid in the Church, let me know. :)

        For us, the ceremony would not have been valid if it were not a valid Sacrament with all that entails. That’s why we waited more than three years for his annulment, and why our nuptial mass was held on a day/in a place that meant a lot of our family couldn’t be there. The Sacrament was the goal, not the party.

      • Laura

        This helps clear things up for me IMMENSELY. My other half is catholic (though does disagree with the church in some a few ways, such as those hot button political topics that will not be named here), I am a recovering fundamentalist southern baptist with a draw towards pantheism, but still finding great comfort in all the old protestant “churchy” rituals and songs. Anyway, I am not going to convert to Catholicism, but told him that I was willing to have a catholic ceremony, as his religion is more defined than mine. After lots of discussions between us and his priest and other catholic and non-catholic friends, we decided to NOT have the catholic ceremony. Through all of those conversations, though, I could not understand how… when all other important life-events appear to need a priest to be present (i.e., last rights, communion), I could not understand, no matter how many times I asked, how marriage could be an exception. The only answer I get is some variation of “there’s not ACTUALLY an exception, but its still ok in the eyes of the church.” Any other insight into this would be appreciated!

        • Jessica

          I’m not entirely sure I understand your question, but I do know that in the Catholic church, deacons (not priests) are allowed to witness marriages, perform funerals, and baptize people. (“Marry bury and baptize haha). If two Christians are married outside of the church, their marriage is considered valid (just like a non-Catholic baptism is considered a valid baptism, we wouldn’t re-baptism someone who became Catholic later in life.)
          Now, if a Catholic decides to get married and not “invite” the Catholic Church (either by holding a Catholic ceremony or by seeking dispensation from the bishop/bishop’s office to have a non-Catholic ceremony), the church considers that that person is essentially deciding to leave the church, which is why some hard-core Catholics refuse to attend the wedding of a Catholic outside the church.

          • Laura

            Well, as usual I started babbling and never asked the real question, which was, why is it ok for him to marry outside of the catholic church? And I haven’t gotten an answer that I understand yet. :) Your answer is helpful. I will continue to try to wrap my head around this for many years to come, I imagine.

          • ElfPuddle

            Laura, I can’t reply to your comment below, so I’m putting it here.

            It isn’t “okay” for him to get married outside of the church, if by “okay” you mean “just as good as inside”.

            There is a difference, in Catholic doctrine and theology, between Marriage and marriage, Married and married. (The capital letters are my own way of showing the difference. In reality, they are both spelled the same way, more’s the pity.)

            Marriage is a Sacrament. It can only happen if both partners are baptised Christians and the ceremony follows the Catholic formula for the rite. Whether it’s a liturgy, a full mass, or another variation doesn’t matter. The celebrant can be either a priest or a deacon (and can be a co-celebrant in the case of a Catholic and non-Catholic Christian holding a ceremony with a celebrant from each faith). The Catholic Church provides a lot of variation in the rites, including the rite of marriage. As long as it fits into the basic form, it’s a Marriage.

            A marriage, small m, is not a Sacrament. The Church recognizes that two people made a committment to each other, and approves. If neither person is Catholic, what happened in the ceremony isn’t the business of the Church. If one or both of them is, then there’s a problem. The consequences of the problem depend entirely on *why* the couple chose to go outside of the Church. Is it because one/both of them need an annulment? If so, then neither are supposed to receive any other Sacraments until that’s taken care of. Is it because they were too impatient to wait the proscribed time, didn’t want to take the marriage counseling sessions? Just “didn’t feel like it”? Each of these is a separate and distinct issue, and are a problem for different reasons.

            The jist of the matter, no matter why the couple was married outside of the Church, is this:
            Nobody at the church is going to wander around asking to see marriage licenses and proof that the wedding was performed in accordance to the Rite of Marriage until/unless the couple starts filling out paperwork for another Sacrament (baptism of their child, etc.). Not every Sacrament has paperwork every time. Thus, there isn’t going to be kerfuffle at the outset about being married outside the Church.

            That doesn’t make it “okay” theologically or practically. It means that the Church doesn’t stalk people.

            If this didn’t help, please let me know. I’d be happy to get you an answer that makes sense.

      • Jen

        This is also similar to how marriage is thought of in Judaism. You actually marry each other, the Rabbi has nothing to do with it. You actually don’t even need one there according to halacha! Most people do, however.

        • Well what you need for a valid legal Jewish wedding is someone who can actually read the Ketubah… and depending on the religiosity, a kosher Ketubah witness needs to be shomer shabbos as well.
          So the Rabbi is just a practical choice for someone who a) reads aramaic and b) keeps Shabbat. But if you come from an orthodox community, probably everyone you know fits the requirements. Then again, if you come from an orthodox community you probably know a dozen rabbis, so why not use one?

    • Vyvyan

      My almost-husband was recently ordained as an interfaith minister. He’s done a few theist-marrying-atheist weddings; in at least one (I was a guest) the vows were slightly different, so the theist half of the couple was promising things in front of deity, but the atheist wasn’t.

      Might not work for everyone, and there were other compromises that they’d worked out for the format of the ceremony, etc, but it’s one way to make sure the promises ring true for each of you.

  • Shiri

    Oh, man. As this falls in the middle of the Days of Awe (supposedly the most reflective days of the Jewish calendar, but actually when those who take off for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are scrambling to get work done), this is definitely on my mind. My husband was raised Lutheran and is an atheist; I’m a very cultural and somewhat spiritual but not faithful Jew. This is our second married High Holidays and maybe 7th High Holidays over all.

    They get easier, yes, but somehow, it doesn’t fade into the background of “decisions already made” like I’d wanted. I’m hoping we’ll have a baby by this time next year (if I say it on the Internet, will it become real?) and I know that that is when the religion thing will really rear its head. We don’t go to temple regularly now, but I’d like to then. We don’t have Shabbat regularly now, but I’d like to then. It all feels so hypocritical and like I’m making choices just because they are how it was for me when I was growing up, but then the question of “what do I really want” just leads to fears of assimilation, especially with my blond blond blond husband.

    So, this is my struggle. Feeling ok with what I want/need, not feeling guilty about not compromising on this – because I just can’t – and trying to help both our families understand. My triumph, honestly, is that we’re at this stage, because I told him I couldn’t be with him because he was Jewish when I was falling in love with him, and now we’re married, and thinking of a baby, and sitting in synagogue together. And my mother and survivor grandmother are ok with it, as is his born again mom. So, progress, and hope.

    • Shiri

      Can’t edit – *because I told him I couldn’t be with him because he wasn’t Jewish. Wasn’t. Oy.

    • Anonymous

      I don’t know if this will help, but I married a Jew – who doesn’t think of himself as a Jew. But his family does. I was raised Catholic but gave up on church and believing in Jesus a long time ago. So what to do with our kids?

      I plan on adopting whatever Jewish traditions my husband has fond memories of. I also plan on teaching my kids about what it was like for me growing up going to Catholic school and being Catholic (including wanting to be a nun for many years) what it was like for my hubs growing up Jewish. Maybe I’m cheating the system here, but mt thought is, there is a difference between religious and cultural traditions – even when you’re talking about religions. Which is how I explained getting my husband a vegan (lactose intolerant) Advent Calendar last year. Why can’t he love and appreciate the fun of opening a little surprise each night, just because he doesn’t believe in the god or the system the Advent Calendar represents? To him its a nice piece of chocolate every day.

      I sincerely hope that isn’t cavalier to say, and all due respect to those with strong religious beliefs who celebrate holidays for deeper reasons. But I celebrate Christmas whether I believe in Jesus or not. Why shouldn’t I? The god I believe in, she doesn’t have a problem with it. ;)

      • Shiri

        I have a lot of respect for this viewpoint and for the way you express it. I think for me, celebrating aspects of Christmas (having the tree or the advent calendar, even getting and giving the presents, which I take part in for family unity’s sake, but not in my own home) carries with it assumptions about deeper meaning or a watering down of how I feel about my own identity. I know some people don’t feel this way, and I almost wish I didn’t either.

        That said, what you’ve got planned for your kids sounds lovely. I sometimes wonder if the line between cultural and religious traditions feels different from the Christian or Christian raised side than it does from the Jewish.

        • meg

          “I sometimes wonder if the line between cultural and religious traditions feels different from the Christian or Christian raised side than it does from the Jewish.”

          It does. It 110% does, and I was going to leave a comment to that effect. It takes a whole lot of education to get the Christian side of the equation to really understand why.

          That said, see my complicated comment below. I do understand why, I converted, we’ve worked hard at it, blah blah, and we had a baby and we had a Christmas Tree this year. Trust me, deep down, David was… none too happy… about it. But, bless him, he knew it was what I needed a week after giving birth, and he never said a word. (Of course he didn’t have to, because I knew, but ;)

          So yeah. It doesn’t get easier. Start now.

          • Shiri

            I think I’m really lucky that my husband is as educated about Judaism as a non-Jew can be, without converting (he has taught college courses on Jewish history). He knows there is an understanding he doesn’t have, he gets that it exists and mostly gets what its boundaries are, even if he knows he can’t quite get it himself.

          • Caroline

            Oh yeah. Trying to explain to my secular-but-raised-Christian mom and fiance that Christmas and Christmas trees are not-at-all-secular to this born half-Jewish and converted Jew is basically not possible. My fiance accepts that it just is different for me. My mom does not accept it.

          • It so SO does. I posted on another website in my pre-APW days (those pre-pre-engaged days before I read wedding blogs) about my then-boyfriend and me deciding that if we got married we would have a Jewish home. And I was rattling off all the things that meant. Including… no Christmas tree.
            The predominately non-practicing Christians on the board just TORE into me over how could I outlaw a Christmas tree when it’s not even originally a Christian symbol (well, ok, true) and that for most people the Christmas season is more about family and food and presents than actually about Jesus (well, depends).
            Anyways, I just don’t think that its the same for Jews and Christians. To them a Christmas tree is this pretty thing that makes your house smell nice. To me its a symbol of me being the ultimate outsider. Its hard to describe, but Jews base a lot of themselves on being different (or, you know, chosen) and its a feeling that you hate until you embrace it and then you love it… and I want the same for my children.

          • meg

            So totally exactly right. And, we’re discovering, in some ways that’s something our kid will never have the way David had. And again, that’s one of the things most important for David to pass on. We discussed this endlessly in the 8 years before we had a baby, only to find out we don’t totally have control of it (for a lot of reasons). I don’t think it’s easy for David, and it turns out that stuff I thought I didn’t need to pass on I either do, or can’t HELP passing on.

            This kid is still half old-money (all lost money, obviously, but still) WASP/ Mayflower family, which is, in a way, the ultimate American insider. My conversion and his Judaism doesn’t change that, it turns out. And we just didn’t know that.

      • Anonymous


        As a former, seriously planned on joining a convent until 16, lapsed Catholic, I can completely respect and understand the choice to not do things the easy way. What I was taught about religion and belief had a lot to do with sacrifice and making the hard choices. While I’ve decided I don’t choose to believe in a god who would tell me I can’t eat bacon or I can’t have a Christmas tree, I’ve made the easy choice and I recognize that.

        As much as I wouldn’t or perhaps better said COULDN’T make the choices you are making for your faith, I think what you’re doing is beautiful and certainly embodies everything I’ve ever been taught about spirituality and belief.

    • meg

      Don’t think it was an accident that this was posted during the Days of Awe (also, don’t be fooled that we’re publishing on the holidays, I’m not here).

      Here is my simple advice on a complex situation: Things do NOT get easier once you have a kid (emotionally or logistically). You also have less time, and it’s really hard to get to services at first. (Fun fact: baby’s bedtime is at 7, services are at 7:30, we’ve made Tot Shabbat once, which feels like a victory.) So, if you want to go to shul as a family, or have shabbat at home, or whatever, please do both of you a favor and start that (and the conversation that goes with it) now. It’s a lot to take on, and a lot to learn for your partner, and you want him to feel… not like a guest in his own home. He’s going to be baffled and confused by just the simplest blessings at first, and wonder why you cover your eyes when you light the candles and EVERYTHING. The best time to try to explain that is not when you haven’t slept through the night in six months, or when you’re chasing a toddler around. Also, if he’s not comfortable with any of it, that’s not a fun surprise when you’re on your hospital bed trying to decide if you’re having a Bris in 8 days, and you find out he’s 110% against circumcision (and you can’t even begin to muster the words to explain that it’s the bedrock of the Jewish faith).

      Other advice (this part is harder for you than him): The assimilation stuff is complicated, and you might want to start thinking about it now, or hell, even talk to someone about it. We kind of assumed that: I’d converted, the baby would have a Bris, David’s swarthy genes (his term not mine) looks would obviously win out over my fair genes, done. NOT SO FAST. We have a kid who turned out to be… blond. And wasp looking. David jokes that he mostly looks like a baby… german. That’s a whole lot of mind fuck to wrap everyone’s head around, lemmie tell you. I mean, it helps that he’s possibly the cutest baby in the world, but, still ;) So, start thinking about it, because it’s… complicated.

      • Shiri

        Dude, Meg, I knew you’d planned this!

        I’m also showing your response to my husband. Because the one upside to being the kind of person who says, three weeks into her relationship, “We have to have Jewish kids” is that we’ve talked about the bris (not ever gonna fly, though he can be circumcised in private), the Shabbat once a month when we have a family, and me going to services with the kids and probably always being sad that he isn’t there but not making him come. And, I really should find a temple now. I’d be happier.

        I’m terrified, though, that his blond hair will beat out my brown, so I’m so relieved that I’m not the only one so stereotypical about it! I know a baby will show up and it will all be much more complicated than I can imagine. And I don’t want to feel that sitting-in-shul-without-him sadness my whole life, so I’m focusing on how grateful I do feel when he comes for his 3-hours-per-holiday-only mandated time.

        • moonitfractal

          As a fair-skinned, red-haired, freckle-faced Irish Ashkenazic Jew I find this terror that the baby won’t look ‘Jewish’ enough quite odd. My looks (or celtic last name) aren’t an important factor when it comes to my religious life or cultural heritage.

          • Shiri

            That’s totally fair, and I don’t mean to be offensive about it. I’m also auburn haired and freckled, but I think the “visible Jewishness” is sort of a stand-in for my fears about my child not feeling like a Jew. It’s not to say that my blond sister doesn’t feel Jewish – she does – but that if my kid identifies more, visibly, with his father’s blond non-Jewish family, who’s to say he wouldn’t identify more with them in terms of his self identity, too?

            And this, I should say, goes back to the things my own internal tiny ultra-conservative Jewish Rush Limbaugh of sorts (mentioned below) is screaming. They’re not fears I’m proud of, or even believe in, but the worst part of me is scared of them.

          • meg

            It’s complicated, obviously, but. I think, a really short analysis, is that if you happen to be Jewish, and happen to have grown up visibly looking like a cultural minority, that ends up being very wrapped up in your personal cultural identity. And more than that, there can be this element of, “I’ll teach my kid that they are (fill in the blank) beautiful, accepted, etc, etc, even though they are not blond and super white!” So it can be a bit of a mind bender when you then end up with a kid who… say, blond and very European looking. Illogical as that might be.

            And also, Shiri’s explanation makes a lot of sense too.

        • moonitfractal

          I wasn’t at all offended, and hope my comment didn’t come off that way. It’s just an alien concept to me. I’d like to reassure everyone that you can have Jewish kids who don’t look Jewish, and that’s ok. I also think that it’s important to defy people’s expectations. I my Hebrew school class were a kid with a black father, a kid with a Chinese father, a kid adopted internationally from Korea, and others who didn’t look like the stereotype (it’s a special shul). Kids like us have a unique opportunity to do that.

          • meg

            It’s such an interesting idea. Our shul is similar (as a LGBTQ shul, there are a lot of adopted kids), and we have kids that were adopted in the family. So obviously, none of us think that you have to look a particular way to look Jewish. But as David and I were chatting about last night, when this thread came up in conversation, if you grew up looking like a minority (and he did, there was one other Jewish family in our whole High School, so he didn’t fit in with say, the blonds) that gets all wrapped up in your personal minority identity, even if it’s not logical.

            I don’t know. Fascinating complicated nuanced stuff, and so much of it can’t be predicted in interfaith families, until there is a kid on the scene.

        • Caroline

          I think you should go find a shul you love for yourself. Seriously, once you are a part of a community, it won’t feel like sitting in shul without him except his mandated holiday services forever. My partner comes only on holidays, or if I’m doing something special for the first time (my first aliyah, my first few times leading musaf, etc). But it never feels like I’m sitting alone in services without him. Frankly, I’m usually glad he isn’t there, because then he would be bored and antsy and I would have less fun. It doesn’t feel like I’m alone, because I’m not. I sit with my teacher every shabbat (a rabbi who is a particular friend and a teacher of mine. She’s not the rabbi of the shul), and give giant hugs to my friends. And I have a lot of them. Seriously, it no longer feels like I’m going alone, because I’m going to daven and hang out with all my shul friends. I know about 75% of people’s names and they know mine, and some of my best friends are from shul now.

          It gets better. Just find a shul you love for yourself, not for who you WANT your family to be.

        • Brenda

          Shiri, about your question below, because I can’t reply to that one, I think whether you look Jewish has very little to do with whether you feel Jewish. I’m a pale, blond, half-Irish Jew, and people are often surprised that I’m Jewish. But my father converted, and even though my mother is a very strong atheist, I grew up with a strong cultural sense that this is who we are: we did all the Jewish holidays, we did not do Christian holidays, and we were much closer to my mother’s family than my father’s, so all my family interactions were with the Jewish side.
          Although I see my father’s personality in myself, my cultural identity is mostly Jewish. If Judaism is what you do in your family, your child will (with the caveat that obviously you never really know what people will do, but I think it’s pretty likely) identify as Jewish.

      • Anonymous

        Oh the circumcision question! I’ve long been personally appalled by and against circumcision as a cultural process driven by societal norms (I might not understand or agree with the religious reasons for circumcision, but I can absolutely respect them). I also knew how hard it would be for both my kid and me to deal with comments and judgement when I don’t circumcise my child and its absolutely worth it to me.

        Now I’ve married into a Jewish family who aren’t very Jewish, until you want to do something like cook them a ham and suddenly they’re VERY Jewish. I can only imagine what my in-laws will say about my refusal to circumcise any child of mine. I hope that I’ve mentioned it enough to my husband that he won’t be surprised if we should have a boy child and I remind him I’m not going to be approving any unnecessary surgical procedures on my child – especially when he as an atheist can’t even back it up with a religious reason.

        • Laura C

          Hmm. I obviously don’t know your husband at all, but there are definitely a lot of secular Jews out there who feel that circumcision is deeply important. So if I were you I might go beyond “I hope I’ve mentioned it enough” to an actual conversation.

        • Shiri

          Yeah, I have to agree with Laura on this. These are things that every time they come up in my relationship, no matter how many times we’ve talked about them, most of them still need to be talked about.

        • adria

          I also agree with Laura – make sure you are both on the same page with the big things…no matter whether he’s observant or not, he will likely have to explain to his family why you decided to do whatever you decide to do. And he will need to have your back 100% if that goes against what his family traditions are. In-laws can be really tricky, and really persuasive.

          I had no idea what shitstorm would erupt when we told my husbands family about my plans to have a baby shower (not even a religious thing, per se, but Jews don’t typically have baby showers)…seriously, DAYS of crying on my end, loud arguments with his family on his end, and if we didn’t have the understanding between the two of us from the get-go, I can’t even imagine how things might have ended up.

          Some things are big ticket items (like circumcision) and it’s best to get them figured out in advance, so the smaller things (like baby showers or whatever other battles might come up) can be worked through in the moment.

          Never assume that some casual conversations have made their way to a decision that you both agree upon. There are times when my husband and I have pointed discussions, at length, about topics, and we still need to revisit them to reach an amenable solution that we both fully agree to.

          • It’s a superstition thing, that is actually predominately Ashkenazi (a Russian/polish tradition) but they don’t want to invoke the evil eye by celebrating a baby that is not yet born.

            Also speaks to the difference between Christian and Jewish views on “when life begins” and all that abortion debate goodness. Jews view fetuses as “potential life” but still can be sacrificed to save the actual life of the mother. Christians, well some of them anyways, treat fetuses as basically the same as an already born baby. Which is why it makes much more sense to celebrate a baby shower in those circumstances: “Yay you have a baby in there!” is worth way more celebrating “Well, if you are lucky that thing in there might become a baby.”

        • meg

          You have to talk about this. I don’t even know if I can put into words how foundational this is for people, but there are many many secular jews for which this is a deal-breaker.

          In short: it is generally considered that this is the one thing that makes a boy Jewish or not (and for most people, cultural Judaism is as/more important than religious Judaism, though plenty of religious jews are atheist, truth). There are some conversation happening on this in really really really really progressive Jewish circles, but even there, not very much conversation, and none of it is legally binding, in terms of Jewish law/ Israel, etc. It’s a charged question, so I’m not going to get into it more here, but I am going to say that this is something you can’t hope someone won’t be surprised by.

          Also, having done it, I’m not saying this in any way lightly. I don’t think it’s possible to fathom the depth of the commitment you’re making with a bris, till you’ve done it with your baby boy. It’s rough, lets leave it there.

          • rys

            I recently had a fascinating conversation with a good friend of mine from (Jewish) high school who just adopted a baby boy. He remarked that he had never not considered having a bris (he and his husband are Jewish) but until going through with it had not thought about the way it is supposed to incredibly difficult — that the knife as the entrance to Jewish communal life (because, as others have noted, circumcision is a ritual that matters, often profoundly, to non-observant Jews on communal grounds) is the closest we come to living/reproducing/feeling Abraham’s experience of the akedah, the binding of Isaac. Deep stuff.

            For the record, I have a number of Jewish friends who have though long and hard about how to handle the bris. Many have decided to make the circumcision private and follow it with a public 8th-day naming/communal welcoming ceremony. For some it’s about the act of circumcision, for others it’s about gender equity (naming rituals being applicable to all), and for others it’s about the lines of public/private in ritual life. There are many, many options…

          • meg

            Rys: I thought a lot about it going through it, and concluded that it was intensely hard because it was an intensely serious covenant. IE, it’s designed to be awful and painful, because you have to be willing to make this awful and painful decision to have your child join the covenant. So, for me, the awfulness ended up holding the power (which didn’t make it any less awful, lets be clear about that). I also think it’s interesting that it’s the parents making the choice, and it’s the parents that it’s hellishly hard for. The kid doesn’t remember it in the slightest!

            And yes, I think all those options are excellent to consider. We did our naming directly after the bris (all one ceremony, two parts), and thank god for the naming. I was MESS by the end of the bris, and while I sobbed through the naming for emotional reasons, it was the joyful part.

          • Jen

            “though plenty of religious jews are atheist, truth”

            Yep. One of my favorite quotes from the Rabbi leading my conversion class. “You can be agnostic and a Jew. You can be athiest and a Jew. The one thing that you can’t believe? That God has a human form.”

            Also, that pretty much describes my (Jew by birth) partner. Staunch athiest, but a hardcore cultural Jew, who happens to love our Reform shul because he likes the music. I was pretty much ambivalent towards the divine when we met and now I’m the religious one. Go figure.

          • RJ

            Circumcision is one of the things I’ve not understood – your comment has helped me get closer.

            I’m Protestant and in New Zealand where few men are circumcised now (it’s the norm not to be).

            The reasons given by those who advocate it for non-religious reasons (to look like his Dad, hygiene) seemed totally unconvincing to me – and to some extent based on the medical establishment clipping the ticket, and I’ve always thought it would be a deal-breaker for me. (i.e. if my husband took my son away to have that done to him, then I’d be off, and asking for sole custody.)

            I’m not sure why it moves me so fiercely – I think it may be my feminist mother’s influence – anything that hints at patriarchal power and rules which are not gender neutral probably raises my hackles.

          • Recent argument I made for circumcision:
            Community is an intensely important thing. Circumcision is how you enter the Jewish community. You don’t choose to rid your son of “excess foreskin” you choose to bind him to the community.

            Recent argument I made against circumcision: But how can you be for your own bodily autonomy while still performing a not-medically-necessary surgical procedure on your incapable-of-consenting child.

            Obviously, I’m conflicted. When I brought it up to my (non-Jewish) husband he said “But God commanded the Jews to circumcise their sons? That’s that Jews do… right? So that’s what we should do.” Glad he’s so sure.

          • Anna

            My husband and I are Reform Jews, very active in our large urban congregation. Our son was born last year. We chose not to circumcise him– although this was the most difficult and thought-out decision of my life I won’t elaborate on the reasons why, as it is ultimately a deeply personal choice and I respect that others here have reached a different conclusion.

            However, I do want to add another data point to the discussion here: we were shocked by how many other Jewish parents we’ve encountered (both secular and practicing) who did not choose to circumcise. Admittedly, our social circles skew urban, liberal, and reform. We consulted 5 different rabbis as we were making the decision, and in the end our baby naming ceremony was presided over by two of them. We also know of 3 other couples in the synagogue who had (non-circumcision) Brit Shalom or naming ceremonies for their sons in 2013.

            Again, I feel this is a personal decision and I do not question or judge anyone’s right to do what is best for their families or their faith. However, in my experience, the conversation around this issue is more robust than I had thought.

          • meg

            That’s interesting. That’s also VERY urban and liberal Judaism. Liberal shul in San Francisco, and it’s not much of a conversation here. And also, wasn’t even a *possible* conversation in my family.

            It’s possibly more complex with an interfaith family. I did a whole lot of stuff so my kid would be legally Jewish when he was born. If we didn’t circumcise, he would not be considered legally Jewish by the state of Israel. So that didn’t even feel like an option we had (separate from it not being an option for other personal family reasons). As a convert, you have to do a near endless number of things to get your kid full access to legal Judaism. Non-circumcision, and the rest of it is moot. (Related: we had a Rabbi who had been circumcised, but not ritually circumcised, and was biologically interfaith. Before he went to Israel for Rabbinical school, he had to go through a ritual circumcision, which he was understandably LIVID about.)

        • Yeah, I agree with pretty much everyone else here. Circumcision, even for atheist cultural Jews like my husband (who loves pork), is a big deal. In fact, we talked about circumcision on our third date and now, almost four years later, we’re still discussing it. Luckily, our first child was a girl, so we did not have to make a final decision. But before we knew she would be a girl, we decided that if the baby was going to be a boy, he had to spend some time researching it, discussing it with his rabbi, and having a thoughtful discussion about it with me. In the end, should we have a boy in the future, I plan on letting him make the final decision, but only as long as he actually puts thought into it.

          My husband is a Reconstructionist Jew, which is where as Meg says some of the conversation, such that it is, is happening regarding circumcision. So my husband was very open to doing the research and having the long discussions, and I know he’ll be thoughtful about it, but I have a feeling, in the end, he’ll come down in favor of circumcision.

          • Anonymous

            Rest assured ladies, I know my husband well enough to know that since he doesn’t identify himself as Jewish, he would never make a health choice for our child based on religion. But I definitely felt like this was something we could stand to talk more in depth about so while cooking dinner we did. Thankfully I know him well and we’re on the same page. If nothing else, I wish there was more discussion about this. In the past, I’ve been saddened when talking to friends who had male children who never even considered the draw backs and negatives to circumcision, just as there are negatives to choosing not to circumcise. Thanks for looking out, sorry I implied I was being blade about the importance of his feelings.

      • Lindsey d.

        I’m cracking up re: your blond and germanic Jewish baby, only because I’m destined for the same… My wonder Jewish fiance and I have decided to raise our children as Jewish, only they are not going to look it at all. For starters, I’m a Dutch blonde, which my wonderful Lithuanian Jew fiance is regularly mistaken for a Irish Catholic (including by me). Redheaded babies, here we come!

        The beautiful thing is that there are more blonde kids in the pictures of children’s services at the local temple (there are only two in our southern town) than brunettes. They won’t be alone!

      • Ingvild

        I am deeply offended at your gross assumption about German Jews; about how Jews are ‘supposed’ to look.

      • Ruth

        Hi Meg,
        I was really touched by the idea that you wrote your son’s Bris liturgy. I have really been struggling with this. We are a very interfaith couple ( he’s a culturally Jewish atheist, I’m a nonpracticing Catholic, and we both share a deep interest in Eastern philosophy) My husband wants to have a bris, if we have a son, as a cultural tradition…and I yet I find myself becoming panicky at the thought. I have come to love the Jewish traditions so much that we celebrate every year with his family ( it feels appropriate, writing this during the days of awe, after a beautiful tashlich, getting ready for the yom kippur fast) I’m the type of person to whom ceremony and ritual is meaningful, inherently meaningful. And I yet I haven’t been able to get in touch with this reverence and awe around the bris…it just feels brutal, and painful, and… unnecessary. Since I did not convert, I want any son of mine to have the opportunity to be a part of this beautiful religion… but I really need help ‘ reclaiming’ bris, if I’m going to do it. Any advice?

        • Paranoid Libra

          I am not Jewish in the least bit and am not married to a Jew so I am not expert on it at all. I have read though that the current cut is much more extreme than what it initially started out as. If you do a bris perhaps you can have it be a nic than an actual cut to sort of reclaim it back to previous days possibly? I suggest research that though as again i just read it online trying myself to grapple with that path of circumcision down that road when a baby exists. It is only a suggestion and I am not sure how accurate it all is

        • meg

          Go do some online research about the service. I did a lot of cutting and pasting and structuring the service in the last days of my pregnancy. I’d already come to terms with why this was meaningful to me, but if I hadn’t, this would have helped. As it was, it really helped shape my experience of it, and the nuance of the thing.

          Paranoid Libra: It’s all halachic law (which is sort of an interesting thing, since Christianity has nothing similar), so it’s not flexible. IE, It was a HUGE DEAL that we had our Bris after sunset and not on the following morning, which we did so people could come. We were told the whole thing might not even be binding and he wouldn’t be Jewish. We just kind of broke the rules and figured no one would tell on us, fingers crossed. But that’s how strict this stuff is, and there are real consequences on the line (Israeli citizenship, should your kid ever want to claim it). So yeah, sadly, you don’t get to make your own rules, particularly if you’re interfaith.

    • I’m a newly-ish converted Jew (September 2010) that was raised Lutheran-ish but chose to convert after taking over a year to contemplate my religious and spiritual self (my father is Jewish and my parents are divorced… it’s complicated). I married a lapsed-Lutheran-who-went-to-Catholic-school who is mostly agnostic now but thinks God is pretty cool and believes in the Golden Rule. His mom’s side is extremely Catholic and threw a fit when we decided we would have a Jewish wedding and would be raising our future children in the Jewish traditions. I’m not a particularly religious Jew and would like to go to synagogue more than I do now (which is hardly at all). My husband enjoys going to services with me, but he doesn’t think he’ll convert (and I would never ask him to).

      I also struggle with the “when we have a baby” stuff. We’ve talked and know that we want to raise our kids Jewish, but I have this fear that I’m “not Jewish enough” to do that. I hope that my husband wants to be involved in their religious education etc, but I am worried that he won’t, seeing as he has even less of a connection to it than I do. And then there’s his family, who continually will want to know why we don’t have a Christmas tree and why our kids aren’t getting baptized.

      I also feel pretty alone b/c my entire Jewish family is in FL, so I don’t have anyone to celebrate the holidays with, and it kind of feels like the blind leading the blind when it comes to trying to celebrate with my husband. Any hints?

      • heres_a_llama

        Converted May 2011. I am the religious Jew in my soon to be marriage, and I wonder myself if I will have enough “cred” to raise my kids with the Jewish exposure that I desire for them. I was always going to services but it suddenly dawned on me that the HOME is where Judaism is rooted and where I will introduce our kids to Judaism eventually.

        What I’ve found for me personally is to start testing these things out now. What makes Judaism YOURS? You, an individual Jew, btzelem elohim, have things about Judaism you love, you don’t understand, you don’t… so start with things you love. I started with candles and kiddush on Friday. After November, I’m adding havdalah. I registered for a bread machine so I can make challah. I’ve told my fiance that I want to do Sukkot when we finally get our own place. But I felt totally ridiculous the first time I said the brachah. And now, after about a year, it feels authentically my own.

        Other things, I tried, and I just didn’t find worked for me. So I stopped.

        But you are a Jew. And you have a right to take the rich history we have to work with and find practices that are meaningful to you and to your family – sometimes you’ll click right away, but more importantly, trust yourself to listen to the voice that says “nope.”

        I know it’s hard when you’re alone during the chagim, so start small in your own home if you want, or find a synagogue or chevra that you like nearby. See if they can be the family you get to choose. Or perhaps realize that being in FL next fall is really important to you, and see if you can save up and make that a reality next year.

        I’m sure this is a rambling mess, but I just wanted to let you know that I’ve been there myself. Sometimes I still find myself there. You’re not alone.

        • moonitfractal

          You can make challa in a bread machine!?!? Any chance of posting the recipe?

          • heres_a_llama

            I’m sorry if I wasn’t exactly accurate with my wording: what I meant was that I have the bread dough made by the machine, and then I braid it if I’m feeling fancy, or do a quick “drop” method into a round cake pan. My fiance grumbles because this is “only supposed to be for the New Year!” but I tell him if it bothers him so much that he can do it himself. I’m still the one making it (c:

            I know this is going to sound overwhelming reading this, but PLEASE feel free to ask any questions. It takes me about 5 minutes to get the bread machine going and about 20 minutes to do the braiding/dishes, with a 2.5 hour break or so in between. The pay off is so worth it to me and I am willing to work with you to get you going too if you want! (

            I registered for a Panasonic SD-YD250, but any one you have around the house is good. I use this 1.5 lb recipe to get two small loaves. (This is two small round loaves: that I made last week)

            3/4 cup water, 1 large egg, 3 tblspoons margarine (I use nondairy because fiance is lactose intolerant), 1.25 teaspoons salt, 3 cups bread flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 teaspoons active dry yeast, 1 large egg yolk, 1 tablespoon water, poppy or sesame seeds

            Directions: Add the water, egg, margarine, salt, flour, sugar and yeast in the order suggested by your manufacturer. Select dough/manual cycle. When cycle is complete, remove dough from machine to a lightly floured surface. Lightly flour a knife or pastry blade.

            If braiding: Cut into six more or less equal sized hunks. Flour your hands, and then roll each hunk one at a time between your hands until it lengthens (think Play Doh as a kid!). Each strand should be “rolled” until it’s about 2 inches thick or less. Challah is forgiving, though, so do your best. Then lay three strands down at a time on your counter, and braid like you would your hair. At the end, pinch the three ends together, and kind of tuck back under. Put on a cookie sheet.

            If “drop” method: Take your floured knife and cut into balls about a quarter the size of your fist. Drop into a cake pan so they’re touching. Drop as you like.

            Turn on your oven to 375. Place cake pan or cookie sheet on top of oven and cover with a moistened dish towel. Let rise for about thirty minutes.

            Beat the egg yolk with a little water, brush this over your bread, sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds, cover with foil, and throw it in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove foil and cook for another 10 to 15, until golden brown.

            Then, go celebrate like the badass you are because holy shit, you just made some bread! (I danced in my kitchen the first time I made successful challah like Tom Hanks did in Cast Away when he first created fire. I have no shame!)

      • rys

        Figure out what you connect to, what he connects to, and run with it. One of the great things about Judaism’s deep roots in the home is that it is intensely malleable. Heck, one of my non-Jewish friends once said she wished her family had a tradition akin to Friday night shabbat dinners just as family time, not religious time. That said I think finding a community is really valuable — it doesn’t have to be a shul or anything formal, it could be a group of friends who celebrate holidays or the new month or shabbat or whatever together.

        On the theological front, I find Mordechai Kaplan’s The Meaning of God in Modern Jewish Religion a great starting place as he retools holidays to make them meaningful in the modern world. I view it as a model for thinking about how to make traditional ideas and practices relevant and meaningful, rather than as an ur-text to follow literally.

        • Shiri

          Thanks. This and your comment below are really helpful. I loved our Shabbat dinners growing up, which were a time of coming together and reading, and ritual. I think those are also my husband’s favorite things in the world, even with as attached as he is to his ice hockey blogs. I need to make the traditions I love traditions that work for both of us in whatever way I can. That is such a lovely and calming thought.

          • rys

            Yes, own your traditions!

            I have another friend whose family always read together — that is, sat in the same room and read whatever they each wanted — on Friday nights after dinner, and I think that’s lovely.

            One of my favorite Jewish holidays is Shavuot, not because I care about God giving the 10 commandments at Sinai, but because of the emphasis on learning. So some years I’ve invited friends (Jewish and non) over for a salon-style (TED talk style?) evening, complete, of course with cheesecake and sundaes. It doesn’t look like a yeshiva celebration, but I love it (note to self: do it this year). Similarly, I love Sukkot because it combines welcoming guests with a celebration of fall, and fall is my favorite season.

          • Caroline

            Making your own traditions is the best! I was thinking about how I wanted to have a tradition of Rosh Hashanah dinners (not a thing in my family growing up), and so we decided to do it! We hosted 12 people for second night Rosh Hashanah. Some friends from shul, my dad, my non-Jewish BFF, and a couple from my partner’s homebrew club who had mentioned they were new to the area and looking for Yom Kippur services. It was the best thing ever. Make your own traditions. It’s so fabulous.

            Sometimes it’s hard to do, but it really is worth it to adapt and make traditions your own.

        • meg

          Figure out what you connect to, what he connects to, and run with it. One of the great things about Judaism’s deep roots in the home is that it is intensely malleable.”

          I love this, thanks for that. I ended up not being the kind of convert who… knows a bunch of Hebrew, etc, etc. I turns out that after serious study during conversion, I became exactly the same kind of Jew I was a Protestant, and on some level feel like, “Oh, for goodness sake, I’ve been religious my whole life. I’m not going to drop everything to re-arrange myself inside and out.” So my internal religious life is more or less unchanged, though it continues to grow (I was never much into Jesus, I know, but that makes it easier). And that’s just that. It’s a little a-typical for a convert, but, you know what? It’s authentic to me, so I’m rolling with it.

          And, like you say, Judaism is deep and varied, and has a place for a lot of things.

          • rys


          • I have been waiting for this thread the entire time I’ve been reading APW (4 years now? 5?) because I’ve always wanted to know about your conversion process, Meg (but never wanted to ask because it’s so personal and obviously I don’t “know you” know you, etc etc). My husband is Jewish by birth, raised Christian (his parents converted to Christianity), fell out of Christianity/organized religion and then reconnected with his Jewish heritage once we were married, but is not a practicing/religious Jew by any means. We both ended up working (at different times) at a Jewish nonprofit, and that combined with his Jewish experiences have made me want to raise my future children as Jews, and therefore, I need (and want very much!) to be a Jew.

            Over the course of thinking about what that means for me to convert, I have absolutely fallen in love with Judaism, but I’ve found myself struggling with the “religious” aspect. I feel deeply spiritual, but what if I don’t want to go to shul all the time? What if I’m not a super religious (or even very religious) Jew once I convert? Will that lessen my conversion? Will I be seen as (or will I personally feel like) less of a Jew because I’m not (or don’t anticipate myself being very) religious? I said this ‘joke’ with my husband that I feel like I need to go and be really religious for a few years before I calm down and become “the Jew of my dreams.” (ha ha)

            From what I’ve read on Judaism, and from the discussions I’ve had with a fabulous cantor at a synagogue that has one of the best Jew-by-choice programs in Chicago, there is so much of Judaism that resonates with me, and when I read about it find myself saying, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” – it’s completely what I ‘believe.’ I suppose these questions are more philosophical in nature, maybe (“what IS religion” etc), but these comments have been so comforting to me, especially this one here:

            “I’ve been religious my whole life. I’m not going to drop everything to re-arrange myself inside and out.” So my internal religious life is more or less unchanged, though it continues to grow (I was never much into Jesus, I know, but that makes it easier). And that’s just that. It’s a little a-typical for a convert, but, you know what? It’s authentic to me, so I’m rolling with it.” — THIS! This is exactly what I needed to read. Thank you, Meg.

      • Caroline

        I’m also a converted Jew who was half Jewish, and in an interfaith relationship, and sometimes have the same doubts. I think the key is practicing Judaism at home. You don’t have to be incredibly knowledgeable, you just have to start. As a convert, the home observance is definitely the hardest bit. I recently talked to the Adult Education committee at my synagogue and we are going to run a series of classes on home observances how-to. I think just starting (Shabbat is overwhelming? Try just lighting candles at friday dinner to start) is key.

        Also, if you aren’t really involved in a synagogue/your synagogue I recommend it. Find a congregation you like, and then volunteer. You will learn so much and start to feel like an authentic part of the community. You will find people to invite over for shabbat dinner and who will invite you over for seders, and you will find people to ask how to do observance.

      • Jen

        GET A COMMUNITY. Look, your kids will already be Jewish, because you’re their mother. But if you want it to go beyond that, and even for yourself, you need a Jewish community. Join a temple. Get involved in a Jewish organization or volunteer group. Take a class. Join a Torah study group. I don’t know where you live so options might be limited (I live in NYC on the UES, JewYork as my partner lovingly calls it, plus we have his Jewish family nearby so I’m aware we are very very lucky). We went shul hopping and found one we love, and have date nights where we will do to services on Friday nights and then out to dinner and sometimes a movie. (this works for us so much more than the traditional Shabbat dinner but your needs might be different). We plan events with our Jewish friends (which again, its NYC, so it’s pretty much all out friends), whether is break fast on Yom Kippur over bagels and lox or building a sukkah together or meet up at the park on Shabbat to hang out or talk about the weekly parsha together or watch Seinfeld reruns (my partner insists this counts as a Jewish activity). Hell, I even call my girfriend to bitch about how much I hate matzah and just want to eat my morning oatmeal dammit during Passover. I can’t tell you how much my community has meant to me and has made being a Jew much much easier, especially when my father died in June. It’s hard being a Jew alone, you know?

    • adria

      My husband told me that when we first met, he gave me “30 days” so he could decide if I was worth it because “he couldn’t date/marry me” because I’m not Jewish and he is. I was raised Catholic, but am totally non-observant at this point. He was raised Jewish and is observant, with mostly regular practice.

      This is what I’ve learned…there is a constant evolution/progression when it comes to holidays and practices, both in our home and outside of it. And it’s a consistent state of compromise. It’s sometimes hard as shit to get through, and other times it’s just normal operating procedure.

      This year, I’m 39+ weeks pregnant at the High Holidays, and we’re spending a lot of idle time talking about conversion (of our child, not of me), while figuring out what we’ll be doing for Christmas as it falls at the end of my maternity leave and he has limited vacation days from work. Every single year/month/day we’re working on forming our own set of practices (both religious and otherwise) and traditions. And, while sometimes there are growing pains for both of us, we’ve gotten through the past 5 years and every year it gets better/easier.

      As the “non-practicing” member of the relationship, I just want to say that while it might be hard for the practicing person to sometimes understand why ALL of the things aren’t automatically “important”, my partners happiness is important to me, as is my happiness important to him. For that reason, we chose to honor as many traditions and practices of our families in our home, and forge a new path for ourselves that allows us both to be happy.

      Here’s the thing – the symbols of the religions are just that, symbols. How you choose to bring them into your home, into your family, and make them traditions or practices is up to you BOTH to decide. From my point of view, it would be a lot harder to adopt a new set of “rules” (Shabbat dinners every week, Synagogue every week, etc) just because there is a baby. If it’s important to you now, make it important to you now. Don’t wait until there is a third party to introduce the things that you want to do…become a part of a synagogue if you’re not already, establish the practices you wish to incorporate with your family now – with your current family. And talk to your partner about why you want to do the things you want to do…my husband is aware that while I’ve agreed to have a Jewish household and raise our children Jewish, he’s going to have be responsible for what is involved in that – finding the Hebrew classes, finding a community to become a part of (one which will accept his non-Jewish wife, which is incredibly important to me), etc.

      This is rambling, so I hope it makes some sense, but I have a lot of thoughts about the Jewish/non-Jewish marriage…it’s hard to get just a few of them out.

      • Shiri

        I kind of love you right now. A lot. Is that wrong? I do.

        It’s funny, I work in a Jewish organization and so I feel very spiritually/culturally tied in right now, and I want that day-to-day connection for my (eventual, currently imaginary) child. You’re right, I need to start these things now in my home and develop them the way I want them to be for myself, not for this idea of a family like the one I grew up in, not for the idea of my child.

        And you’re right, under it all, it is both of us wanting to make the other feel happy, safe, and secure. It was hard to remember that in the first years as it pertained to religion, but it is a lot easier now.

        I feel for you and your husband – that 30 days is a lot more gentle than what I did to mine!

        Congrats on the impending new 3rd person and good luck!

      • meg

        ” From my point of view, it would be a lot harder to adopt a new set of “rules” (Shabbat dinners every week, Synagogue every week, etc) just because there is a baby. If it’s important to you now, make it important to you now. Don’t wait until there is a third party to introduce the things that you want to do…become a part of a synagogue if you’re not already, establish the practices you wish to incorporate with your family now – with your current family. And talk to your partner about why you want to do the things you want to do”

        THIS IS PERFECT. Also, I just generally agree with this anyway. I don’t think the best reason do practice religious traditions is because you have a kid. There is something a little hollow in that, and the kids going to get that. “Mom and Dad don’t care enough to do it for themselves, but we want you to do it.” (Holds true with anything, right? Your Moms don’t exercise, but we want you to exercise.”) If it’s important to you, you should do it because it’s important to you, and then it will still be important to you when you bring a kid into the mix.

        • Shiri

          Just one last thing to add here, which occurred to me when I read Here’s a Llama’s comment above: one of the only reasons I don’t do Shabbat now is because I know what I feel like when I light the Hanukkah candles when it is just me and my husband: alone, very very alone with my Judaism. And I guess I keep thinking with a baby, I’ll feel like there’s another Jew there.

          Clearly, I need to just invite some other Jews over on Fridays.

          • rys

            My religious observance vacillates a lot depending on the community I’m living in, so I totally get the “it feels lonely” element. That said, even now, I try to remember to invite others to celebrate shabbat and other holidays with me, in part so I do it and in part so I enjoy it.

            I’d always thought that if I could just find a partner to share celebrations/observance with, it would be easier. But now I’m dating a super secular Israeli who finds American Jewish holiday practices baffling, if not bizarre. It’s been quite fascinating to learn how someone steeped in Jewish culture, who knows all about the holidays and what one should do, approaches them. He has traditions of his own around the holidays, there’s just completely unfamiliar to me.

          • rys

            uh, “they’re just completely unfamiliar to me.”

          • moonitfractal

            What I feel like when I light the Hanukkah candles when it is just me and my husband: alone, very very alone with my Judaism.

            THIS. My husband’s reasons for not participating whole-heartedly in religious rituals or wanting to attend services have more to do, I think, with complicated feelings about organized religion in general, than the fact that we were raised in different traditions. I find it hard to have a religious life while being married to someone who doesn’t want one. On the plus side it made it easy to decide to have a Jewish wedding and raise our eventual kids to be Jewish, but on a day to day basis it gets hard. I’m curious how people in this thread who are in relationships where one partner is more religious than the other cope.

          • Shiri

            Moonitfractal, I wrote you a whole long reply on my phone and it got eaten. Which was to say: I feel you. Man, do I ever. My husband has been called an evangelical atheist – he is very anti religion. Because of that, it’s almost been easier to have his accept the big things – high holidays, etc – than the little things. He doesn’t have a faith of his own that mine is replacing, and he’s totally cool with cultural Judaism, especially as a historian. BUT, and it’s a big but, any time my cultural Judaism verges on religious, it is harder on both of us. I’m not particularly religious, but I like synagogue and that kind of thing, you know? It’s a constant conversation.

          • adria

            That’s a tough one….feeling alone. My husband taught me the words to the songs for the lighting of Hanukah candles and, while I don’t know what I’m really saying (I do, generally, but I don’t really speak Hebrew) I do join him in his practices whenever I can. That said, I can memorize pretty much anything set to music, be in in Hebrew or Latin or whatever…so, it might be a bit easier in that regard.

            Have you told your husband what you’re feeling?

            Also, I just want to say that even though you might be feeling alone, perhaps if you do things regularly they might become more of a second nature type of thing. I mean, fundamentally, you are not alone – even if you feel that way in a certain time or space – there are many many people observing what you’re observing. Stay strong and steadfast and it might become a bit easier to handle.

        • SarahG

          I agree. We are an ex Catholic atheist (me) and a lapsed Jewish agnostic/atheist (him). God just isn’t relevant to either of our daily experiences (except, in my case, as my former oppressor — not exactly positive!), and suddenly pretending he/she/it is important “for the kids” just feels really inauthentic. BUT the Catholic/Jewish stuff for both of us has cultural power, if not religious. And that’s where it gets fun, weird, and occasionally challenging. I’m afraid we’re turning into some kind of stereotypical San Francisco nutball family that has an earth-friendly solstice tree with Hannukah gelt on it just because we like 1. trees and 2. gold wrapped chocolate. While living like this makes us happy, sometimes I worry it seems superficial, or like we will be failing to pass on something important. But my b.s. detector says I need to let that go, because I never believed God was important anyway, and kids can smell inauthenticity from a mile away (I knew something was rotten in the state of Denmark when my dad fell asleep every week in the church pew…). It’s all a work in progress, but the most important thing/best lesson for kids, which I keep coming back to, is to be authentically ourselves, live the questions, be honest, and keep at it.

          • Authentic is always best, I think. Sounds like a really fun household :)

    • I’ve noticed in myself and some of my friends this tendency to get more religious in anticipation of a baby. It’s like I’m not that worried about my own soul. I have a good rhythm down for spirituality in my life, but it’s mostly in my head not my behavior. But when I have a baby, I want them to grow up in a spiritual community. So I started going to a Hindu devotional group weekly mostly because when I have kids I want them to go!

      My husband is interested in going to a UU church because he likes the community feeling there. I’m super sensitive about Christian influences (and I know, UU has barely any, but it still triggers a nervousness in me).

      • (And by “not my behavior” I mean I don’t go to temple all that often, not that I don’t try to live a good life and be kind to everyone!)

      • Paranoid Libra

        Actually in UU you can consider yourself a UU and a Hindu :) I just met a Hindu at a UU church this Sunday.

        • It’s true! I don’t know where my resistance is coming from. I’m really sensitive about being identified as a Christian. But if I just wear a sari to services until I get comfortable, I think that will take care of it! :)

  • We’re interfaith in that I am nominally Protestant and my husband is agnostic. For all the labels, we actually hold pretty similar views on the after life. I’ve definitely caught him “co-opting” view points that came from me explaining my personal beliefs.

    I’m personally really glad that we will have been married four years prior to our ceremony (currently just over three). We’ve had time to figure out how to work out our differences and I’m excited for our ceremony and how it will represent us. The main thing for us is that we know we love each other regardless of where else we might disagree. I hold some rather non-mainstream views as a Christian, and I do think that helps us make it work.

    There will be prayers – my Dad will pray to open the ceremony, his Dad to open the reception. We will be doing a ring warming/blessing allowing our families to pray over our rings as fit their own religious views. Other than that, our ceremony will be mostly non-religious.

  • C

    My fiance and I attend a liberal Christian church, but we struggle to figure out exactly what God means to both of us and how we’ll pass that tradition on to our future kids. I think it’s hard to understand what I’ll teach my kids about God and religion when I’m not 100% sure what *I* believe about religion and God. There are plenty of days when I think, “Man, God is a real dick for allowing that orphanage to be ravished by that tsunami.” And other days when my church community rallies to give food to the hungry and provide school supplies to underprivileged and I think, “I really get what this God thing is all about.”

    I’m not sure that any of this is at all helpful, but it’s where I’m at.

    • Laura C

      I think you just hit on something that hadn’t quite crystallized for me. As far as getting married — either the wedding or the regular religious practice — religion is not an issue for me and A. Neither of us was raised religious at all, we’re happy to have a religious song in the wedding if it’s a good song, happy to use vows closely derived from church vows, but not looking for overt active religiosity. And I don’t see either of us discovering religion if/when we’re raising children. But…while I wasn’t raised religious, I was raised by parents who had themselves spent years quite committed to faith, and that was always a really important context for me. I have a very deep set of moral values that are political, not religious, and I think I understand that differently because I take religion seriously even if I don’t practice it myself. Our child would be a generation further removed from an actual practice of religion, and I might worry about that a little.

      • Shiri

        Oooh, yes. ” Our child would be a generation further removed from an actual practice of religion, and I might worry about that a little.”

        I worry about this in my own way, too, and hadn’t phrased it to myself that way before. I’m saying this fear aloud in an attempt to excise it, and I realize how awful it is: I have a terrible fear that I’ll have children who won’t feel Jewish, or that they’ll marry non-Jews (like I did!) and therefore be one generation more removed from Jews who only identified as Jews. I worry that I’m watering Judaism down, when I don’t even believe it can be watered down! But it’s like my own tiny ultra-conservative Jewish Rush Limbaugh of sorts inside of me is screaming and my god, what if he’s right?

        Ok, so this ended up even uglier than I thought it would, and definitely far from your fear, so please be kind. Now that I’ve said it, it feels like a lie to un-say it.

        • Breck

          “ultra-conservative Jewish Rush Limbaugh”

          And now there is water all over my keyboard.

        • Laura C

          No kindness needed from me. It makes total sense — at least as a thing you worry about while rationally believing you shouldn’t. It’s about faith, assimilation, religious community — a whole bunch of really big, gut-level stuff.

        • Heather

          I get this- I’m the product of an interfaith marriage (Jewish and Protestant), and while we were raised to culturally experience some of the Jewish traditions, it wasn’t as important to my mom for us to attend synagogue, do Shabbat dinners, but my dad was a fairly frequent churchgoer, so growing up I was much more familiar with that. As an adult, I’m an atheist who identifies as somewhere in the muddle, but it’s very important to me to give my future children at least the cultural experiences I had growing up and there was a part of me that had hoped to one day marry a nice Jewish guy and bring it back to my Jewish heritage and raise Jewish children. But… I’m not, so I suppose my unborn children will be just as much of a religious mutt as I am (and be given the choice to decide for themselves like I was). FWIW, we’re tentatively planning to include at least some Jewish traditions in our ceremony, although neither of us want an overtly religious wedding, so the line has been watered down, but not completely lost :D

        • Brenda

          I think of it as, by introducing my husband and his family to Jewish traditions – we had them over for Seder with my family, and when Hanukkah fell over Christmas I brought my menorah and did candles with them, and we included Jewish elements in our mostly-secular wedding – I am expanding the community of Jews. They love it, and even though my husband will never convert (and it’s not important to me that he does) that he loves learning about and participating in my rituals, so that they become our rituals as a family. I’ve never been a shul-going Jew, it’s all about family and history for me, and I feel like we’re continuing and expanding our traditions rather than diluting my Jewishness.

      • the fact that you are committed to your moral values makes me think that you needn’t worry about your kids’ religious future. you can raise your children to take religion seriously without raising them in religion. the idea of respecting that which others value is an across-the-board good-parenting thing that has little to do with the details of religion.

        • This is a really interesting conversation, and I find that I’m having a hard time crafting a reply, even though I really want to add something. Please forgive my weird ramblings as I try to sort through my thoughts on this!

          I think I agree with everything Lady Brett is saying, and definitely the last line (“the idea of respecting that which others value is an across-the-board good-parenting thing that has little to do with the details of religion.”), because people of every religion should be teaching their kids to respect all religions. The one thing about being “in” a religion, especially if you go to a church (or whatever you want to call it), is the community aspect. I would probably have the same morals just from my parents being who they are, but if I hadn’t gone to the Buddhist youth group I attended (see next paragraph…), I wouldn’t have had that same sense of community, and of working out my issues with other kids like me, instead of just my parents. I was also really proud of my religion, which can be tricky being part of a minority religion in the US, and I think going to a group with other American Buddhists helped me feel like I wasn’t alone.

          My parents are both lapsed Catholics, but my mom went the agnostic route and my dad has been a hardcore Buddhist for the majority of his life at this point. My brother and I went to a Buddhist youth group (which was awesome, so no qualms there), and I remember my parents saying something about wanting us to go there to learn ethics… I think something about them both being raised religious made them feel like we needed to go to a religious group to learn morals, which is kindof a strange concept when I think about it that way.

          Part of me knows that my husband and I will teach our future children to have strong ethics, just because that’s the way we are (partially stemming from a political side, like Laura C), but there’s definitely a part of me that feels like I should send my kids to a Buddhist group like I went to, because I loved that part of my childhood.

          Like Shiri, the “Our child would be a generation further removed from an actual practice of religion, and I might worry about that a little” line struck me, too, because I feel like having my dad be a super religious Buddhist is a defining feature of my family, so it somehow seems important to emulate for my kids. BUT then I remembered that a lot of the time my dad’s intensity about Buddhist stuff kindof drove me crazy (and still does sometimes). I believe in the basic philosophy and morals of Buddhism even though I don’t practice or go to a group anymore, so I want my kids to get the ethics part, but maybe they don’t need that example of serious religious practice to understand the morals?

          I’m definitely still trying to figure this all out…

  • moe

    “But over the years, some of the most important conversations we’ve had about religion haven’t been the interfaith ones. They’ve been the personal ones, the conversations about our individual belief systems.”

    This is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak!

    I went to a Christian college. One of my professors in theology would lead discussions on very fundmental tenets of faith and then ask something like “So when put into practice, what does this look like?” Far more insightful and impactful are the ways thought influences our actions. Our theology (theology meaning what you think about God, so even an atheist has a theology of sorts) plays a part in how we are in relationship.

    I could write an entire blog about growing up in pentecostal church. I’ve left behind much of that life and level of involvement in the church is marginal now. Upon meeting my future father in-law he had expressed to his son that he was nervous to meet someone who had gone to such a prestigous bible college. I almost wish he hadn’t mentioned it, because I felt like his dad was constantly questioning and evaluating my beliefs.

    Sometimes I’m downright reluctant to disclose my background because the labels of denominations get in the way of building relationship.

    • KC

      That’s a really good question. (and also a good questions so people don’t get as sidetracked on ridiculous theoretical stuff; not that it isn’t sometimes fun to talk about ridiculous theoretical stuff [xkcd’s what-if column is GREAT], but it’s usually not all that helpful in a practical or relational sense)

      Protestant denominational labels: generally not helpful, in my experience. I mean, they’re usually most helpful as hints about things that aren’t technically related to the denomination, but are more about what sort of general views/people have tended to encamp under which words or organizations, which basically means they’ve devolved into stereotypes rather than technically meaningful labels.

      I wish there was a checklist/priorities ranking for beliefs and practices instead, for churches and people. It seems like it would be fun and potentially useful for helping people not get bent out of shape about things that, in retrospect, they don’t actually consider as central.

      • moe

        In my experience, ranking priorities seems to become really evident when someone is looking for a church. Sometimes people THINK they really just want to find a place that has good music, or a good sunday school program for kids. But then after visiting a few places it becomes apparent that what really matters to them is that a congregation is diverse, or that there’s opportunity to volunteer, etc.

        Perhaps when you actually have to put beliefs into practice it makes you consider what it really important to you.

      • Julia

        On the surface level, for casual participants, maybe denominational labels seem meaningless. But when you get really deep into a church, the theological differences between mainline denominations matter a lot more. My husband and I both work for the United Methodist Church. Our denomination helps us prioritize which aspects of our faith are most important for us to live out. For us, the Methodist legacy of social justice is at the heart of our faith, our relationship, and the life we’re building together. It has shaped our career decisions, lifestyle, interests, and dreams. I guess all I’m trying to say is that once you go to theological school and study church history, the differences between mainline churches become more clear and compelling.

  • Bethany

    My long-term boyfriend was raised Catholic; I was raised ELCA Lutheran. Neither of us have much connection to religion anymore (except in purely cultural ways), and we both consider ourselves to be agnostic. But religion is still important to both of our mothers. My mother has told me that if/when we get married, she’d be extremely upset if we didn’t do it in a church – even if it’s outside with a pastor involved, it somehow won’t be enough. My boyfriend’s mother would be sad if we weren’t married in a Catholic mass. It’s interesting to me that religion is still “at play” with us even though neither of us are religious. There are still a lot of cultural things that I think we both picked up from our upbringings, and there is a BIG difference between Catholic and ELCA Lutheran.

    • Chiara M

      How do you and your partner feel about the fact that you’d have a religious ceremony? Do you think it would change the quality of the event by having the ceremony be religious?

      My partner and I are in a similar situation, raised Christian (me Catholic, him Baptist), both sets of parents still pretty observant, but both of us atheists and pretty serious about that.

      I went to a wedding this weekend where the couple were also both atheist, and they had a Christian ceremony. It was strange, but I felt like it was almost more meaningful in some weird, inexplainable, cosmic way that they were referencing God when I knew they didn’t believe in God. Like they were speaking to the universe. Every time I try to examine why or how it felt that way, though, I feel really New Agey and I give up.

      It’s really made me reconsider my conviction that the ceremony should be secular.

      • Bethany

        Honestly, my partner and I haven’t really discussed, but I’ve thought about it a lot. My stepsister and her husband were not raised religious, and they had a completely secular ceremony (presided over by my childhood pastor, bizarrely) that somehow didn’t sit well with me. But every religious wedding that I go to doesn’t feel right, either. I somehow want to acknowledge the cultural aspects of my growing up in the church without being out-and-out religious. And I feel like anything acknowledging a “higher power” – even though I’m agnostic – would be either a) New Age-y or b) misconstrued as being about god.

        So I guess I’m no help for you! But I totally know what you’re saying.

    • Pdizzle

      My husband and I continue to run into this. Neither of us are Christian, but my husband’s family is Catholic (very active). We crafted a lovely secular wedding ceremony with our UU minister. His mother made it known she would prefer a Catholic ceremony, but it was non-negotiable for us and in the end she respected our decisions.

      Now with new babies in the family, the fact that we aren’t Catholic (and are married in the eyes of the law and our community but not the Catholic church) keeps rearing its head.

      • ElfPuddle

        You are married in the eyes of the church. Two people who have a Hindu ceremony would be married in the eyes of the church. You just aren’t married *in* the church. That doesn’t mean that we Catholics don’t recognize your marriage. It means the wedding wasn’t a sacrament. There’s a big difference.

  • I’m a lapsed Catholic, after 12 years of parochial school and faithful church attendance. I stopped going to church in college in part because Sundays just weren’t convenient, and in part because I never felt like I was part of a community of faith there. Recently, as I’ve been tentatively seeking more clarity around my belief system (defining it for myself, so I can express it better to others), I’ve found that I really hate to be labeled one way or the other. As though someone could know my personal belief system just by knowing I’m Lutheran or Catholic or Buddhist or anything else. I’m starting yoga training next month, and I think that process will help me further seek clarification.

    My partner, though raised Presbyterian, is agnostic/atheist. I’ve asked him about his belief system and the most definitive answer was that he believes in equality. On one hand, I see him act on his beliefs daily. On the other, exploring and defining belief systems is something I would hope to approach in premarital counseling. The prevalent idea for our eventual wedding so far is to have a Quaker ceremony, without an officiant. I’d much prefer to leave organized religion out, as it doesn’t play into our relationship, though my partner has stated that if I want a religious ceremony, he’s okay with it.

    As much as some of the Pinterest-y crafts are a bit cheesy for my tastes, I really like the idea I found there of having written in our home “Our family believes in:. . . . ” as a reminder to both of us to check in on our actions, basically an outline of where our individual belief systems overlap.

    • Substitute “ELCA Lutheran with 12 years of parochial school (at conservative Wisconsin Synod schools…long story, don’t ask)” for Catholic and “raised lightly Episcopalian” for Presbyterian and you have my fiance and I. (Right down to the reason I stopped going to church regularly in college.)

      I like to call myself “liberal Lutheran with Unitarian swirls and pagan-y sprinkles” in terms of how I view my spirituality. M, on the other hand, is hard to pin down. In one of our early email conversations about the topic he said that he had “never seriously questioned [his] core spiritual (un)belief.” He admires other people’s religious beliefs, but has no desire to have any for himself. In fact, he seems downright uncomfortable with the idea of spiritual belief.

      So, while I tell him that he always has an open invitation to come to holiday services with me, I basically never push the issue.

      • My mom was raised ELCA Lutheran, and converted to Cathlicism when I was in second grade. We have always been closer (geographically and emotionally) to my mom’s side of the family, so that’s always been another complicating factor in my faith history (any religious authority intimating that any of my beloved family members weren’t going to heaven because. . .communion was different?? Not cool, kid-self said. Not cool)

        We rarely have conversations about religion– I just get so frustrated about his lack of clear expression, in words, about complex concepts, that it’s hard for me to keep talking calmly. He expresses respect for *people* who have a devout faith life, but not necessarily respect for the particular faith itself. I think he’s more of the “opiate of the masses” opinion, but even asked for more explanation there, I’m not sure he’s clarified that to himself. (See:” any attitude possibly interpreted as dismissive towards my background as a ticket to my confrontational side”) I could never see him attend a religious service with me, and I would never ask, except in one hypothetical situation, in which remembering my grandfather would be more important to me (and thus, him) than the religious aspects.

        Also, the pagan-y sprinkles in my belief system are the parts that ring truest. Cue freakout of conservative Irish Catholic family members if I’d ever say it to them. One of my aunts was legitimately concerned, and much torn, over allowing her kids to read/watch Harry Potter, as she thought it would glorify witches, in the Wiccan sense. Meanwhile, my mom stunned my partner when she spoke nonchalantly about having to burn sage in the house to get rid of ghosts. Eesh, I sound complicated.

        • Not complicated, just complex.

          I don’t think M has the “opiate of the masses” take on it. He just genuinely doesn’t feel a connection to religion or spirituality. He even likes reading about religions as interesting fiction (the Bible, the Mahabarata, etc.).

          He says that he is too lazy for deep spiritual self-reflection and examination. I think he does feel a little bit uncomfortable about that fact. (He has a similar self-consciousness about what he sees as laziness about doing charitable or political work, or about his own vegetarianism, combined with a disinclination to be less lazy about these things. It’s…complex.)

      • Katie

        What I find fascinating, heartwarming and heart wrenching about this open thread, is that all of us (even those who were raised in the same tradition as their partners) face spiritual dilemmas within marriage and child rearing. It’s true that belief systems are now cultivated and curated on a personal level, which I think is a huge step forward for individual peace – but obviously poses issues when it comes to forming and maintaining community. Community is still so very important to our happiness… Seeking, rejecting, learning and accepting have been a huge part of becoming an adult for me. But that was when I was proudly alone and independent and so what I came up with is proving problems in my paired up life. It seems that none of us are immune to the eventual roadblocks, uncomfortable conversations and, yes, even isolation at times in our partnerships because of this highly personal element of modern religion/belief/non-belief. It’s a feeling of “together alone.” With no way around it, I’m glad to see that so many of us have recognized what’s more important in partnership and paired up in spite of the religious differences. It seems this stuff shouldn’t matter when people are not religious or are atheist, but even in my case (Me Catholic Atheist, Him Jewish Atheist) the issues will continue to get bigger and bigger – at least until the kids are all out of the house and settled whichever way they may choose. Siiigh but oh, alright. We’re all in this together (alone).

        • Wow, that is so right re: personal belief vs. community belonging. I really want to belong to a strong community– that’s what I loved about my grandparents’ church so much, that everyone knew each other and each others’ families– but at the same time, I dislike being labeled and I dislike having assumptions made about me. I wonder, if the social and political climate around religious institutions and geographical communities was less divisive and isolating, whether more individuals could find a spiritual community, even with small differences in theology.

          That’s some really good food for thought, Katie, thanks :-)

  • I’m not religious and my fiancé is militant anti-theist. We felt very strongly that god shouldn’t feature on our wedding day as much as it confused and probably upset our parents. There will be no prayers, bleasings, hymns or biblical readings. I personally feel that the promises I make on our wedding day are to my fiance and don’t need them validated in the eyes of a god i don’t believe in to make them real or any more long lasting.

    I have seen lots of people who don’t attend a church decide they want to get married in one, which I find quite bizzare but for a long time church weddings were traditional and people weren’t keen to step outside of this.

    It’s great to see people embracing weddings creatively outside of religion and find their own meaningful way to celebrate their love.


  • Anon

    As an agnostic marrying an atheist, I didn’t think I’d have anything to add to the discussion, but I do have something to ask:

    My future husband and I don’t pray to any God, but if we had a God, it would be humor. Creating and sharing laughter is our favorite thing to do together, and also with our friends and family. We’re finding ways to inject humor into our ceremony, such as having the officiant interrupt with a football score update (I’ve made the cardinal Southern sin of scheduling a wedding during football season).

    We’ve been considering incorporating some light religious/cultural traditions to our ceremony. In our conversation, we envisioned it going somthing like this: Towards the end of the ceremony, the officiant would annouce in some tactful and subtle way that our community of friends and family knows we’re not religious, but we’re going to do everything “just in case.” Followed by a routine of glass-breaking, broom jumping and anything else I can research that can be done in five seconds or less.

    There’s two reasons for this idea: It’s funny (hopefully), and it genuinely applies to my agnostic sensabilities that I have no idea what who might care for me in this life or what lies for me in the possible next life and I better do it all just in case.

    Is this tasteless for those in our company who believe in one religion or another? Does it make a farce out of something very important to someone? Is it rude to ask an officiant to do this, even a non-secular one? Is it silly and stupid? Is it impractical?

    • Emmy

      Because you asked, I will answer. Personally, I find it a bit off-putting. I’m not even a religious person, but people take their religious and cultural traditions very seriously, and you’re making light of them. I’m also just not a fan of silliness in wedding ceremonies, because I think they should be serious. But obviously, that’s just my own opinion and this idea (or other silliness) may be authentic and appropriate to you.

    • anontoo

      I think this might be actually distasteful or on the limits of cultural / religious appropriation.
      Though I get your let’s do it “just in case” philosophy (which is why I read horoscopes or light candles or believe in wishy-washy hippie stuff when I feel it is convenient)… I think this may be offensive for the people who believe in those rituals / symbols and for whom they have a very deep meaning.
      It’s similar to people who wear rosaries around their neck for fashion… I just can’t handle it. You don’t have to believe, but you are not allowed to just use others traditions that mean something it as you wish. (Well that’s how I view it).

    • Shiri

      I see what you’re trying to do there, but I’d also be a little put off. It’s cultural appropriation taken to a purposefully meaningless level, you know? And not to be insulting, but I’d feel like you were distilling my faith/heritage down to one stereotype, almost. It isn’t just “I think this is beautiful so let’s do it, even though it means something to someone else” but even more – “I know some people find meaning in this and I don’t but I think it would be funny to do it in a silly way and have people laugh at someone else’s meaningful tradition.”

    • Sarah

      It might be a technical point, but jumping the broom and breaking the glass are cultural traditions and do not have religious meanings. I’m Jewish so can only speak to the glass but it is a reminder of the destruction of the Temple (our holiest site) and that in times of joy, we must remember our times of sorrow. Its my understanding (I am no expert) that jumping the broom is a tradition that arose from the slave communities in the South.

      • MK

        And jumping the broom was only a marriage tradition because the slaves weren’t allowed traditional marriage rites of any form. Broom-jumping was quick and “stealthy,” as things go. While as a religious person I find the other appropriates distasteful, that one seems particularly hurtful as a reminder of slavery (and I say that as a white Southerner.)

        • Kitty

          I just wanted to comment on the origins of jumping of the broom because I think there are a few of misconceptions about it. As my partner is African American (and I am biracial both African American and Caucasian), we discussed this tradition. I too believed that the origins of the tradition arose in slave communities in the South but the tradition itself predates slavery. It was a tradition brought by the slaves themselves and has African roots. The jumping used to happen over sticks to represent the new home the married partners would build together. While the actual broom elicits quite the visceral response for yours truly (I have a hard time with “re claiming” traditions but my partner is all about it), I have agreed to jumping over sticks to pay homage to the origins of the tradition.

          I’ve also seen the jumping of the broom in a Wiccan ceremony done by a couple of friends of mine and I have to admit I was incredibly uncomfortable as they were both Caucasian and I have always understood it as an African American tradition. It had meaning to them and is actually a tradition in their religion but I still had the reaction and I think people attending the wedding of the original commenter might have similar reactions if they know the traditions you choose were a “just in case” type of thing.

          • TGal

            Hi Kitty,
            I am from Scotland, and I just went to my first wedding in the US (an African American couple) and I was surprised to see them jump the broom. I understood it to be a Celtic tradition, rooted in Pagan practices that pre-dates Christianity in my country. I had a very interesting discussion with some of the other wedding guests about our shared wedding practice and some of them told me that jumping the broom in the African American tradition was born of Animist practices in central Africa. I think there are a lot of similar practices in Animist/Pagan religions and it belongs equally to both communities. (As a side note, I also recently attended an Orthodix Jewish wedding and was super happy to find out that the dancing is very, very similar to ceilidh dancing in Scottish weddings! I had a blast showing off our Scottish variations on a theme and learning about the origins of the particular steps known to this group.) I know there has been a lot of talk on APW about inappropriate appropriation of religious/cultural practices, but I honestly believe that we can tell the story of our common humanity by finding the similarities in how we choose to celebrate births and marriages, and how we ceremonise our goodbyes to the dead. It honestly made me feel connected to this new group of people to see them participate in a ritual that my parents, grandparents, and generations before them took part in over in Scotland. To the OP, I think you have to decide for yourself if these practices have significant meaning for you to partake of them. Whatever your decision, know that there will be some in attendance for whom the practice has special cultural or religious meaning and having it appropriated into your wedding for comedic purposes might not be as funny to them.

      • Laura C

        That’s a really good point. I too was somewhat put off by this whole idea, and your framing is a reminder that not only are the things named not so much religious as cultural, but they’re from cultures that have been grossly discriminated against and oppressed. I probably would argue against mocking other people’s faiths no matter what, but if you’re going to do it, at least give the culturally dominant ones a poke, too. Otherwise it really has uncomfortable overtones.

      • Jen

        I have also heard the breaking of the glass to be symbolic of the shards of creation. “And just as the world was created by G-d, the couple is creating a new world together.” Or something. It was a reform rabbi who told me it was her favorite explanation, and one she liked to use at weddings.

        • Sarah

          I’ve heard several explanations for the glass but think the most common one (and the one my husband and I thought made the most sense for us) was the Temple. The creation one was one, as was that the broken glass is a reminder that what is broken can’t be fully repaired as it was before but that more applies to the breaking of the plate.

    • TeaforTwo

      I know that you and your husband are not religious, but it’s likely that some of your guests are, and that they will be offended if you turn their religious and/or cultural traditions into a gag.

      Additionally, while I agree that sharing laughter is a beautiful way to build community, and I have had some great big deep belly laughs at weddings, but I think a wedding ceremony is serious business. There are often lots of laughs – unruly flower girls, readings with humour, etc. – but the ceremony itself and the rituals it involves are deeply serious and reflect life-altering promises. Turning wedding ceremony traditions into a joke – to me – raises questions of what parts of the wedding WERE serious, so I would steer clear.

    • meg

      I would be very uncomfortable. I think way more uncomfortable about the appropriation of jumping of the broom, which comes from hardship and deprivation, than anything else, but really off put by all of it.

      Do what you believe, no just in case, anyway.

    • Addie

      If I were your wedding guest I would hope that I knew you well enough not to be offended, but…if I saw two non-black people jumping a broom I would lose my sh*t a little. Noncultural “safety nets” if you will, go nuts. Wanna throw sand in jar real quick or light a candle? Go for it. But it would be really upsetting to see a culture’s traditions thrown together like a montage without the proper respect to each being paid.

      • TGal

        I commented similarly above but I wanted to reiterate my point in direct response to your comment. I am from Scotland, and for us jumping the broom is a Celtic tradition rooted in Pagan practices that pre-dates Christianity in my country. I understand that jumping the broom in the African American tradition is rooted in the
        the Animist practices that were brought over to the US by slaves from central Africa. I think there are a lot of similarities in Pagan/Animist religions and it belongs equally to both communities.

        • Addie

          I think this is one of those situations where you need to” know your people.” If I came to your wedding in Scotland and you and your partner jumped a broom, I would assume it was part of a Scottish tradition I didn’t know but was probably tied to the African American tradition in same way. Traditions are sometimes very old and travel very far; especially traditions regarding marriage.

          But (and this may be my deep South showing) if I were at an American wedding there the wedding celebrant jumbled a whole bunch of wedding traditions together that they did not identify with but “just in cases”? I would be. ..not pleased. In the US where cultural appropriation and race are very, very sensitive topics (just google Miley Cyrus), the “just in case” argument simply isn’t good enough.

          So my objection to it is less “that’s a sacred black tradition so you can’t if you’re not black” and more “there is a LOT tied up in this ritual that could lead to more offense than you may have considered therefore I would say leave it out.”

    • heres_a_llama

      I’m another Jew chiming in for I would personally find this really jarring. As someone else said, this broken glass symbolizes the two-time destruction of our holiest place on Earth – where we though G-d lived on this planet. When it was destroyed the second time, we as a people were also scattered into exile, where we lived for centuries subjected to anti-semitic persecution for simply being who we are.

      We do it now to show that even at our happiest times, we remember where we came from. It’s a sad moment. Movies don’t get it right with the crunch Mazal tov! It’s not a happy act that people are congratulating. It’s crunch let’s remember the past …. mazal tov for just getting married.

      G-d doesn’t factor into Jewish marriages like it does into others. Two Jewish adults decide to marry, exchange an object of value, have witnesses sign the ketubah, and consummate the marriage. We don’t say vows because we acknoledge that this may end in divorce and neither party should be put in the position of breaking their vows. We don’t promise G-d anything, get anything from G-d, or anything. There’s nothing to “just in case” for…

      If you wanted humor, perhaps just scream mazal tov in excitement and happiness.

    • Sarah

      I would be offended. As a Jew married to a black man, if a non-Jewish, non-Black couple broke the glass “for good luck,” or jumped the broom “just in case,” both of us would look at each other with complete surprise.

      The jumping of the broom is a powerful symbol of overcoming the binds of slavery through community recognition of marriage, because slaves were not allowed to legally marry.

      Breaking the glass has various interpretations (likely none “religious”) but tied to cultural Judaism. Appropriate these traditions when they are not your own wouldn’t show humor, it would show ignorance of the importance of these traditions to those who actually believe in them.

      • Sarah


    • As others have said, I would find this very off-putting. I get what you’re trying to do: nod to the variety of cultures and traditions surrounding marriage and have a bit of fun while you’re at it. The problem is, even if you don’t mean it it this way, you’re having a bit of fun *at the expense of* these other traditions.

    • Lizzie

      Wow, my first reaction to your idea of doing other cultures’ wedding traditions was “this is hilarious and I’d love to see it.” But then I read the comments and got, I suppose, appropriately schooled. I should add that I’m an atheist so I have no basis for offense at having a cultural tradition borrowed.

      I like the more abstract ideas like unity candle/sand/cocktail/sandwich. What’s the goofiest “unity ritual” you and your FH can come up with? That might express your sense of humor without offending people. I recall Offbeat Bride has some fun ideas.

  • Marie

    My fiance & I are both Unitarian Universalists (actually met at UU youth group back in the day), both of our parents are UUs, and we know 100% that our hypothetical kids would be raised UU as well. So in that sense we are pretty lucky that this particular issue doesn’t bring up any familial tensions. One of the very first things that attracted me to him was not only that he was also raised a UU, but that he appreciated the same things about it that I did and had similar critiques about certain things. Gotta love a man with critical thinking skills. It’s been great over the years to have more in-depth conversations about our beliefs, like Meg wrote about, and to know that even with slight disagreements we are basically on the same page.

    It is presenting some challenges, though, because we are both spiritual people and want that to be evident at our weddings, but there aren’t really traditional UU wedding traditions that we can fall back on. It gives us a lot of freedom to really make the ceremony ours, which I know will be so rewarding in the end, but the task seems very daunting… I’ve seen religious acquaintances plan weddings in like 3 months because so many of the ceremony details are already figured out, and sometimes I am a teeny tiny little bit envious.

    So, any tips for ceremonies that are spiritual but mostly non-denominational?

    • Catherine McK

      I loved this booklet:

      It’s been shared around these parts before, but I found it very helpful in terms of layout, suggested vows, readings, etc. We were lucky in that my aunt officiated and worked really hard to craft a ceremony that worked for us and our lack of traditional religious beliefs, but had we not had her, I think would would have used this as a framework. We did chose vows from it, and I still smile every time I think of them.

      • Catherine McK

        Well shoot, it looks like the link doesn’t work, so sorry! It works in my bookmark I have the PDF version and can email it to you if you’d like (catherine dot brouillette @ gmail dot com)

    • Pdizzle

      I’d be happy to share the ceremony we crafted with our UU minister if you’d like. Ours is relatively traditional, but our minister was open to really anything.

      • Marie

        That would be great! My e-mail address is marie dot schow at gmail dot com. Our UU friend who’s officiating is also open to anything, but it would be nice to have a couple examples to get me really thinking. Thanks!!

    • We had a unitarian wedding (is that the same as universal unitarian?) I am happy to share ours if you would like it.

      I thought (although I am biased!!) that we managed to get it to feel spiritual without being religious and our guests both very religious and very non religious took somethign from it. xoxo

      • Marie

        I would love to see your ceremony! That sounds exactly like what we’re going for. My e-mail’s in the comment above, THANKS!

  • APracticalLaura

    My husband is Catholic, while I’m Jewish. In our day-to-day lives, religion is rarely practiced. However, we both have strong ties to certain traditions that have been ingrained in us since we were little.

    One of the things that we struggle most with is the prospect of having kids and what religious ceremonies we’ll partake in once they’re born. If we have a boy, will he have a bris? Will we have a baptism for our newborn baby?

    My husband feels strongly that if we don’t baptize our (future) child, s/he’ll be destined for hell. Which, of course, means I’ll be heading there with them (having not been baptized myself). This point-counterpoint puts us at a standstill every time.

    Oh wise APW community, how do we reconcile this conundrum?

    • Shiri

      Lady lady, come up thread where Meg is helping me hash out my future :) It feels good and is reassuring. I can’t help you on the hell thing, but it does sound like you have the best rebuttal to it ever.

    • adria

      Personally, I think you need to decide upon your general plan for your family and for any future children. I think, at least from my experience, that somewhere you will find that one person has at least a small bit of a dominating point of view and that will allow you to build the foundation of your choices.

      I never expected to fall in love with a Jew or to raise my children Jewish, but it’s where I am now. And, as such, no matter how I view a baptism, it would be a bit silly to have a baptism and a bris, you know? You kind of have to pick. Sure, there are families who can do two religions or celebrate in two ways (we have a Christmas tree that is decorated in blue and silver only), but that happened after we figured out our starting point.

    • meg

      I also want to add that you can’t have a baptism and a bris. I’ve been on both sides of this fence, and both of them are religiously binding your child into one faith, promising to raise them in that faith and no other. No member of clergy would do one with you, if you were doing the other. In fact, a bris has legal jewish issues attached as well. It’s what allows your child citizenship in Israel, should they ever want it. Can’t mix that with baptism.

      Which is to say, find clergy, find therapy, work this out now. It’s a big one, I’m not going to lie to you.

      • meg

        Which isn’t to say you can’t raise a child in two faiths, just that you actually can’t do a bris and a baptism, and not have them be literally empty rituals that are not binding for either faith.

        • Marcela

          For the Catholic faith and canonic law not baptizing the children (let’s not even get into raising them into another faith and doing a bris) is even a cause of annulment of a catholic marriage. The husband of a friend who was originally Muslim had to sign documents in church before the wedding committing to raising their children in the Catholic faith before they could have a Catholic wedding – that’s only because they found a flexible priest, because most would ask the non-Catholic partner to convert. So yes, serious issue with legal consequences attached to it and no, I don’t think you would find any serious priest who would accept you to do both.

          • Lindsey

            The non-Catholic spouse agreeing to raise the children in the faith is actually pretty standard. It’s not a case of a flexible priest, but an appeal to the Vatican to allow the non-Catholic spouse to marry in the church. But then again, even if both spouses are Catholic, they have to agree to raise the children as Catholics to marry in the church.

          • Wendi

            If you had a Catholic ceremony, your husband, as the Catholic one in the marriage, is obligated to raise his children Catholic. The Church requires no obligation from the non-Catholic. No one would ask the non-Catholic partner to convert either.

          • Just to be technical, the official rules post Vatican II require the Catholic spouse ONLY to sign the document pledging to raise the children Catholic- the non-Catholic spouse no longer has to sign anything.

            Additionally, the wording is intentionally loose of “do everything in my power” to raise the children Catholic rather than “will most definitely do this.”

            My husband signed it even though we plan to raise our children Jewish (which the Deacon who officiated our wedding knew full well) and says that he did everything in his power but I was just too pretty.

          • Marcela

            Well, what I am talking about happened in the ’80s in Argentina (post Vatican Council II).

          • Interesting, I wonder if its a diocesan thing as to how they implemented that decision.

            When I read about it sounded like it was going to be a big dramatic moment of my husband having to pledge to raise Catholic kids, and then it was really just one of a giant stack of papers that went by without much ado.

      • Izzy

        “It’s what allows your child citizenship in Israel, should they ever want it.”

        This is absolutely not true. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of Russian immigrants to Israel who were not circumcised when they arrived and became citizens under the Law of Return. The Law of Return requires only that you have a Jewish grandparent (or that you have converted and are accepted as a Jew by one of the major streams of Judaism) and that you do not practice any other religion. And there was even an exception to that last requirement when an ordained priest of Jewish heritage became a citizen, though he had to sue.

        What is a different matter is what sort of status someone has under Israeli law. You can be recognized by the state as a Jew but not considered Jewish by the rabbinate. Since the rabbinate controls marriage and divorce, and there’s no secular marriage in Israel, a child who is not considered Jewish by the (ultra-) Orthodox-controlled rabbinate can run into problems. I don’t know what happens if someone who can prove matrilineal lineage for umpteen generations (which is what they’re now requiring, bastards) isn’t circumcised, or if that would even become known. But if you are not considered Jewish by the rabbinate and want one of their approved conversions… better be circumcised.

        Finally, you have said previously in this thread that being circumcised makes a child Jewish. This is also not true. There is a requirement that male-assigned children be circumcised. Before the age of majority, this responsibility falls to the parents (traditionally the father). If for some reason the child is never circumcised, then they have a responsibility to get this done when they come of age. Failing to circumcise/failing to be circumcised is a sin, but it is NOT, again IS NOT, a revocation of one’s status as a Jew. Absolutely not. (After all, if not being circumcised made one not a Jew, then how would female-assigned children be Jewish?)

      • Ruth

        Just wanted to put this out there, if it’s helpful, since my husband and I are in this same situation: there are other options out there. Our compromise, if we have a son, would be to do an interfaith blessing ceremony. Both our priest and rabbi friends would be present. The child would not be baptized, but rather receive a blessing from the priest, and he would be circumcised, but not considered jewish, unless he converts as an adult. We came up with this plan as a way to honor our heritages, and leave our children their choice of religion when they’re old enough to choose for themselves. Not all clergy are open to interfaith baby blessings, but some are.

  • Emmy

    I’m atheist/agnostic, and have been for many, many years. My family is culturally Protestant but generally pretty solidly agnostic or at least non-religious. My husband is Quaker, as is his family, though he doesn’t belong to a meeting. We decided to have a Quaker wedding, though we removed all references to God.

    We spent a lot of time explaining the Quaker thing to my family, and we were a little nervous about how all our guests would handle the silence. But in the end, the ceremony was amazing. Stunning. Completely overwhelming in its simplicity, beauty and sincerity.

    I loved that we were able to make room for my (lack of) faith in the ceremony, but also have a traditional wedding. Doing something that generations of his family have done was very meaningful. I also love that we gave ourselves to each other, without an officiant.

    Going forward, we’re not sure how we’ll handle children and faith. It’s important to both of us to give them a foundation in religion, and I find the Society of Friends to be open enough that I’m comfortable there even in my agnosticism. But we don’t foresee us joining a meeting. We’ll probably just weave it into the fabric of our family.

    • Brenda

      Are you in an area that has Quaker schools? I’m Jewish, but I grew up in Philadelphia which has a very strong tradition of Quaker schools, and I went to one for kindergarten to sixth grade. There wasn’t much overt religion, but we did have school-wide meeting every week. As a child, I hated having to sit still for 20 minutes, but as an adult I really appreciate the Quaker values and the experience of a very welcoming sect of Christianity. It was very mixed (I think there was one actual Quaker child in the school!) but they did a great job of explaining the Quaker idea that we each talk to God on our own, and of exploring and accepting other religions.

      • Emmy

        We’re a little outside that area, but my husband grew up in Chester County and attended a Quaker school that his parents, siblings and other relatives also attended. It’s something that we might explore when the time comes.

  • “Life is long, religious history is complicated, and we’ll probably never figure it out, though we’ll die trying.”

    No pun intended, AMEN, Meg!

    My husband and I are trying to navigate the extremely muddy waters of a religiously-blended family (I’m a Lutheran-converted-to-Judaism as an adult and he’s an agnostic-who-was-raised-Lutheran with a very Catholic family, don’t ask me how that works) and it is not easy. Thank you for your “advice on a complex situation”. It’s nice to know that someone (lots of someones, probably) are dealing with the same tricky issues.

    • MDBethann

      As an aside from a practicing, life-long Lutheran, there are some Lutheran churches out there (including one I attended in Pittsburgh) that we half-jokingly say are “more Catholic than the Catholics” in the area. I think it really depends on how a congregation (or family/faith community) has maintained traditions throughout the decades. This particular church, being in Pittsburgh, drew immigrants from all parts of Europe, so I imagine they incorporated some of the “more Catholic” aspects – stations of the cross, incense, etc – along with some very Orthodox-style mosaics and dome-shapes in the interior of the building, because of the vastly different heritages of the Lutherans in the community. Lutheranism is a product of the “Reformation” and its attempts to “reform” the Roman Catholic church, so maintaining some of the trappings of Catholicism never struck me as that odd; it just wasn’t what I was used to (having grown up in very German ELCA Lutheran communities).

  • My question is about raising kids, rituals, and non-religious partners.

    I am Catholic, 12 years parochial school, large family, still attend regularly and find it meaningful, but I don’t agree with the Church on everything, especially issues with women and hierarchy. My husband was raised Episcopal (mom Catholic and Dad Lutheran, they “compromised” and raised the kids Episcopal until they divorced) but now considers himself Deist. We have a baby who was recently baptized Catholic.

    1) How do I raise this child Catholic without indoctrinating him in things I don’t believe in? I remember how I read Bible stories as a child and went to Sunday school and was taught that things like Adam and Eve and the flood literally happened, and that’s not what I believe now. But how do you teach a child who’s not developmentally ready for complicated ideas things like evolution and the Bible as a myth? I just imagine sending my kid to Sunday school and cringing when he comes home telling me about fantastic Bible stories as if they really happened.

    2) When our child is older, I will want to do things like add small religious rituals to our daily life, like a dinnertime prayer and a bedtime prayer. My husband didn’t like this idea when I ran it by him. Prayer makes him uncomfortable. And he’s really bad at articulating why, and hates it when I push him to examine himself. What kind of inoffensive rituals can we establish? And how can I approach this topic with my husband when the topic itself makes him so uncomfortable?

    • Sarah

      You are not alone in the first question! While my husband and I haven’t discussed details, I imagine we will share in the excitement as our children learn these stories and, when they are older, teach them to think critically. We hope to teach our kids critical thinking skills for everything – not just religion. Personally, I don’t think there is anything wrong with young kids believing innocently in those grand tales – its adds to their innocence.

      In terms of your second question, can you adapt a prayer without it being to a higher power? For example, at a meal expressing thankfulness for the food. At bed, expressing thankfulness at the wonders of the world?

      • C

        I want to chime in on the first question. I was raised religious and my fiance wasn’t raised in a church at all, so to him, going to church is a new and fun adventure. To me, it’s more like coming back home…except that in a sense, it’s like coming home and announcing to your parents, “I KNEW Santa Claus wasn’t real!” I struggle SO greatly with how to explain to my kids certain things…like that Adam and Eve weren’t literal people.

        I guess I hope to do things like take my kids to museums to see dinosaurs and talk about how dinosaurs were on the earth millions of years before people were and hope to trigger discussions about how some stories in the Bible (like Adam & Eve) are stories meant to illustrate how God and man relate to each other, not to be historical references of how life on Earth began.

        However, I should probably add that I think the beauty of some of these Bible stories is that they’re simple illustrations that are easy to understand…which is great for little kids. It’s probably okay if they think they’re literal, because as they get older they’re going to start asking more questions and then you’ll be able to help them sort through those things.

        Good luck. If you figure any of this out before I do, please be sure to post an update. :)

    • K

      I almost gasped reading your comment as I am in a scarily similar situation. J is Episcopal (Mom was Catholic, Dad was Lutheran, they compromised), though he doesn’t attend services and would probably be more accurately a Deist now. I am Catholic, parochial school for 12 years, but have lapsed in actually going to church. This is probably due to not agreeing with some of the hierarchy’s stances on women and homosexuals. That being said, everytime I have attended a Mass, I’ve loved the community and their huge hearts (volunteering is always HUGE). So I’ve come down to being culturally Catholic, but perhaps not religiously so. Is that possible? I’ve decided for me that it is.

      Kids do bring a whole new dimension to this, however. But I’ll tell you how my parents handled it. They were both raised Catholic, my Mom even worked for the Church, but they didn’t take Catholicism as law. They thought the Bible was a wonderful book, but not literal. They loved their local priest, but didn’t necessarily agree with or even like the Archbishop. But they made it work. I remember going to school and attending religion class and coming back with questions. Yes, sometimes I’d think I had it all figured out and would tell my parents “This is 100% true in the Bible” (just an example) and they would say “Well, that is how some people view it. But what about this? And have you ever considered…?” We would just have conversations that would go on and on about it. Sometimes I’d be frustrated b/c it went against what I had JUST learned in school, but usually I’d end up feeling more enlightened b/c I talked with my parents and found 10 different ways to view something rather than just the one I was given.

      I hope this makes sense, reading through it I’m not sure how well I described my upbringing. But what I’ve taken away from my parents is that even though we didn’t always agree with the Catholic church (or each other), we could always sit down and have civilized and respectful conversations about it. If I had never attended parochial school, or my parents had never asked about religion class, I don’t know if those religious conversations would have ever even started, and I’m so glad that they did.

      • Elizabeth

        Yes to this. Because it feels hypocritical to be like, believe these good parts of the religion because they are true but ignore the stuff I don’t believe in because it is not all correct.

      • MDBethann

        YES to this: “But what I’ve taken away from my parents is that even though we didn’t always agree with the Catholic church (or each other), we could always sit down and have civilized and respectful conversations about it. If I had never attended parochial school, or my parents had never asked about religion class, I don’t know if those religious conversations would have ever even started, and I’m so glad that they did.”

    • I come from a Catholic country, but I was born from an atheist father and a non-practicing catholic mother, and my parents always told me that the Bible was full of myths to make people understand things (well, they said dominate the masses but you get my point) at a time when the population was highly uneducated. They were “nice stories”(or scary stories, many times), to teach a lesson, they told us. I never had issues with that. I think kids understand more than we adults think and that there’s no need to tell them something you don’t believe in yourself.

    • InTheBurbs

      You might explore Catholicism outside of the Roman church. There other “kinds” of Catholic out there. My partner (who in 11 days will be my wife! and I attend an Old Catholic Church. We’ve found it has the ritual that we love with a social construct that fits us. We have faith formation – and the social paradigm that we believe in is respected in the curriculum.

    • moe

      I don’t have children yet, nor have a clue on how to raise them. But your #2 item caught my interest in regards to prayer.

      My husband has often admitted that he is not comfortable with prayer because he thinks that he does not know how. It’s intimidating if it is not something you do often. Because of my lengthy church background I really wanted prayer to be something that we did together.

      So in my approach with my husband I made prayer simplified and was adamant that there was no wrong or right way to go about it. (there really isn’t in my opinion) I invited him to pray with me and using the simplest words I lead first. I deliberately excluded church-speak, it’s not how I express myself anyways. There were times he didn’t want to and I asked if he would just join me silently while I prayed out loud which he was ok with.

      As a result it has sparked some really awesome discussions about faith, belief, God etc… For us, I think the key was making the process inviting, absent of judgment, and pressure.

    • I’m so glad I’m not alone! I see a little more on similar topics up and down the thread as well.

      It’s reassuring to read that kids can actually handle more of this reality vs myth stuff than I thought. I guess the real issue might be when my kid is the one in the Sunday school class telling everyone that the stories aren’t real, like saying Santa isn’t real. I’m more afraid of the community’s reaction to that than my boy’s. But I don’t really want my kid aspiring to martyrdom after reading a Lives of the Saints For Kids book with really pretty pictures of devout virgins.

      Anything else on making a husband comfortable talking about religion when discomfort is his dominant emotion on the topic? I know what it’s like to feel uncomfortable about participating in other religions’ services or prayers. Attending a few events in high school and college with evangelical friends made me feel squicky about the way they talked about and to God, not that I said that to them. It wasn’t bad or wrong, just so different from what I was used to as a Catholic. I imagine that’s how I make my husband feel with my Catholicism, and I don’t know how to change that.

      • Marcela

        My parents taught me to treat others with respect and to be cautious when expressing our ideas about religion because they may hurt other’s feelings. We were taught to say ” We don’t believe that is real” as opposed as ” it’s not real” for example. I knew Santa didn’t exist since I was 3 (I caught my father putting the presents under the tree) but my parents told me that it was each family’s decision to decide when to share that with their children and that I shouldn’t interfere so I kept my mouth shut ;)

    • Sarah

      My mum is Catholic and my dad grew up in Anglican Church but stopped attending well before I was born. My brother and I were sent to Catholic schools and both eventually decided to be baptized. To answer your first question, I don’t believe stories like Adam and Eve literally happened and neither does my mum. She always taught us that they are stories used to explain something about God or why things are a particular way – not that they are necessarily real events but stories that hold an element of truth. Even as a child I was able to grasp this, so I’m not sure you should worry too much. My parents are also former science teachers, so this was also something we were encouraged to be interested in, and I have never once had a problem trying to reconcile science and religion. I think children are often more sophisticated than we give them credit for. As long as you answer their questions honestly they will resolve these issues for themselves.

    • Sophie

      Hi – Unlike some Protestant Churches, the Catholic Church does not believe that many/most of the events in the Old Testament literally happened. I cannot adequately explain it, but I do want set forth that the Catholic Church and science is not as mutually exclusive as it might appear. Also, it is also important to note that most of the Sunday School Teachers, etc are volunteers and most curriculums attempt to present the information at an appropriate developmental lesson for children (who are extremely literal), so it is not surprising if miscommunication/misinterpretation does take place at times.

      • Sandy

        I will second this. I was raised Catholic via parochial school by parents who are still very uncomfortable that I choose to “pray and stuff.”

        When my husband recently decided to convert, I attended classes with him as his sponsor and learned so much. I have also had lots of conversations about things like this with my priest.

      • ElfPuddle

        Catholicism teaches that each book in the Bible was written for a different purpose, by different people, in different genres…all are inspired and True, but not all are literal.
        For example, there are two creation stories in Genesis. They cannot both be literal, or one of them would be untrue. They are metaphors.

    • Sandy

      In response to your first question, I have had similar thoughts. I don’t know if my husband, who recently converted to Catholicism, and I will have children or not but I do know that part of me would love to have them attend parochial school. But part of me doesn’t want this.

      I’m most worried about high school, at which point parochial schools (at least in my state) offer high advantages in academics and college placement over public schools. However, my potential kids will be at those ages where things are so emotional and I don’t want them to a) hate people on behalf of the Catholic church (whether that really means their teachers/friends/whomever presumes to speak for the Church) or b) hate the Catholic church on behalf of people that they think the Church doesn’t care about. I’m terrified of my children coming home and telling me that gays are evil because some kid told them so, some kid whose parents inappropriately deem themselves able to speak for the Church. On the other hand, I hate the idea of them attending public school and being taught that Christians (especially those racist/bigoted/sexist Catholics) are evil.

      I’ve realized that this is one of the hard parts about being a parent and no matter what, I will have to teach my children the values that I think are important. I cannot depend on a school or even a church to do this for me.

      Teach your child what you think is important for them to know when you think it is important. The mythological tales of the Bible are no different than fairy tales or Santa Claus. They need to know when they need to know, before that it’s all good.

      • Sophie, I know Catholics are not Creationists and Sunday School teachers are volunteers. I wouldn’t be Catholic if the Church believed in Creationism. But I know the way things were presented to me when I was 4 and 5, and at that age, I think I was taught Creationism. Maybe the thing is that I’m not necessarily comfortable putting my kids’ faith formation in the hands of volunteers who aren’t necessarily trained to be all that nuanced, or teaching kids about faith before they can understand that these things are complicated, since my personal faith and relationship with the Church are nothing if not nuanced and complicated.

        Sandy, speaking as a parochial school grad and current public high school teacher, I don’t see any basis for your fears. When I was in Catholic high school (1998-2002), we didn’t talk much about homosexuality or other controversial teachings inside or outside of religion class, although I do remember a good amount of time spent on the Church’s teachings on abortion and even a bit on Natural Family Planning senior year. I don’t feel that even on those issues we were ever “taught to hate” anyone. And I don’t see my public high school students learning from anyone, teachers or peers, that Christianity or Catholicism is bad or wrong. It just doesn’t come up. Kids that age don’t talk much about religion unless they have to, in my experience.

        • Sandy

          Mary Jo, I’m so happy that you didn’t have any of those experiences and that your students at your school don’t have that kind of problem. Unfortunately, I taught public high school and saw plenty of teachers with lesson plans that included horrible things about Christians. One teacher had a lesson for “The Scarlet Letter” that included several references to the Church as bigots/racists/sexists. My husband taught high school biology and one of his supervising teachers for student teacher would rant about the stupidity of religion/creationism/etc and worked hard to teach his students that atheism is the appropriate path.

          On the other hand since I’ve been in grad school, I’ve worked with several undergrads who graduate from area parochial schools. Some of these students had terrible experiences with teachers telling them that homosexuals were depraved because they had anal sex.

          Again, I’m not sure I’ll ever have children and I know that much of this is stuff I have to teach them on my own, in conjunction with forming their own opinions and thinking critically.

          I’m sad that I’ve seen or heard first hand account of theses things. I was proud to teach, as was my husband, but some of the people we worked with made us feel ashamed of our profession. I’ve had similar experiences with being Catholic.

    • with regard to rituals and prayer, unless your religious beliefs are such that you find it imperative to spell out the god/religion aspect of it, what is religiously called prayer could as easily be called meditation, thanksgiving, a moment of silence, etc. in many cases it is most simply a way to pause from your day and reflect.

      in our non-religious house, my non-religious but *very* spiritual mother took great offense at us not introducing a *something* before meals. as a result, we now pause for “thank you to the farmer for growing the food” (and “to the chicken for the egg, to the sunshine for the tomato, etc.” depending on the meal at hand). in a similar vein, i think you could possibly broach the subject of taking a moment of pause with your husband – and those of you in the house who pray could use the moment to pray, but the rest of us have as much use of a minute to reflect as well.

    • RJ

      I think religion is not a belief system, so much as a practice.

      You have religous practices when you have rituals which allow you to step outside everyday life, and reflect on your existence as a spiritual being.

      Prayer isn’t necessarily seeking God’s intervention – it can be to reflect and be thankful on the day. To sit with the universe and be present for a time to the world.

      I think there’s a good snippet on The New Normal about that – it chimed with me.

      On the second question of stories – they’ll probably know they are stories. Maybe you could ask them what we learn from the story (e.g. Daniel was courageous, Ruth was hardworking, Noah listened).

      • That is really well-said.

    • I feel like I got from a very young age that religious stories are more important for their message than their literalness. I was a very religious kid but for me stories not being literally true never made them less meaningful and important.

      I think when your child tells you a Bible story, you can have a discussion like “What is the lesson in this story?” or “What did Noah/Abraham/Jesus learn?”

  • Nicole

    I cannot begin to describe the many, many ways that I needed this open thread. (Thanks APW!) I’m a girl who made up my own belief system by cherry-picking from whatever seemed right to me. L is Jewish, but no longer keeps Kosher and rarely goes to synagogue.
    The biggest problem for me (and I suspect for him) in our relationship is this issue of religion: what it means to us now and what it will mean to us when we have kids. It was never a concern for us when we were dating. It was one of those things that hangs out in the back of the mind and gets filed in the “eh, we’ll figure it out later” drawer. Once he proposed, though, I realized how important my spirituality is to me. Although I am converting for him, I have no intention of giving up Christmas or Easter. I would feel incomplete and unhappy without those holidays because they represent my childhood and my family to me. The same goes for L with Jewish holidays.
    It’s been a rocky road of compromises. I’m slowly adjusting to the idea of converting and he’s adjusting to the idea of Christmas and Easter. Ideally, I want to have a marriage and family that celebrates all faiths. I would like to take our kids to different churches, temples, and meeting places and show them different faiths so they can grow up with an open mind and open heart and follow whatever religion(s) makes them the best version of themselves.

    • adria

      Why are you converting if you’re not willing to give up the parts of you that are of a different religion?

      You don’t have to answer, but since this is something I’m not willing to do, I think it’s interesting to find that there is someone who can keep the two separate.

      • Nicole

        I’m mostly willing to convert because it’s really important to him and less important to me overall (once certain must-haves are in place- like Christmas and Easter). This wasn’t a decision made lightly. I had lots of moments of I-can-totally-do-this and then moments of there-is-no-way-I’m-converting-this-is-nuts. One night I had a complete break down about converting, mostly due to assumptions about what my life would be like after I converted. L told me that if I really didn’t want to, I didn’t have to convert. We’d work things out. It took him saying that to let me really acknowledge that it is entirely my decision to convert. It was always my decision, but that tends to get clouded with friends and family giving input, desired or not.

        My Christmas and Easter tend to be on the non-religious side of the spectrum, so they really are more family events than anything else. And at the end of the day, my personal beliefs mostly fit into Judaism. The way L sees it, you could be an atheist and be Jewish because Judaism is all about culture and tradition (to him; this isn’t meant as a general statement). I decided that that was something that I could work with. Whatever I can’t work with, like any patriarchal overtones, we’ll change. After I convert, my beliefs will still be my own. I’m not getting rid of or changing any of my beliefs so much as adding to them. This works very well since I cherry-picked to begin with.

        So I guess the way I keep these separate is by acknowledging that they are just two different parts of myself and my life. I tend to like to mix different things together anyway and be my own little hodgepodge of religion, cultures, and everything else.

        • RJ

          I’ve written above about my belief that being religious is largely about practice not beliefs or faith.

          Beliefs come and go (anyone who has never questioned their faith is living with blinkers on), but religious practice – showing up to the time of prayer and reflection even when things are hard – loving thy neighbour, attempting to forgive – those are things which are about choices not beliefs.

        • RJ

          Although I may have used Christian examples there – love thy neighbour, forgiveness, turn the other cheek. So culturally ingrained!

          Even though I don’t believe in a Christian God, many of the tenets go deep.

          I remember sharing a room at a yoga centre with a woman, who was (probably still is!) Jewish. It was shortly after 9/11 and we were discussing Israel and war, and the planes flying over us in Crete. I remember having a blinding flash that my “turn the other cheek” argument wasn’t going to work as she didn’t have the same frame of reference, as that was New Testament.

          I don’t know if Judaism had other arguments there that would have worked to persuade her, but there was a bigger cultural gulf than I had realised.

    • My mom brought me to different faith groups growing up. Not all the time. We had our regular things of a UU church plus a Hindu-based cult, but I also attended a lot of services with my best friend who was Jewish and I remember going to a Mosque a couple of times. I think exposure to different religions was very helpful in the development of an open mind.

  • Sarah

    When my now-husband and I started dating, I used to think it would be easier if we were an interfaith relationship (this was especially true when we talked about the wedding). My husband was raised Orthodox Jewish and I was raised Reform. My husband left orthodoxy but is observant in his own way and (while he might not call it) spiritual. Especially over the past three years of our relationship, I have become a bit more observant in some ways but am still firmly reform.

    We’ve had the practical conversations (thankfully neither of us keep kosher and we celebrate the holidays) as well as the personal spiritual ones. We’ve had the conversations about kids — big aha moment for me was when I realized he didn’t know what Hebrew/Sunday school was because he went to a Jewish day school. There will be struggles and balancing acts as we continue but I find promise in the fact that we have joined a local synagogue and attend fairly regularly (its hard when you bring down the average age in the room by 30 years).

    Much of Jewish observance (in my opinion) is through the cultural. How do you make the matzah ball soup and which holidays do you observe more faithfully. How much emphasis do you put on Chanukkah vs the holidays.

    What I’ve learned — it doesn’t matter what religion you and your partner are. It doesn’t matter if you are the same religion or the same denomination or as opposite as possible. As long as the conversations are had and the communication remains open, then the big questions will solve themselves. Never assume – always ask. Most importantly, be respectful. Often times, the issue isn’t about the religious point being made but by what it represents . . . childhood memories and how our parents raised us.

    • sg

      I said the same thing (may have been easier if it were interfaith) about my fiance and me for the first couple of years of our relationship. He was raised Conservadox and I was raised Reform – I went to Sunday School and had a bat mitvah but rarely went to services (other than summer camp), and my parents are not at all Jewishly educated. He went to Day School and his parents hardly know any non-Jews; his mom goes to shul every day. When we first started dating he was shomer shabbas and it was so unfamiliar (and distasteful, really) to me. These days, though he prefers Conservative/all-Hebrew services while I could do Debbie Friedman or Renewal stuff all day, we have come to more of a middle point in our practice where we mostly do Fri night dinners and participate in Jewish social justice work.

      How did you navigate religious issues in your wedding? I am of the opinion (which my parents share) that everything should be whatever we want (not in a bridezilla way, in a “it should reflect our beliefs” type of way – vegetarian, poetry, whatever). His parents…have more specific ideas. For example, since they are more observant than us, they assume they’ll plan the Shabbat before the wedding (and that there will be an organized one…) and that it will prioritize their shomer shabbas friends (we have many, many non-Jewish or non-observant friends as well). I won’t be surprised if they have unwelcome input on the ceremony itself, etc. (Reading about the bris stuff upthread – oy, for another day!) Yes, I realize I am a bit biased against the more observant folks taking priority, and I am open to hearing thoughts from all perspectives!

      Oh and one more thing, my fiance wants a tisch (let’s be honest, they are pretty awesome) and a bedeken, but I very much do NOT want a kabbalat panim they way I’ve seen them before (always seem so boring in comparison). Has anyone every done a woman’s tisch or seen a way to make a kabbalat panim more awesome? Worth noting that the minority of my friends are Jewish so it would be hard to do something very traditional for the bride’s part…

      Thanks so much!! Would love to hear how folks navigated these challenges/opportunities!

      • rys

        I also wouldn’t want a kabbalat panim, so I get where you’re coming from. I do love a good tisch, and I’ve been at weddings where women had tisches or the couple did a joint tisch — it’s definitely possible. Go for it!

      • Sarah

        My husband and I described our wedding as Orthodox-ish. The first thing we did was decide what was important to us and what was important to our parents. For me, I had to have my childhood Rabbi officiate which meant that my Orthodox in-laws would have to have a Female Rabbi. Thankfully, my husband was totally on board with this. Once we knew what was important, we made compromises where necessary. One that I ended up loving — to the Orthodox, the bride cannot give the groom a ring while under the chuppah (it confuses the “him giving her an item of value in case something happens” thing). So, when he placed the veil over me at the Bedeken, I gave him a ring. For us, it was all about interpretation of the tradition. Him placing a veil over me was him choosing me as his bride and so me placing a ring on his finger was me choosing him.

        We chose not to see or talk to each other for a week before the wedding so while it was sad not to spend that last Shabbot together, we loved the excitement of first seeing each other at the Kabbalat Panim. It also worked out really well for our different families — his family had an Orthodox Shabbot and my family had our gathering and a non-rehearsal rehearsal dinner Saturday night for out of town friends and family (the wedding was Sunday afternoon). One of the things I love about Jewish weddings is that there are no readings – it is pretty much the same blessings and they aren’t that religious (so they should make both Reform and Orthodox happy in terms of interpretation). I don’t understand Hebrew and we have a lot of non-Jewish friends so I insisted that every word of Hebrew also be said in English. So, for the Sheva Brachot (Seven Blessings) we had couples that have significance to us recite them with one person saying the Hebrew and another saying the English. It meant a lot that we each had a sibling and their SO recite one of the seven.

        We did a Kabbalat Panim at the wedding (not done as an engagement party) and wrote our own tenaium agreement that was the conditions of our marriage (the Kettubah had to have orthodox language in the Hebrew and we found an English translation that we both liked but its very 30,000 ft and we wanted something a little more specific — the tenaium became our vows in a way). We did not separate the genders (again, lots of people who had never been to a Jewish wedding yet alone an Orthodox one and we didn’t want to force couples to separate). My husband had a tisch and then he came out with the men signing an dancing for the bedeken. At the bedeken, we signed the Kettubah and the Tenaium publicly. I hate being the center of attention and so the kabbalat panim was hard because you are the only center of attention (whereas during the rest of the wedding you can be the center of attention together) but what I loved about it was that it allowed me to say hello to all of our guests (if they came and said hello) without having the pressure later or a receiving line.

        One of the most important things to me was a program and website that described everything so that our non-Jewish guests (and Jewish guests who had never been to an Orthodox wedding) knew what was going on. It was also our way of describing what the traditions meant to us – like I said, its all about the interpretation. During my research I found a quote from a Rabbi — “Being egalitarian means being equitable — it does not mean being identical.” This really became a center point for us — the kettubah makes him responsible for our financial health while the circling makes me responsible for our spiritual health; he placed a veil on me and I placed a ring on him so that we could publicly declare that we are choosing each other.

        All of our guests told us they had a great time and I think that was because they could just see how much in love we are and excited to start this new phase of our lives together. We threw a party and a celebration – which is the heart of the Jewish wedding.

        As you can tell, I love talking about how we made our wedding work for us. Always happy to answer questions and share our experience because it wasn’t always easy and if I can help somebody else have a few fewer tears, the better.

        • Diane

          I love reading about this! Could you write a whole post on it?!

          And Meg, could we have a “Religion/Faith/Spirituality” month??

      • heres_a_llama

        We are having a 30 minute b’deken/kabbalat panim, and I’m actually really excited about it!

        1) There are ALWAYS people who show up late to weddings, and I figure logistically, this will capture most of them and mean they’re not missing the ceremony. There’s 30 minutes for people to park, validate their parking, drop off a gift, take a picture of me (so they can respect my unplugged ceremony preferences!), sign the guest book, mingle with friends… all of that jazz.

        2) My best friend is Hindu and got married in May. I was a bridesmaid and there for everything. One of my favorite parts of her ceremony was the equivalent of their kabbalat panim held two days before. It meant that all of her parents, grandparents, aunties and cousins, all of the men and women who have raised her and are her community each had 30 seconds or so to whisper advice and love in her ear. It was a sweet and tender moment for all and I can’t wait to recreate it for ourselves.

      • heres_a_llama

        Oh, and with respect to our ceremony, fiance and I always got final say. We never even opened the conversation up to his parents (I converted).

        WE would research the wedding traditions, and we sat down together and each individually voiced how strongly we felt about including it – and sometimes we felt very strongly about EXCLUDING it as well.

        If either one of us wanted it, it was going in. If we both wanted it done traditionally, we just “copy pasted” the tradition. If one of us wanted it, but the other had some problems with the traditional way of doing the custom, we found a modern, egalitarian way of doing so that satisfied both partners. If both of us didn’t want it, it didn’t get done. His parents were upset about some things but I told them they already had their wedding and that this was our wedding ceremony to recognize US as a new distinct family unit. I did not budge on this. And if my fiance would not have agreed to this, I would have had serious reservations about marrying him because it would have meant we would have been on two very different pages about important things.

  • never.the.same

    Is it too off-topic to ask, here, what “High-WASP” means (to you, maybe)? I read the post at the link, but it didn’t really make sense to me. I remember in the past you writing about growing up in (around?) poverty and I’m wondering how those experiences are simultaneous.

    WASP is a term that was originally linked to people who could trace their family back to Eastern colonies, though I think by now it’s mostly used to mean rich/white/Ivy League. Is that kind of what you mean?

    (I hope this is an ok place to ask! I’m just trying to understand. Thanks!)

    • Remy

      I had a similar confusion, as to me, WASP always (silently and tastefully) included a class marker that didn’t fit with what Meg’s shared of her upbringing.

  • Sara

    I have a bit of an odd situation with this: I was raised agnostic (my mother is an ex-Catholic and quite hostile about it, my father is a new-age, hippy-dippy, semi-Buddhist) but over time I’ve come to have a very strong personal faith in a higher power, resembling the Unitarian practice. My fiance was raised as a strictly practicing Lutheran, but has been experiencing a crisis of faith for the past few years, and is no longer connected to his church.

    We’ve begun discussing what to do about faith in our ceremony. We know that his family will be really hurt or even baffled by a totally secular ceremony, as he has not discussed his growing atheism with them at all. My family would probably be just as baffled by a religious ceremony, as I have not discussed my faith with them.

    I’m sure that we’ll find something in the middle, that incorporates the pieces of religious and secular ceremonies that feel true to us. But it’s a bit odd that my family may think that I’m submitting to my fiance’s religious family, and his family will think that he is submitting to my family’s atheism…

    Sigh. I guess we’ll just have to explain our choices to them… *grimace*.

    • Marcela

      “a new-age, hippy-dippy, semi-Buddhist”that sounds like me lol

  • Lauren C.

    I love, love, love this topic. My partner is Catholic and I’m… agnostic, I guess? I had been dreading the conversation about having a full-on Catholic wedding or not, because I was afraid we would have strong feelings in opposite directions, but when it finally came up it was a total non-issue. He said something like, “well, of course we won’t have a Catholic wedding… you’re not Catholic.” Like it was the most obvious thing in the world. I think we probably will have some of the less church-y Bible readings (if that’s a thing), because it’s important to his family and I think he would feel more “married” if we kept a few of the traditions he’s familiar with. But nobody is going to ask me to make any vows before God, or accept all the children He blesses me with, or serve my husband, and for that I am grateful.

    In terms of general spirituality, we have had a few conversations about our belief systems (mostly started after a glass of wine or two). He is Catholic, but doesn’t regularly attend church anymore, but would maybe like to start going again… but is very liberal and has a gay sister and doesn’t really have time to search out a lovely welcoming congregation right now. So it’s complicated. For my part, I think of religion as an interesting cultural institution, but not really something that applies to my life. We’re both comfortable with the other’s belief system, so it hasn’t been a sticking point so far.

    I do wonder what will happen when we have children, but hopefully by then we will have found that lovely, liberal, welcoming congregation where I would feel comfortable with them learning their father’s religion, and it will be another relative non-issue.

    • VivaLuisa

      Just wanted to let you know that we used two very lovely readings from the Bible that weren’t churchy in our ceremony! While we’re both Protestant Christians, not all of our guests are and it was really important to us to have an inclusive ceremony while still celebrating our own faith traditions and practices. Our Pastor/officiant was very cool with and excited about an inclusive ceremony, which also helped! (Quick shout-out to the United Church of Christ, a very liberal and welcoming denomination)

      Anyways, here’s our readings, in case it helps! As a former English major, choosing the readings was one of the most time-consuming aspects of our ceremony. :)

      Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
      Two are better than one,
      Because they have a good reward for their toil.
      For if they fall
      One will lift up the other;
      But woe to one who is alone and falls
      And does not have another to help.
      Again, if two lie together, they keep warm
      But how can one keep warm alone?
      And though one might prevail against another,
      Two will withstand one.
      A threefold cord is not quickly broken.

      Ruth: 1:16-17
      Ruth said,
      Do not press me to leave you
      Or to turn back from following you!
      Where you go, I will go
      Where you stay, I will stay
      Your people shall be my people
      And your God, my God
      Where you die, I will die
      And there I will be buried.

      I have always thought the Book of Ruth reading, by referring to “your God,” instead of just “God” acknowledges that people have lots of ways of thinking about religion/divinity/etc. And I loved the Ecclesiastes reading for celebrating our marriage as a partnership. While neither of these passages were written about marriage specifically, they were perfect for our ceremony.

      • Kelly

        I love that Ecclesiastes reading-we also used it in our Catholic ceremony. I’m Catholic but my husband is “non-religious”

  • Neither my husband nor I are religious, but I was raised by very religious (Lutheran) parents and his mother has become religious (non-denominational Protestant) over the last couple of years after his father’s death. I consider myself to be agnostic/ambiguously spiritual, because I believe there’s *something* bigger than us… but I don’t necessarily agree with any established religions or feel that there’s anything remotely like an all-powerful God watching over us. He considers himself an atheist.

    While religion doesn’t play much of a role in our relationship, other than occasional philosophical discussions, it does with our extended families… who regularly asked if we’re going to church (even though they know we don’t), and insist that we’ll “start going once [we] have kids.” That’s been an interesting one to navigate, and I’m a little anxious about the idea of dealing with more intense horror from our families when we have kids and don’t take them to church or teach them to believe in God (obviously if they decide they believe it on their own, that’s totally cool, but they won’t be getting any more than a “Some people believe…” from us).

    • Can’t edit! Forgot to add:

      Our wedding ceremony was completely lacking religion in any way. We did, however, include a “ring warming” in place of a “blessing of the rings.” Members of the wedding party brought the rings around for our guests to touch and think positive thoughts, hopes, or prayers for our marriage. In my mind, that was the opportunity for those who might be religious (read: our parents) to silently include a moment with their higher power without us invoking anything we didn’t believe in.

  • MK

    I have a twist on the marriage + religion bit. I’m Presbyterian, and my fiance grew up Methodist and has been attending my church with me since about six months after we started dating. I’m very confident in my beliefs and comfortable with them and really feel it’s important to have some of those “traditional” things in the ceremony–the stuff that resonates most with me is the stuff that makes the ceremony less a 15-minute “we do” and more a service.

    But… this is the church I grew up in. And I’m starting to feel smothered by all the presupposed thoughts–by all of this well-meaning extended “family”–about who and what I’m supposed to be. I’m feeling trapped in habit. So while theologically and practically I really love my church and I’m happy to be getting married there… I’m thinking about not attending after we get married.

    Is that horrible? I don’t know. But I’m 27 and at the last group potluck, one of the newer members (who was then an Elder) “joked” that I needed to sit at the kid’s table. Twice.

    It’s starting to feel like a place I can’t worship anymore…

    • KC

      The needing to sit at the kids table thing is just plain weird (unless you were eating the frosting off your cupcakes while sticking olives on your fingers and making fart jokes and kicking the table leg and coloring on the table with crayons, which… I’m just going to assume you weren’t doing). Some sort of attempted “you look young!” failed-compliment? Or was it a “we need someone to attend to the kids’ table, hey, you’re the closest available female!”? Or a “you’re a kid until you’re married, now that you’re getting married soon!”? I’m kind of baffled.

      I would note that some things may shift to be less awkward after you get married, so it may be worth testing the waters after your wedding.

      But also: sometimes it’s hard for a spouse to initially feel included at a place that’s “yours” (this has been extensively discussed re: apartments and groups of friends; it also applies to all communities), so it might be helpful on that front to find a new-to-the-two-of-you church if your partner has to deal with newcomer status while other people are talking about things they remember about you from gradeschool. But the level of comfort/discomfort and how it all works is also something that will be more obvious after a month or two married at your church.

      • MK

        Thank you, I’m so glad I’m not the only one who felt that was exceedingly weird!
        He’s a new member…compared to me, so I’m not sure what he was thinking. The main room was overcrowded, so I guess he was looking to boot anyone for any reason…and being the only person around under 40 seemed like a good reason? I was pretty hurt.

        And you’re totally right; my fiance isn’t totally comfortable with joining “my” church, even though he likes it. But it’s depressing to think of leaving for that reason. Those two combined? It looks possible. I haven’t brought it up to my fiance yet, though.

        • KC

          Confirmed: weird. Very weird.

          One possibility after marriage (or before) might be to take one Sunday a month as a “church honeymoon” and go visit elsewhere to see if you find somewhere you both fit. It’s possible that your fiance will end up feeling more comfortable at your church than he does now with a smidge more time (side note: a pictorial church directory, if your church has one, can be amazing for helping you explain who all these people are; they’re like the family photo album for churches…), or it’s possible that you’ll both find somewhere new as home, but it keeps options open and might make conversations clearer (what aspects or parts or situations is he less comfortable about? Is it going to church, period, that is the problem? Is it that he knows *nobody* and you know *everybody*? Is it just that he knows *nobody*?).

          • MK

            Thank you. I’ll definitely keep that in mind. I’m so grateful for your thoughts and advice!

        • MDBethann

          We bought a house together 2 years before we got married (which, as the daughter of a pastor, threw some folks at my then-church into shock, though my pastor father was completely cool with it – even suggested the idea!!). The house was in an area that neither of us lived in at the time (even though my alma mater was in that area), so we had the chance to not only start fresh with “our” house, but with “our” church too. I made a list of all of the ELCA (Lutheran) churches in the area and we spent the summer going to different ones, decided what we did/did not like about each one and each of us had veto power. Interestingly, the church we settled on was the one I had attended in college because they were the most welcoming, have good pastors who preach good sermons (as a Pastor’s kid, that’s a MUST for me), had the best music program, & are active in the community. It was a joint choice.

          While I recognize that giving up a church in which you feel comfortable may be hard, considering that you are starting to feel trapped by presupposed thoughts others have of you in this particular congregation, maybe finding a different Methodist church in your area for the two of you to worship at together might be an idea worth exploring. I’ve changed congregations without moving before – it’s weird, but sometimes a congregation, no matter how much you may have loved it, ceases to be a good fit for you, so finding one that works is okay.

          Good luck!

    • I chafe under all the presupposed thoughts, too- though mine come from my family, and I wonder if they are just a natural consequence of having a tight-knit, multi-generational community? I still don’t necessarily feel like I’m myself around my own family members when I visit, because I’m torn between “grown-up me” and the “little kid me” they all knew and loved and remember. I mean, pink is my favorite color, but I don’t need a sparkly pink rolling bookbag when I’m 15 years old.

      This is one of the reasons I grew up so much at college, hated living at home the year after graduation, and grew even more when I moved away from home. I like being able to grow and change without a sideline crew yelling “Hey! Look! She’s doing something different! That’s not how she used to do it! Why are you doing it like that? Oh, is the little princess finally all grown up?” Etc.

      • MK

        Can I get an “AMEN”? AMEN, sister. Amen.

        …My grandmother *still* sends me ladybug stuff. I mean, ladybugs are nice and all, but I can’t exactly wear that ladybug purse to work. Since I’m not, you know, 8.

        A church family is a lot like that, but also with praying and dresses.

  • Katelyn

    For me, as a Catholic-raised atheist, my struggles are twofold in my relationship. First is our outward-facing spiritual identity.

    I am not an “out” atheist to my family. I have carefully informed some of my closest family members, and considering my mother’s struggle with the information, have withheld from the rest. This is an increasing point of contention between us due to the pressure to hold a religious rather than a civil ceremony. Despite my firm but gentle insistence that having a religious ceremony would be untrue to FI and I’s non-beliefs, my mom sure is “praying for me” a lot. Which is such a frustrating term because I feel like I have to respect how she deals with issues, but at the same time I feel like she says it to try to convince me otherwise as if I’m a 13 year old having a phase with neon colored hair.

    Meanwhile, there is still a deep void that not having a church community has left in me. I even spent 6 months in college, after I was 99% certain of my atheism, at weekly mass. It really helped me deal with some issues I was having despite my fundamental disagreement with the premise.

    I have heard wonderful things about the Unitarian Universalist church, particularly its youth education programs, but my fiance balks at the idea of joining a church. I think a large part of the problem is he still doesn’t have enough distance from our conservative Christian hometown roots for him to feel comfortable with the word “church” at all. I know I could attend on my own, but throwing myself headlong into an unfamiliar environment without a comforting hand to hold really piques my anxiety.

    I don’t think either of these issues are anything we can’t get work together to find a solution, and thankfully we largely share the same views. But sometimes I wish we had settled on the other side of the God debate for ease.

    • An ex-Catholic here, and let me tell you–I miss church, too. It’s hard. I don’t have an answer, but I wanted to know you’re not alone.

    • I’m not ‘out’ atheist to all my family, so I feel you on that. Don’t know what will happen if people start asking about ‘which’ church we’ll marry in.

      As for the community, my partner and I have talked about how we must be intentional about creating our own community without one being there already. We’re still just starting out with that, though I have my sports group which helps a lot (helps I like exercise a lot though).

    • Another Meg

      I’m another former Catholic who misses the community of Church. Not alone!

      I’ve been hearing about UU as well, but my partner also has reservations. He wasn’t raised in any religion and has no idea why I’m missing something I considered so oppressive. He really doesn’t get why, as we start to contemplate growing our family, I’m freaking out that we don’t have a parish. I keep wondering how we’ll have big family parties unless there’s a baptism, first communion, or confirmation. Those are perfect ages to celebrate growing up! Ugh.

      First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes…pressing questions regarding our religious baggage and I can’t even decide if I’m going to use a capital G for god? Oh dear.

      • Katelyn

        Ha! I still use the big G, just like I capitalize any other proper noun, despite its duality as both a proper and regular noun. It’s definitely a very individual decision though.

        Totally with you about your partner. It confounds my fiance a little bit. If you (or anyone reading this) live in Chicago and want to try out the UU church together, I would totally be down for organizing it.

        As far as celebrations – I think you just have to roll with it. There are plenty of civil holidays in which to gather with family, and maybe that’s why there are things like kindergarten graduation, to replace the religious rituals of growing up. I’m still on the fence on how I *feel* about kindergarten graduation, but I certainly understand the premise.

    • ElfPuddle

      You’d all be welcomed back…even if only to talk about the struggles you’re having with people in the church who understand.

      I’m a revert…a Cradle Catholic who left the church and came back. I understand the faith much better now, and love it much better as well.

      I’m not trying to say that you need to become Catholic, fully practicing Catholic, again. Certainly not. But I know people at my parish and others would happily talk about your struggles with you if only just to help make it less of a struggle.

      • Katelyn

        I think you’ve mistakenly translated my worries as struggles with being an atheist. I’m very confident in my spirituality – I’ve spent far more time contemplating and examining than when I was Catholic. Therefore, joining any religion with a deity would be a boldfaced lie.

        I miss the convenience of an automatic community from traditions that are hundreds or thousands of years old, but not the tenets they were built on.

        • MDBethann

          Fair enough. Then it does sound like UU might be good for you. Re my post below: I wrote it before I read this one on the thread, so my apologies for my misunderstanding.

          My argument though for helping your SO not be so un-nerved by “church” still holds though. Fundamentalist Christians do not speak for ALL Christians in any way, shape, or form, & it is upsetting when all Christians and churches are judged based on the beliefs of just some of the sects (and the same holds true for Judaism, Islam, etc. – we shouldn’t judge any religion based on the beliefs of one of its sects).

    • MDBethann

      You can attend services without joining a church. Whenever I am visiting my in-laws, I attend UCC services with them, but that doesn’t mean I’ve joined the UCCs and left the Lutheran faith. Please, please, please don’t think that in order to attend services and begin to explore your spirituality that you have to “join” anything. It is perfectly okay to just attend and learn. Most faiths aren’t going to want you to “join” until they are sure you understand the faith & its beliefs (i.e. every ELCA Lutheran church I’ve been to has new member classes to provide an intro/refresher on the faith as well as introduce folks to the congregation itself).

      UCC, ELCA (Lutheran), many Episcopal, and some Methodist churches are extremely different from a lot of the conservative Christian faiths out there. UU’s aren’t the only more open & non-conservative churches out there, so you may want to look into those other “mainline Protestant” faiths too. You may at least find that they enable you to more smoothly transition from a very structured Catholic mass to a less structured/formal service in some cases.

      Please don’t think I’m being pushy – I am just so saddened and frustrated by all of the people, many of them in their 20s and 30s, who are scared away from any sort of Christian faith because of their exposure to only one type of Christianity (example: fundamentalist Christians). Many Christians believe and act quite differently, and I hope you, your SO, and others like you will give those of us who aren’t fundamentalists a chance.

      • Katelyn

        It has nothing to do with Christian fundamentalism. I was raised by fairly liberal Catholic parents, attended church weekly and found it to be a great experience. I was a lector and participated in choir and volunteer efforts. Your judgment on my former faith is quite frankly offensive.

        I spent many years of self-examination deciding that I just frankly don’t believe in God. End stop. I am not lost, confused, or struggling.

        I don’t know where you and the previous reply came from, or why there is more than one comment encouraging me to come back to a faith, but it’s not appreciated.

        • MDBethann

          Katelyn, I think the other poster and I misunderstood your comment about wanting to attend a church again. I didn’t realize until your subsequent post (which I commented on above) that you were looking for COMMUNITY and not necessarily church. I am not in the habit of, nor do I desire to, convert anyone. Some of my closest friends are not Christian (Jewish, pagan, Hindu) and we have healthy, intellectual conversations about our beliefs & try to learn from one another.

          What led to my comment was your statement about your SO: “I think a large part of the problem is he still doesn’t have enough distance from our conservative Christian hometown roots for him to feel comfortable with the word “church” at all.”

          When I have heard people say that in the past, it is because they have been scared away from Christian churches by ultra-conservative Christianity (or some other aspect of 1 church), often by what the media and/or their childhood community portrays, and think that all Christians embrace that aspect that they found off-putting. My only point was that “church” and “Christianity” should not be judged based on one denomination or sect. I just don’t want people to discount all of Christianity based on their experience with 1 piece of it, just like we shouldn’t write off all Muslims because there are a few out there who wish Westerners ill. If one sect – Lutheranism – doesn’t feel right to you, then it’s fine to explore and find one that does. I am just saddened by those who still believe in God and Christ but are scared of church.

          I have total respect for people who don’t believe in either God or Christ; just because I do doesn’t mean I think everyone should or that it is right for everyone. I understand from your clarification that your leaving the Catholic church was based on a thought-out process and a realization that you no longer believe in God. That was not entirely clear to me before, and I apologize. You left Christianity for a good reason; you shouldn’t have to fake something you don’t believe – no one should. I just wish everyone’s decision was well thought out, like yours and that of my BFF who is pagan. She knew Christianity didn’t feel right for her (just as it doesn’t feel right for you), she studied, read a lot about different belief systems, and found one that worked for her.

          Again, I apologize for unintentionally offending you. It can be hard online, especially when talking about religion, to be as clear as we’d like, so things meant one way can unfortunately be taken in another way entirely.

          • Katelyn

            Ah! It all makes sense. Sorry for my hostile reply. Obviously the frustration with my mother’s judgment of me shone through brightly. Thank you for your kind and thoughtful apology.

        • MDBethann

          I understand the defensiveness. I’m still not 100% certain that my friend has told her parents that she’s pagan, and her parents aren’t particularly religious.

          And while I do pray for people, I NEVER pray for anyone in that way – I pray for their health, successful surgery, joy, peace, etc. but not to judge them or convert them. I’d lose 2 of my best friends if I did that.

          Good luck with your mom and with finding a community that gives you the support and tradition that you crave.

  • Megan

    I realize this is a bit off-topic, but it’s something my husband and I have been struggling with for well over a year now. Neither of us are religious, he’s declared atheist and I’m everything-but-declared athiest. However, when we married 4 years ago, we had a somewhat religious ceremony (not married in a church, but married by a Reverend. Had a blessing, a prayer, and a religious song) mostly to satisfy certain family members and because it didn’t seem that consequential at the time. But now we have our daughter. We haven’t been planning on having her baptized because neither of us go to church, but we know that it’s an “expectation” in both our families. The best way to deal with this for us has been to just not bring it up and when it is asked about, we reply with something along the lines of “it’s something for her to decide when she is older and can make an educated choice”. Which, for the most part, has seemed to satisfy the curious. The issue now is, we’ve been told by two members of our family (his mother and my grandmother) that they have money set aside for our daughter should we decide to have her baptized. We don’t really know how deal with this. While it wouldn’t make that much of a difference to us (somebody just poured water on our baby’s head, yay!), we feel that if we wanted to have our daughter baptized, it should be because of our beliefs and faith, not because we would get check afterwards. That seems to cheapen a rather sacred event. On the other hand, we would love to be able to start/have a savings account growing for our daughter. That is something we’re working on, but, because it’s life, it’s been hard to start.

    • Addie

      Is there a way to sort of compromise? Have mom and grandmom set up a savings account for your daughter that is earmarked for a baptism ‘if and when” she decides she has the faith for such a thing. And if that day never comes, mom and grandmom have helped saved for your daughter’s college. That way you don’t have to do something that seems disingenuous but mom and grandmom feel they are doing something for their (great)granddaughter.

    • Remy

      I expect to be facing a similar situation; my very Catholic mother-in-law will probably be just as upset (or even more?) at the idea of an unbaptized grandchild as she was at the idea of her daughter marrying another woman in a secular/civil service. Your stock answer is the same as ours — and I am assured that my wife will uphold it even though she’d be okay with a baptism, if I weren’t so opposed. The purse strings in your circumstances seem rather tightly attached to your doing what is “expected” by your family/ies. That’s not fun when it’s for a wedding, either, and I’d apply the same advice: if you can’t live with the expectations/demands that come along with the money, do what you can afford that makes you happy.

    • Jessica

      I like Addy’s solution above. Another approach might be to contact the religious leader of the church where you could potentially have the baptism and explain the situation just like you did here. They’re essentially trying to bribe you into baptizing your baby and that seems really weird to me. Maybe a member of the clergy might be able to explain the pitfalls of this approach to your grandma and your husband’s mom?

  • jane

    Both my fiance and I are Christian. He was raised in an extremely conservative Southern Baptist family, and I was raised in an extremely militant anti-theist family. He strayed from his faith in his mid twenties and came back to his faith through a non-denominational church that does a lot of outreach to human trafficking victims and homeless people. I strayed from my family’s hatred of God in my mid twenties and joined a fairly conservative Baptist church.

    I knew that my mostly fundamentalist views would make it nearly impossible for me to find a husband when I converted. Most Christians who are as religious as I am get married earlier in life, because it’s hard to stay celibate for decades and we don’t believe in premarital sex. I was 26, but I might as well have been 50 as far as the men in my congregation were concerned. Anybody who wasn’t married was under 22. I was facing an extremely small dating pool, a fact that my mother never failed to point out when she rabidly challenged my new beliefs.

    I met my fiance through a liberal Christian friend at the age of 32, and immediately admired his nuanced understanding of Jesus. My conservative friends are wonderful Christians, but they don’t always see how alienating they can be to people who don’t share their views. I have a highly liberal, secular background, which means I basically speak two languages: secular humanist AND conservative Baptist. The ability to code switch between those two worldviews is very rare, I’ve found. My fiance can do it as well as I can. He’s also a wonderful man.

    Incredibly, my Christopher Hitchens-disciple mother loves him. She knows he shares my beliefs about Jesus, but he’s such a good listener to her, she hardly cares.

    The wedding should be extremely interesting! Nobody in his family drinks or dances, and my whole family is very fond of both pasttimes. We’re having drinking and dancing (beer, wine, and a contra dancing band were our non-shocking compromises). We’re also having the most religious ceremony we could plan without totally repelling my family.

    When I go to church with my fiance and feel how much he loves God, when we pray together before meals and pray together when we are concerned or thankful for something, when we discuss the Bible and sing hymns together, when we decide to give money to people in need and spend time with people who need a friend…being on the same page for all of these things makes me sure of my decision to marry someone who shared my faith or stay single the rest of my life. It was worth it to hold out for him.

    The wedding is in three weeks! Wheeeee!

    • Pamela

      Huh, that’s really interesting about the code-switching! I have sort of the opposite thing going on – I was raised in an extremely relgious, conservative environment (including dresses all the time, the long hair, headcoverings at times, and on and on). I eventually realized that I never did, actually, believe in God/Jesus – I tried really hard, I tried not trying (because faith is a gift and all that), and I just didn’t/couldn’t believe. But anyway, to a lot of people, I “read” as a conservative Christian, because I came from that background and subculture. Now I live a fully secular life (with a lingering appreciation for many religious elements/rituals and the suspicion that I could still win a Bible verse finding contest), but people still assume that I’m quite devout anyway. I joke that you can take the girl out of church, but you can’t take the church out of the girl…or something like that :)

      • Claire

        This made me laugh out loud beacause I’m an athiest, but was raised fundamentalist christian and am also totally confident I could win any bible quotation competition against just about anyone (including references, thankyouverymuch). We were raised to memorize the bible because the End Times were coming, yo! Just last week my husband was flabergasted when he overheard the inside game my siblings and I sometimes play with each other – having an entire back and forth coherent conversation entirely in scripture. First person who can’t respond with a relevant verse is out.

    • I just wanted to say that I think it’s kind of amazing that you became a Christ-follower after an anti-theist upbringing. It’s not a story you hear very often (if ever), and it was really reassuring to me to hear it.

      Thank you for sharing <3 and have a glorious time at your wedding! We talked about having contra, but decided against it, and I wish to live vicariously through you.

    • I also grew up in a community where very young marriage was highly valued but none of the men there wanted me. I think maybe I was too brainy? Too intense? Too serious? I was never that good at being the quiet and subservient woman. I had too many thoughts of my own. Whatever the reason, I passed my expiration date.

      It took me until I was 29 to meet the right guy for me and I was 31 when we got married. Not what I expected from my life, but like you it was completely worth the wait. I sometimes wish I could reassure my younger self that he’s out there!

      • (I worded that badly. I didn’t mean “also.” I meant that I know what it’s like to have built your life in such a way that marriage might not be in the cards for you).

  • TeaforTwo

    Oh, I am so relieved to see this thread.

    My fiance and I both grew up in religious homes – mine Anglican (my father is an Anglican priest) and his Catholic – but now we have very different attitudes toward religion. He is an atheist, and while I am not particularly observant except for going to church at Christmas and Easter, I have a powerful sentimental attachment to the Church.

    My fiance would prefer a secular ceremony led by a judge whom neither of us knows, a “neutral third party.” Instead, we are being married by my father in the Anglican church where my parents met as university students. Ultimately, it came down to which one of us cared more, and I felt sick to my stomach at the thought of being married an other way.

    It’s not an issue of personal faith, because I’m probably best described as agnostic in that regard, but when I thought about our wedding ceremony, what mattered to me was that I needed to make the same vows to my fiance that my mother made to my father, and generations before that. I didn’t want to step out on our own and try to invent how it should go – I don’t have enough faith in us to do something so big, and needed the guidance, comfort and structure that had formed our families and taught our people about marriage for hundreds of years.

    It still gives me a bit of a pang, though, to think about the fond affection and sentimental tie I have to the church, and to realize it won’t hold that meaning for my kids. My fiance has been clear that he won’t attend church, and I am not committed enough to do that regularly. It’s not me, but it is where I come from, is how I feel about it. Still, I am sometimes sad that it’s not something that he and I can share.

  • It’s funny because my husband often says that what he loves about us being interfaith is that he gets to define our family’s Judaism for us (although that isn’t 100% true because now that I know more about Judaism, I also have opinions), and that in some ways it would be harder for him if we were not interfaith. As it is, we practice Judaism the way he has always practiced Judaism (with some maybe small modifications.)

    As our daughter grows up, it will be interesting to see how she changes things. She’s going to experience Judaism through her own lens, and will probably shake things up some more.

  • sign of peace

    There was a question upthread about incorporating religious aspects into a non-religious ceremony and a few people mentioned that in some circumstances that could rub guests that wrong way. I definitely see that point.

    We’re having a civil ceremony. He was raised Catholic, and my mom’s family is Catholic, although my mom lapsed long ago and my siblings and I weren’t raised in religion. We’re thinking about incorporating the sign of peace in the ceremony, which was always my favorite part of Mass when my grandma took me because it’s so welcoming. But we’d have to have a lay person introduce it. If you’re Catholic, how would you feel about this? Would this seem okay if introduced by an observant family member?

    • Laura

      I am not catholic, but am about to marry one. I grew up in a baptist church where during the service, there was a point where someone would give us instructions to welcome those around you, or greet each other, or, yes, speak works of peace to each other. So perhaps, if you wanted the sign of peace but were concerned about it offending someone, you could have a variation?

    • Rachael

      In my context as a pastor, passing the peace is a time when the gathered congregation shares the peace that comes from God’s grace and forgiveness. Passing the peace then becomes a time of reconciliation among the gathered community, and a sign of God’s reconciling love on earth. If that is inauthentic to you, then call it welcoming each other or sharing love with one another as a sign of the reason the community is gathered (to witness a wedding and the start of a new family).

    • Laura K

      Lapsed Catholic here. I LOVE this idea. I would avoid using the exact wording that the Mass uses (I’m not sure that would be completely appropriate), but the concept is definitely worth using. That’s one of my favorite parts of the Mass, too. You don’t have to believe in God to offer peace to those around you.

    • MDBethann

      The Lutheran church celebrates the passing of the peace as well, often shortly before the offering. While the minister usually offers it to the congregation, I don’t see why a lay person cannot do the same thing. I think it would be fine to have even a non-Catholic believer in God offer the peace. You might want to look at some liturgical, non-Catholic (i.e. Lutheran, UCC, Episcopalian, etc) services to see if there is language that you can use that will make both the Catholics & non-Catholics comfortable. I’m not usually big on appropriating other faiths, but seeing as the sentiment is the same in all of these faiths, just the messenger is different, I don’t see why you can’t “borrow” language.

  • Alyssa

    Sometimes I wish my husband and I varied more in our religion. Both of us are very solidly atheist but still feel very much culturally connected to Judaism, and take some bizarre comfort in the religious practice, and unfortunately for us, more conservative practices (more liberal services that focus on personal spirituality squick me out, but make me chant in Hebrew for hours and I reach my Zen-zone). The reason I wished we varied more is that we both feel like we’re in this bizarre in-between, where we’re not sure if we should be practicing more or less, and it would be nice to have someone push the balance in one direction.

    I’m mostly terrified of how to incorporate Judaism in the lives of future offspring. How do you teach a kid the stories of the Bible and Talmud and then say “but…it’s all BS.” How do you teach them to recite prayers when “baruch atah adonai” is meaningless to you? Do you share your atheism with your children at all? And if we’re hardly going to shul now and not really celebrating Shabbat or holidays at home now, why should we do so when kids are in the picture? Yes, I’d feel horrible if they didn’t learn the traditions, but the truth we are reluctant to face is that we ourselves have practically assimilated anyway, so who cares if our kids start out that way?

    • rys

      This resonates so much with me. I’m an agnostic, well-educated (Jewishly), liberal, not-really-spiritual-but-communally-invested Jew. I find “spiritual” services alienating and, if I’m going to join in prayer, want to do so in Hebrew, though only in an egalitarian setting.

      I think the thing to think through is why you affiliate in the ways you do. I don’t believe the Bible is the word of God, but I think it’s a fascinating tale of human efforts to make sense of the world. I’d be (and have been) comfortable teaching the text as I’d teach any other literary text — as a long-standing narrative with infinite layers of meaning we can return to and think through over and over again. Whether it’s divinely written or inspired or neither doesn’t change that for me. (It helps, perhaps, that I read Hebrew and thus enjoy thinking about translation and meaning as well.) For me, the Talmud is awesome because it roots Jewish life in argument and debate, and goodness knows, I love respectful argument and debate. As a result, it serves for me as a model of a type of thought — legal and ethical and human reasoning about real (and sometimes farcical) situations. And because it’s all about debate, it roots my interest in continued discussion and dialogue about tradition, rituals, and forms of belonging in a much longer conversation.

      As for brachot, well, that one is much harder for me. But I guess it comes back to how I think about behavior/ritual/practice: as expressions of values that need not relate to the divine. As I mentioned above, Mordechai Kaplan is my theologian of choice. I’m not such a fan of the way Reconstructionism has played out in practice, but as a theology and philosophy, I’m there. It gives me the space to play with behavior and belonging while relegating belief to the sidelines. For me, religion comes down to community — not mimicking practices or going along with rituals unthoughtfully, but of constantly thinking about and reflecting on why I do what I do and why I don’t want to do what others do, of finding ways to feel communally engaged in ways that are meaningful to me and still outwardly directed in some fashion.

      • Alyssa

        I do love me some ripping apart text (though I’ve lost a lot of my Hebrew and Aramaic through the years, so it’s harder these days), so maybe teaching with the commentaries presented right off the bat will help. I guess I didn’t think about it much because I’m more worried about the early years, when typically just Torah is presented, but now that I think about it, it would be awesome to teach that logic and debate from a young age. Thanks!

        “Finding ways to feel communally engaged in ways that are meaningful to me and still outwardly directed in some fashion”…definitely something to reflect on.

    • heres_a_llama

      I’d recommend reading The Art of Biblical Narrative by Robert Alter. You may or may not agree with him, but I recognized a lot of myself in your words. I personally think of the Torah as the Jewish people’s national myth, just like Johnny Appleseed is part of the American national myth.

      Do I give two hoots if George Washington actually chopped down his dad’s cherry tree? Not in the least. I don’t care if this is complete historical horse pucky or not – because what matters to me as an American is the place this story has in our shared culture, what it indicates about our forefathers, our values… THAT is important to me, and that is what I want my kids to be exposed to. When they first hear about it, I’m not going to say “psh, no Blue Ox the size of a mountain ever went around the country!” When they get older, sure.

      Things don’t have to be historically accurate or true for me to find value in them culturally. And for someone who DOES value critical thinking, I think it is amazing and awesome to show our children the Talmud. We’ve ARGUED about this for YEARS. We’ve picked this apart, bit by bit, to make it meaningful to us. We didn’t just accept willy nilly. We disagree. We thought about this. We’ve still found value in it.

      As someone raised in other faith traditions… that is something I so, so aprpeciate about Judaism.

      If I’m talking out my butt, please forgive me.

      • Alyssa

        I definitely appreciate the viewpoint of Torah as cultural myth. I do, however, worry that the existence of a deity is a much bigger myth to smooth over than Johnny Appleseed….but hey, I don’t have a better answer here, and that is the most comfortable lens to view the issue from.

        Totally going to get that book, thanks!

      • rys

        Also, Robert Alter’s translation of the Hebrew Bible is beautiful.

        I’d add that I think there’s a lot of drash/commentary that goes on when teaching kids hebrew bible, but it’s just not called that.

    • Brenda

      I think children can understand and grasp the difference between cultural and family traditions that come from religion and needing to believe in a higher power. This is how I grew up – strongly atheist parents, but Jewish holidays and history and traditions. I loved learning to read Hebrew and about the various holidays and stories, and I still love the rituals and make sure to do a Hanukkah meal and a Seder every year. I love my Jewish heritage and my rituals, (and I completely agree about liking things to be in Hebrew even though I don’t understand it!) but I definitely don’t believe in God (I find the world more mysterious and amazing without a creator – we created ourselves!) I never felt conflicted as a child about why we do these things if we don’t believe in God, and I still don’t, which works for me and my family. If you don’t project confusion or conflict between these things to your children, they will accept the way things are.

      They might change their minds about some aspect or another when they’re older, but that’s their right.

    • Beth

      I’m in a similar boat. My husband and I are both atheists, but I still identify as a Jew. I am nearly 100% non-practicing, but I still have a special place in my heart for the traditions (TRADITION! *does Tevye dance*) I was raised with – essentially the high holidays. I still feel connected to the history of the Jewish people and I have dealt in my life with some of the aspects of belonging to a minority (being told I’m not as good as a friend of mine because I was Jewish, etc). These are things my husband has no connection to and does not understand fully.

      From a religious point of view, neither of us has any interest in raising a child to believe in god, but I struggle with the desire to give my future children the connection to Jewish culture that I feel but my husband does not. I’m not sure the best way to go about it. We have never brought these aspects into our daily life and I would feel like I was faking it if we did. But! What if my child has no appreciation for the actual struggle that Jews have gone though? What if they don’t feel this sense of history? I don’t know!

  • Anonon

    I think the hardest thing for me and my husband was reconciling how we would live our lives versuswhat our parents wanted our lives to look like. I was raised in a strict-ish Muslim family and my husband was raised in an ultra Catholic household. Our parents both expected us to marry someone in our religious circles but lo and behold going off to college drastically changed our views on our respective faiths. During the wedding planning process, our families (read: mothers) definitely guilted us about not having any religion in our ceremony. His mother almost had a heart attack when she found out that my best friend was the officiant….and also gay. My mother threw a fit when she found out alcohol would be served. But it all worked out in the end (I think :) )

  • Hannah

    This is not nearly as serious as some of the other issues brought up here, but it’s on my mind. My fiancé and I are Christians, and I tend to take it a bit more seriously than he does. We just asked a very Christian (and very talented) friend of mine to take the video, and suddenly I’m struck with this fear of disappointing him with our mildly Christian sentiments. I also wonder if my fiancé will feel uncomfortable around him while he videos before the ceremony, while David wants to relax and drink with his very wild and non-Christian groomsmen. Yeesh.

    • KC

      I think not having much video pre-wedding would not be a bad option (I mean, how much do you relax when there’s a video camera around anyway? And do you really need a permanent record if the groomsmen talk about him getting hitched up to ol’ ball and chain or similarly traditional “jokes” from “wild” to the almost married? [even people who don’t actually think that sort of thing seem to think it’s a social nicety to joke about it, which… just… I don’t get.]).

      My personal opinion is that video is great for being able to remember all the bits of the ceremony/toasts/etc., and for getting snippets of the people you love, but you don’t need hard records of any parts that are best obscured by the mildly hazy cloud of memory (like being so nervous you throw up; you do not need video of that). So… that might help?

  • Remy

    Me: liberal agnostic humanist, raised outside of religious tradition, formed a generally anti-religion worldview that has softened considerably during my past several years with a multifaith congregation. (I liked the music and the feeding the hungry part, and they were queer.)

    My wife: eclectic mix, but definitely falling on the religious side of things; she practices aspects of several faith traditions very sincerely and enthusiastically, with and without other practitioners, but is nowhere near mainstream.

    Us: Constantly processing. LOL. Actually, we got a lot of our heavy-duty conversations out of the way early on, and when we agreed that we were compatible enough, they stopped happening as frequently. She believes… whatever she believes, and tells me about it occasionally. (Sometimes these are fascinating conversations, and sometimes they are frustrating or even boring.) She’s not interested in converting me to any of it. I don’t object to her doing stuff for her faith unless it affects our household/family/relationship negatively. I keep my nonbelieving statements to a minimum. It’s important that she have private space in our home for ritual and prayer, and that she gets to connect with others in those communities. We’re very live-and-let-live, which may work better for some couples than others.

    Before I got serious in this relationship, I established that we were on the same page with regard to what I considered dealbreakers: circumcision and infant/childhood baptism. We’ve agreed to expose future children to a wide range of beliefs and traditions, and encourage them to learn more about and/or practice any that resonate with them. We’ll probably join a Unitarian Universalist community. We both believe that our actions and the way we treat other people are more important than tenets or creeds or what God thinks of us, which is why we ended up making a family together.

  • Steph

    It’s funny, I’ve remarked a couple times over the last year how much easier things would be if we WERE interfaith! Both my fiance and I were baptized and raised Catholic, but no longer subscribe to those beliefs or participate in the church. I would say we are both basically agnostic. Great! Except that we both have Italian Catholic mothers who are pretty disappointed that we’ve totally shunned their religious beliefs and refused to even consider a Catholic ceremony. For me, making promises in the Catholic church does NOT represent who we are and would feel really hypocritical and weird, which is not how I want to feel on my wedding day.

    It’s all been (mostly) ironed out now but it was tricky going for awhile there with some tears and guilt coming from both sides. It helped that my brother got engaged recently and is also opting out of the Catholic stuff. I’m sure we’ll be up for a similar debate when the future babies come along!

  • Amy March

    My thread!

    And my thoughts. I’m Methodist, once a month-ish, regularly pray, and my faith is very important to me. My boyfriend is the same, but Catholic. And . . . I’m not converting, not getting married in a Catholic church, not comfortable that he would need a dispensation to marry me in my church, and do not want to raise my kids Catholic. And it’s hard to talk about! Because there isn’t a lot of room for compromise. I think he was hoping I just didn’t care for the Catholic church’s view on social issues, but actually it’s communion. The role of the priesthood. The sacraments. I wish I had a clearer view forward, but I’m still looking through a glass darkly at the moment.

    • KC

      I have soooo many Protestant+Catholic married couple friends. Like, soooo many. Some have pulled it off by one or both partners not caring terribly much about it at all; others have fought the disputed theological space and history and meaning out, down to the ground, ’til they’ve reached compromise (sometimes one partner has swapped churches, either direction; sometimes they’ve both gone for something like a High Episcopal-ish church; sometimes they both go to a Protestant church and then the Catholic hits up early mass somewhere sometimes for the Official Communion, or both go to Catholic and Protestant services and each abstain from the not-their-communion; it really varies).

      It is hard on a very practical level when both partners thoroughly believe something different, if the something-different affects actual decisions. So yes: this thing you are doing: challenging!

      I’d also note that adding kids to the equation changes a ton of how-things-work (unless one partner is an entirely happy convert), although most of these couples don’t have kids yet.

    • MK

      There’s a Catholic-Protestant couple at my church; they decided the Protestant group had more age-appropriate friends for the kids, so the kids did Sunday school and stuff there, but otherwise, they alternate weeks. It seems to work for them.

    • Hello from a once or twice a monthish, regularly prayerful Methodist who married a Catholic to whom the traditions of the Catholic Church (far more so than the official beliefs) are very important.

      We ultimately figured out a wedding path that was right for us, but it took a lot of really awkward, sometimes painful conversations. One thing that took far too long to figure out was that he (with the stricter traditions) would always take the tone that the way I practiced my faith was incorrect, or “not real”. Communion was the hardest thing to talk about, most especially when he called what we do “fake”. That hurt a lot more than I expected it to, and was a huge wake-up call for us to be far more thoughtful and kinder to each other when discussing religious things.

      We ended up married in my church by my pastor, a place and a man I’ve known my whole life. I might not have liked that my husband required a dispensation, but it was a hoop he was willing to jump through. Having the Catholic Church consider our marriage a sacrament was important to him, and since he was willing to put in the effort, so was I.

      Standing where we are now, it seems like a hazy, unimportant thing we had to work through. It all worked out rather tidily, so from the perspective of time it seems simple to say that it was easy to work through. Your comment, however, reminded me of how fraught and awful our engagement was over our religious differences. It was all the more frustrating because we’re both Christian! It shouldn’t have been so hard! But we felt worlds apart at times, to the point where I cried myself to sleep once or twice, and wondered if it would tear us apart. This is all to say–I hear you. I feel like I absolutely understand you. It can and will work out if you guys can be open, honest, and above all–respectful of each other. It feels very big, and very scary, and it is very spiritually important, but I can almost promise you that after the wedding it all goes back to how it used to be.

  • Another Anonymous

    Another reform Jew married to an atheist-raised-Catholic here. We’re expecting our first baby, and dealing with issues of religion has been harder than I had ever imagined. We’ve agreed to raise our child with a sense of Jewish cultural identity (celebrate the Jewish holidays, make challah on Shabbat from time to time, etc.), but not bring him/ her up with a formal religious education. I’m mostly okay with this, but can’t help mourning the experiences I’d always hoped to have with raising my kid Jewish – her Bat Mitzvah, sending her to Hebrew school, etc. It’s been a huge leap in the past five years our relationship for my husband to be even somewhat accepting of ANY aspect of Judaism/ organized religion. Frankly, it’s the only reason I ever considered not marrying him, because he matches my heart in every other way. But, here we are now, and we’re learning as we go along on how to be more accepting of each other’s needs.

  • My fiancé was raised Hindu but is mostly agnostic. He says he just doesn’t know how he feels. I was raised Episcopalian and am also on the agnostic/atheist side of things, though growing more agnostic as time goes on. Thanks for this thread. We have sort of discussed how we will raise our kids but this reminded me we need to delve into that a bit more. Thanks.

  • cara

    Religion is one area where I haven’t really given too much thought and we haven’t really discussed too much. I was raised Baptist, him Episcopal, and now his dad is a Lutheran pastor. It was amazing and so cool that his dad was able to marry us without having to get anyone ordained or anything, but it was difficult to convey the idea to him that I don’t really believe in organized religion without stepping on any toes. My husband isn’t very religious anymore either. It was okay in the end (many thanks to my mother-in-law who told her husband to “de-churchify” the ceremony many times!), but I still felt a little weird with him requiring a scripture to be read and all the mentions of God. It felt inauthentic to have a religious ceremony, but it really wasn’t very religious at all.

    The main issue now (or, rather, in a few years) is what to do when we have kids someday. My husband has expressed a desire to raise any hypothetical children in the church, and I do see some value in that. I appreciate the community especially, and since I, myself, was raised going to church every Sunday, it can’t be that bad! But at the same time, I don’t want to brainwash my kids into thinking that Christian church is right and the only option. So I think we’ll have to either find a super liberal, awesome church, or find a way to balance different viewpoints.

    It’s interesting and so intimate to me to discuss religion with my husband, because it’s not something we talk about much, but we both do think about it and have opinions about what we should do.

  • Rachael

    As a 27 year old Presbyterian minister, I see a different side of this. I am aware that as a very religious young adult, I’m something of an anomaly. And a lot of the time I think my denomination would rather see me in the pew (to boost appearances) than the pulpit.

    Among my clergy colleagues, when we talk about weddings, we mostly commiserate about the fact that some of the only times we see young adults are when they want to “rent” us or our buildings for weddings. (And then I resent having to speak for all young adults, since I’m usually the only one there).

    I’ve seen many pastors take different approaches to this- like requiring couples to attend church for a year before marrying them, required pastoral counseling, etc. They usually never hear back from a couple after that. I wonder why? Is it that church/faith/religion only matters during the rites of passage in life, like weddings, births, and funerals?

    • heres_a_llama

      I see this across faith traditions and in some ways I think it just has to do with the trajectory of human development instead of the failures of any one tradition. We are raised in a family, in a community, and have some negative and some positive memories of that. But we do “it” – confirmation, Sunday School, church wedding – for them, and not for us… until we have kids of our own and want to share those positive memories with them, deeming the positive to outweigh the negative.

      I’m a 28 year old member of a synagogue, and have been for three years. In 500 families, I think 8% are under the age of 35. I think some of it is just structural changes in society – how do we find and create communities, how do we value our authentic selves, how do we conform into our roles as family members, where do our values come from, what role should religion play in society – and a bit of myopia on the part of young folks, who don’t always understand that for a community to be there when you want it (marriage), you have to support it when you don’t.

    • KC

      In defense of the “rent-a-church” crowd, churches are a pretty place to get married. Not weather-dependent at all, usually plenty of parking, bathrooms on-site, no need to rent chairs, traditional, often attractive, most people know what the drill is (center aisle, etc.). It’s a “good package deal”, with someone who’s licensed in the state and knows what’s what (so your marriage will be legal) and who isn’t likely to mess something up horribly due to inexperience.

      (that said, I don’t think any organization is under moral obligation to allow unconditional use of their space, with the possible exception of use as shelter during emergency situations, so I’m fine with restricting use to people who are part of the church [either so that people who are part of the church can get married there without booking two years out, or because of respect/belief differences] or requiring premarital counseling or talk of some kind beforehand [so that you can sanction this marriage with better knowledge of the couple than the priest in Princess Bride had]).

      • Teresa Janelle

        It confuses me that non-Christians get married in churches…they are buildings which house communities! it just makes so little sense to me that a non-religious couple would want to be married inside a religious symbol. Which is what churches are: the very architecture of most churches reflects the faith. I get that they’re pretty, but it means something very particular to get married inside a church, and I’m pretty sure non-Christian couples don’t actually want their wedding to mean that.

    • Shiri

      I think there’s also something to be said for the fact that for many more secular people, life events are when our own lives intersect with our families’ lives and the narrative of our lives. We (frequently) have to bow to other people’s values, or at least recognize or include them. And these big events are also when we connect to our histories and something bigger than ourselves – for some, religion, yes, but for others tradition, community, and expectations. So people naturally become more conservative or traditional at these events.

    • Alexandra

      I think it must take a great deal of maturity to not become extremely heated on this topic, if you are a pastor. The only thing I can think of to mitigate the irritation of people seeing church as a pretty space to rent instead of a place to worship God is to remember that weddings are very hopeful events. Unchurched people generally come to a wedding (unlike a church service) with an open mind and a positive attitude.

      Jesus’ first miracle was performed at a wedding. That must count for something.

      • Julia

        Rachael, my husband is a 28-year-old minister and I work for our church’s humanitarian relief agency, and we both really identify with what you wrote. (My in-laws are also pastors, and they have some crazy stories about people wanting to use the church for the wedding as long as they could “take down that huge unsightly cross in the front of the sanctuary!” Obviously that didn’t fly.) Getting asked to do a ceremony with all the trimmings of a religious rite except the word “God” feels so weird to us, because we believe that love comes from God. We’ve been to a few secular wedding this summer, and while they’ve been lovely and legit, we’ve talked about how my husband really wouldn’t feel comfortable officiating a service like that.

        Couples spend a lot of time thinking about whether or not their ceremony feels authentic to them, but I think they often overlook the fact that their officiant needs to share their sense of authenticity. If you’re using authority given to you by the state and/or the church to legally bind two people together, you can’t be saying stuff that feels like a lie. For many clergy, who have dedicated their lives to their faiths, performing a ceremony without God just isn’t authentic.

        • Diane

          Commenting just to say “ditto.” My husband and I are a United Methodist clergy couple. Many of our non-Christian friends ask us to do their weddings, and I struggle with it… do they just want someone they KNOW (me, their college friend), or do they want ordained/called me, a representative of Christ & the church?

  • Jessica

    Hooboy! Meg are you eavesdropping in my home? My FIL is taking an adult bar mitzvah class and asked me, husband, MIL, and BIL what our thoughts were on communal prayer. I was raised Catholic in the South surrounded by Southern Baptists. So I had many many thoughts on the subject.
    I try my best to avoid religious conversations with my husband and others because I’m at some sort of crossroads. I don’t consider myself Catholic (mainly because of social issues) but I love the traditions and community. Husband considers himself to be a “pseudo-atheist,” he is a very logical person and likes facts but he’s open to learning which I think puts him more on the agnostic side of the table but whatever. His dad considers himself to be Jewish, his mom goes to synagogue but is more a believer in “The Cosmos, ” they didn’t start going to synagogue until he was 16 so by that point he had 0 interest in it.

    The prayer question email made our home a very eggshell like place for about 3 days until he finally got fed up and said we’ve got to talk about this. We have a version of this conversation about once a year and we’re getting better at having it. I give all the credit to him because he pushes me to talk about it when I’d rather hide my head in a bowl of ice cream. We’ve gotten into the nitty gritty about what we each believe, what we can agree on, and how it will affect our future children. He once said that his kids would NEVER attend any organized religion. But I think he realized this was a very polarizing thing to say and very unfair. So he has since thought about it and asked if it had to be every Sunday (he wants to take the kids on mountain adventures) and what kind of Church would I take them to… A lot of that is up in the air because I still don’t know what I believe or where I sit. I currently don’t feel a need to attend church of any sort and profess my faith publicly. It seems false to me since I’m still figuring it out.

    With every conversation, we get better about expressing our faiths, beliefs, and ideals. We’re more understanding and loving. I never planned to fall in love with a “pseudo atheist” and I know he never planned to fall in love with a lapsed Catholic. :)

  • Winter

    My Mister was raised in a relatively conservative Church of Christ home. They were also liberal politically, so he has a fascinating set of core moral beliefs. He doesn’t attend church regularly but retains deep seeded beliefs about God that I respect. I am a progressive Seventh Day Adventist and liberal politically as well. Weekly worship in a community of believers is important, a core value to me. From the first date and pre-engagement counseling to our engagement, how we worship and what day and how the kids will be raised has been discussed. My pastor said if we’re doing marriage well, the topic will continue to be discussed and revisited through the years. How we’ve made it work so far for us is focusing on areas of belief we agree in, respecting where we disagree and creating space for each other to grow in our respective faiths by ourselves. We loved God before we met each other and our respective daily personal devotion and meditation has to stay a priority so together we’ll be more grounded in our shared core beliefs. As for future kids, since I regularly attend church I’ll be taking them with me and he’ll be always welcome to attend like he is now.

  • heres_a_llama

    I converted to Judaism in May 2011 after ten years of knowing that one day I would be a Jew. I started out Reform but found its theology of “informed” choice deeply problematic and unsatisfying the more I studied and participated in Reform communities.

    So I stopped that conversion program and felt lost. I wasn’t sure, as a political liberal, how I felt about those Conservative folk and Reconstructionist communities are so far and few between that I didn’t see the point in getting involved with them only to never be a part of an actual synagogue.

    When I settled back in the Bay, I interviewed conversion sponsors of all stripes, to make sure I wasn’t just going through a moody phase a few years back. I found a rabbi that I absolutely loved and connected with, and the process of finding my sponsor solidified my beliefs in Conservative theology.

    I also realized in this process that I’m pretty much an anomaly; quite frankly that was a really lonely period in my life, and sometimes even filled with self-pity. I’m a fairly religious young adult, who converted, who has hardline beliefs about certain facets of my religion (I don’t accept patrlineal descent, intermarriage, conversion that doesn’t require study, brit milah, beit din and mikvah, etc). And I want to get married? In this country, in this era, when fewer and fewer people are religiously affiliated?

    I struggled with how to remain true to my beliefs (and assess whether I was just playing zealous convert to prove myself or did I really believe this is what Judaism means) without judging my friends for making authentic, valid choices for themselves that I would never make for myself.

    And then I found my secular, atheist, Israeli-American guy and my vision of attending services each week with my husband and children, of living within walking distance of shul, of sending my kids to day school and camp… came tumbling down. Those aren’t things he necessarily wants, as a natural skeptic, for his children. He identifies as Jewish but hates organized religion.

    And what I came to realize is that’s good enough for me: I was, and am, madly and deeply in love with him. We love the visions each of us have for our future life. We are emotionally compatible. We see the other’s strengths as natural balances to our future parent-self.

    We are having a traditional, egalitarian Jewish wedding, and we will register it with the Israeli consulate. But I went to Rosh HaShannah alone this year, and probably will be alone on Kol Nidrei as well. I’ve discovered that like many rabbis say, every marriage is an interfaith one.

  • Amber

    Neither of us was raised even slightly religious. The closest I got was going to Catholic church when visiting my grandma and I didn’t know what was going on. Christmas is a completely secular holiday in my world.

    We are both adamant atheists. Having the same beliefs makes things simpler. I don’t know if I could marry someone who believed. I don’t think I would want to navigate some of the things others are talking about.

    I don’t remember how it first came up that we were atheist. He’s not American so that increased his chances of not being religious immediately. We had a non-religious ceremony that in no way mentioned god and instead opted for the power of science and the universe as our message.

    • Your ceremony sounds awesome! Love the concept of “the power of science and the universe as our message.”

      My new husband and I were both raised slightly religious (him Episcopal and me Buddhist), but now he’s agnostic (but interested in Eastern religion) and I still consider myself Buddhist (which is an atheist religion, since there is no God or gods, so I kindof consider myself an odd combination of religious and atheist). We’re both very logical, science-inclined people, and our beliefs are practically the same, but he just does not like the concept of atheism. Over the years, it has made for a number of normal conversations turned heated arguments that are hard for me to understand, because–to me, at least–he seems more caught up on the terms rather than our actual beliefs.

      Anyway, it sounds wonderfully simple to both be able to share the same beliefs and the same terminology. I always felt like I didn’t know if I could be with someone who believed either, and the weird thing is that even though my husband doesn’t believe in God, we still manage to disagree about how we talk/think about it.

  • So much to say and think about here! Mostly, I’m just thinking about 1. how hard some of these conversation with future spouses can be and 2. how I’m glad I didn’t end up with my first serious boyfriend 3. how I’m so glad that even though my fiance and I are still on our own faith journeys and may never figure things out completely, we are compatible when it comes to religion and that’s very, very important.

    I grew up Catholic. Very Catholic. My fiance grew up sort of without religion, but did attend Catholic school because it was the best school in town. As a result, he’s not very fond of Catholicism, but is fond of Christianity in general. I’ve fallen in and out of my religion, have briefly explored others, and fall somewhere between agnostic seeker and lightly practicing Catholic. My fiance considers himself Christian, for sure, but isn’t very vocal about it and is still sort of at the beginning of his faith journey. We’re both still definitely figuring things out. We know we want our future child(ren) to grow up with some sort of Christian religion, even if it’s one that we’re not 100% on board with. We hope to raise faithful but critical children. We are having a Catholic ceremony because it culturally and somewhat spiritually important to me and extremely important to my family, and my fiance is lukewarm about it. He’d prefer a less formal protestant ceremony, but I just can’t handle that. We do attend a protestant church but our kids will NOT be raised there; we will have to find another one that’s not so hellbent on traditional gender roles. We LOVED our Catholic pre-marital classes. So, we’re kind of a hodge-podge at this point, but it works. How we incorporate religious and cultural holidays and traditions into our lives is a work in progress, but we do know that seeking God (even if we struggle to believe sometimes) and living out our faith is important. We share most, if not all, fundamental values. I can’t imagine it any other way.

    My first boyfriend was Jewish. Very Jewish. Well, culturally and politically very Jewish. Faith in God, not so much. But Judaism is pretty much the most important thing ever to him. I knew at the outset of our relationship that if we married, I would have to convert or at the very least our kids would be raised Jewish and there would be no place for Christian holidays in our home. When I was in love, I thought this might be tolerable since at the time I wasn’t particularly attached to Catholicism anyway. Once the stupid love wore off I realized that to change religion or abandon my religious/cultural traditions – even if I wasn’t sure what place they had in my life – just to appease someone else was just not ok. I am so glad that guy dumped me (mostly for not being Jewish) before it went any further. I would have been miserable, and I may even go as far to say that my eternal soul would have been endangered. All of these conversations on this thread about Jewish/non-Jewish relationships are solidifying that. As I’m reading them, even though it’s working for other couples, I cringe. I would be so uncomfortable It’s great that other couples can make it work, it really is. I thought I could have made it work. But I couldn’t. I know that now. There is no way in hell I would be happy or feel honest in a Jewish family. Nothing against the people or the culture or religion, but I am not Jewish. I never will be, and I’m so glad I wasn’t asked to be.

    My fiance and I are happily struggling to figure out what we believe and how we will incorporate it into our families. We don’t know the specifics of where our journeys will lead us, but we’re definitely on the same journey. I can’t even tell you how much better I feel about that than the prospect of changing who I AM and what I believe to appease another person. My ex couldn’t do it and I understand why – I couldn’t either. I’m so glad I found someone who is willing to walk this road with me, difficult as it is.

    • One of the fundamental differences between Christians and (non-Orthodox) Jews that I’ve observed is the emphasis on “faith in God.”
      Christians- well, I should say Catholics as that’s my main frame of reference- it’s like a huge thing. “I believe Jesus was the son of God. He died on the cross and on the third day rose from the dead. He sits at the right hand of the father,” etc. etc.
      When I was growing up we read the Torah analytically- learning the Hebrew, dissecting the inner meaning, comparing to thousands of years of scholarly study on what really you’re supposed to do with that ambiguous law or list of people who begat other people.

      Honestly I was probably 17 before it dawned on me to wonder if there was a god or whether I should believe in him (her? it?). Judaism is a lot about practice, and doesn’t really ever require some all encompassing, strongly affirmed faith in God. Plus there’s the whole other bag of worms wherein some Jews definitely do not believe in God or really follow too many rules, but still feel strongly culturally Jewish.

      My own Catholic in laws were pretty strongly afraid of their grandchildren being raised Jewish because Jews don’t believe in God. Which is not really true… we’re just talking past each other on the subject.

  • Jenny

    Dear Meg: Despite having never participated in an open thread, I still felt disappointment as I read your post. I thought that this was a conversation that belongs to the religious, and therefore I would be excluded from it – that is, until I read the last sentence where you welcomed atheists and agnostics to participate (I should have known! This is APW, after all). It gave me warm fuzzies to be acknowledged and respected in a way that is exceedingly rare for “my kind,” and I wanted you to know that explicitly including us does matter, at least to me. Thank you!

  • Kathleen

    My husband and I are both Catholic, in very different senses of the word. I’m fairly religious, and he hadn’t been to Mass in years until we started dating. I was adamant that I would never guilt him into coming to church with me or make him feel like he had to go through the motions for my sake, but after a year or so of dating, I was heading to Mass with a friend one day and he asked, “Should I come?” He’s come with me almost every week since, though if he can’t make it with me, he rarely goes on his own.

    I was also adamant, though, that I needed a Catholic wedding – it was important to me that our marriage be recognized by the Church – and luckily he had no problem with that at all as he does identify as Catholic. We got married in my childhood parish, by a priest who’s friends with his family.

    We go to church every week, but rarely talk about belief (although we debate about issues plenty). I’ve always wanted to implement a prayer before meals, but can’t often remember to do it myself, much less impose it on him, and we barely managed to light an Advent wreath before dinner last year, with the associated prayers. These are things I’d really like to practice with our kids, but know it will be difficult to implement when we don’t do them now.

    Our biggest obstacle was definitely the area where doctrine actually impacted our relationship – pre-marital sex and contraception. We didn’t have sex before we were married, and struggled constantly with what else we (I) felt comfortable with. When he first heard that I would like to at least try Natural Family Planning instead of contraception, he was shocked. I’m not sure it had ever occurred to him that there were really people who didn’t use birth control. (Granted, I was in the exact same place 6 or 8 years earlier – it had honestly never occurred to me that ANYONE paid attention to that particular rule. But I’d had a few years to research the issue and figure out where I stood.)

    Once he’d agreed to NFP, he was so nervous about it failing that we ended up using the most high-tech and expensive method possible. (I wanted to do everything I could to make him comfortable with a decision where I was mostly calling the shots.) Turns out – it was utterly unhelpful for my body and, irregular cycles and all, we ended up relying on the good, old-fashioned, low-tech temp+mucus methods. Two years of successful use later, he no longer has any doubts about efficiency and says he’s “used to” the periods of abstinence and they don’t bother him. (NFP apologists often say that people practicing NFP have as much sex as anyone else, and I’ve been shocked to recently find out how true that is for us – we actually have sex far less often when there are no restrictions than when we’re actively avoiding pregnancy.) He still would be just as happy using contraception, I’m sure, as he has no ideological commitment to not using it, but this is one area where I don’t just follow the rules (and those areas do exist) – the theological reasons for avoiding contraception make so much sense to me that, difficult as it sometimes is, I wouldn’t want to do anything else, and I just constantly count myself lucky that he is open-minded enough to do so many of these difficult things that are so far outside of his mostly-secular frame of reference, for my sake.

  • religion is definitely something I struggle with. My father is a pastor at a protestant church. When I was growing up my parents were very liberal and easy going, but as the years passed they become progressively more and more religious and then my father quit his job and became a pastor at our church. Because we werent raised the same as other children in the church, I felt my sister and I were more able to see from both sides of the argument and make our own decisions about religion. Something I’m proud of, and grateful for.

    When I met my now fiance I was very much struggling with these decisions. I wasn’t finding church relevant, and my beliefs were in flux. My fiance is athiest and comes from a very liberal family, and my parents definitely consider him the reason I don’t attend church any more. The truth is that I became an adult and decided that christianity is not a religion I subscribe to, and I don’t believe in god so much as right and wrong, and simply being a good person.

    Anyway, the point is that I’m not sure how to tell/if I should tell my parents I dont believe in God before I get married (or ever). Our officient is from the United Church, but she’s from my fiances family and is open to a non-religious ceremony. My plan is to have my father give a blessing to incorporate his beliefs without making god the center of our ceremony.

    I feel like my my parents prefer not to know for sure, and thier beliefs mean they will always be ‘praying for our salvation’, but I’m seriously worried about when we have kids and how we’re going to incorporate things like “at grandma and grandpas we say grace, and we have to respect that, but at home we don’t because we don’t subscribe to the same religion”. What do we do about Christmas? How to we address the fact that we want our kids to make up thier own minds, and investigate other religions for themselves?

    And that’s our struggle. I remember when I went for coffee with my sister and was all “this is heavy, but I want you to know I dont believe in God” and she was like “ME NEITHER! Don’t tell mum and dad.” I hate hiding it from them, or lieing by omission, because I’m proud of the beliefs I’ve worked out for myself, but I also would hate to disapoint them in any way.

    • LM

      My dad and his family are pretty secular Jews and my mom’s family were observant Catholics, although my mom is not observant as an adult. As a kid it seemed totally normal to me that we celebrated Christmas/Easter/Hanukkah/Passover and if you asked me what religion I was, I literally said “both”. I don’t ever remember being fazed by saying grace at my grandparents’ house but not doing it at home. My grandparents would sometimes encourage us to come to mass or pray on our own and we felt a little uncomfortable, but it never hurt our relationship with them.

      I think it is harder when you start growing up and thinking about more adult things like ‘meaning of life’ and ‘death’ since you do have to search more for those answers. I remember thinking it would be easier if we had a religious tradition for that reason. However, it’s been interesting, even when challenging, to figure out what I believe and what is meaningful to me.

  • z

    College boyfriend really wanted me to convert to Judaism, so that our kids would be Jewish. This was very important to him because his mom was not Jewish.

    On a cultural level, it does kind of make sense to me. He wanted to give his kids the fully culturally Jewish experience, and avoid the tensions of an interfaith household. But I still crack up every time I think of the expression on the Rabbi’s face when the boyfriend pleaded his case– he scrunched up his eyebrows and said “It’s not like you just get a free Presbyterian every 50 years!”

  • Caroline

    I’m an observant, involved, passionate conservative/masorti Jew, and my fiance was raised catholic, sometimes spiritual but not religious and sometimes not spiritual and hating ritual/religion. I’m also a patrilineal Jew, a Jew by choice (convert), and the most religious person by thousands of lightyears in my family. It’s interesting, to say the least.

    We’ve reached some compromises that work, and are continually working it out. One of the things that has been great about being interfaith was in meeting with rabbis, trying to find someone to marry us. When my partner was asked why he wanted a Jewish wedding, why it mattered to him, he reflected the most beautiful things about how good Judaism has been for my life, which I hadn’t noticed, really, until he said them. It was amazing. He had gone from thinking religion was the opiate of the stupid and un-evolved to thinking it wasn’t for him really, but that it was one of the best things that had ever happened to me.

    Also, is anyone else OVER THE MOON PSYCHED and hopeful about Hebrew Union College reconsidering accepting intermarried rabbinic students? Really, I want to go to JTS, but I know that’s not likely to change, and I won’t ask my partner to convert if it feels like a lie, even to be a rabbi, but I know plenty of rabbis who are ordained in one movement, and whose practice is more like another movement. Oh man, if they say yes to intermarried students… there is a really good chance I will be trying to convince him to go to NY for 5 years…. (although I would have a lot of learning still to do to be competative.)

  • Jessica

    Any Muslim-Christian interfaith relationships out there? My fiancé and I are just starting down this path of talking about what our interfaith marriage will look like, and what the wedding ceremony would look like.

    • I hope you get some answers on that one!

      I created an intercultural western/Hindu wedding so my method may be helpful. I distilled all the traditions from both into individual sections (ring exchange, garland exchange, vows, sacred steps, etc.) and then used the framework of a western ceremony to plug in traditions from both sides.

      But for us we didn’t have two different religions being represented, so I’m not sure how you would manage that part of it.

      Then again, Islam and Christianity have some history in common since they both originate in Abraham. You may be able to find prayers that speak to both.

    • Anon

      Hi Jessica, my husband and I just got married and we’re an inter-/multi-everything couple! I’m Muslim and he was raised Catholic, albeit totally lapsed. I won’t lie to you, it was incredibly completed. What we ended up doing, which was difficult but totally worth it, was having two weddings. We did the Nikka (Muslim ceremony) first, which was small and intimate and included my parents. We moved in together, combined our finances, and threw a second, larger Catholic-inspired wedding, which we are not sharing with my parents. We found an amazing priest who was super-respectful to my beliefs, and was willing to officiate outside the church (yes, I know, very controversial)! We included our wedding party in a series of readings honouring all the major religions, including Hinduism, Shintoism, and the Aboriginal peoples. We wanted to dance and drink and I wanted a white dress, so we wrestled with the guilt and decided that my parents had their ceremony and their moment, and that this was for us. It took tons of tears and fighting and not everyone understands, but while I missed my parents, I had the time of my life, and feel like I did what I could to respect them.

      • Jessica

        Hi Carolyn and Anon – Thanks for the comments! Carolyn, I love your method for figuring out what the ceremony could look like. Those steps would be helpful for us too. Anon, I like the idea of the Nikka being an intimate moment with family. Ah, we’ll get there!

        • We did also end up doing two ceremonies, two weeks apart. We had our interfaith one and then we had a much smaller pure Hindu ceremony for us.

    • Amanda

      Hi Jessica-not exactly the same thing, but I am agnostic and he’s Muslim (yes I know *technically* he can’t even marry me). To add to the complications, we’re an international couple too. So we’re trying to figure out how we can have weddings that will be considered valid in both our countries and how to involve both our families and how to make immigration happy! So complicated…but he’s worth it though.

      • MDBethann

        A civil ceremony in your country for the legal issues and a religious ceremony in his country? Would that work and satisfy both families and legal requirements?

        • Amanda

          His country makes it difficult to get married, either civilly or Islamically (which according to his country are the same thing). They make it difficult for even natives of his country who are both Muslim and doubly so for “mixed” marriages. I originally wanted to do the whole thing in his country, but that’s looking too complicated.

          We’ll probably have to do both a civil and Islamic ceremony in the US and then after we save some $$, we’ll have a big party in his home country.

        • Rababa

          I second this Amanda. Even for 2 muslim people, there are cultural differences between different Arab countries and other muslim countries, down to differences between family traditions rooted in religion that can be so problematic. Even minor issues can create huge rifts between families and weddings are cancelled, but if your mother agrees to show up to a Lutheran service and only ask that the cross be placed aside….then I bow to you.

          I am muslim and the one thing I am not thrilled about is the wedding reception. The religious ceremony is just the groom and father, holding hands while the officiate reads some prayers,with 2 witnesses and you can include other people if you want. Then you sign papers and presto…

          Then comes the declaration: the reception, which religiously, is the way to say, we are marrying in public, and we’re not hiding anything. In my country, you almost can’t choose to NOT have a wedding. Man, weddings are exhausting everywhere!

    • MDBethann

      Jessica, I’m not, but my dad, as a Lutheran pastor, did do a Lutheran service for a woman in our congregation & her Muslim husband & told me about it, because I was curious.

      The couple in question had 3 ceremonies:
      (1) A civil ceremony in the US to make the marriage legal
      (2) An Islamic ceremony in his family’s home country of Pakistan
      (3) The Lutheran service performed by my dad at our church.

      While I don’t know the details of the 1st 2 services, for the Lutheran service, Dad said he went through the service and the sanctuary with both families, discussing language and the placement of things in the sanctuary, like the cross, which they moved off to the side or something to make the groom’s mother more comfortable.

      When I knew the couple 10 years ago (my dad isn’t at that congregation anymore), they were exposing their children to both faiths in order to let them choose for themselves later on.

      I can’t say that my dad was concern-free about the whole thing (especially raising kids in 2 very different belief systems) but he went with it.

  • littleone

    I was raised in an agnostic, secular pseudo-Christian family. My fiancee grew up identifying as egalitarian, unobservant-Conservative Jewish.

    About a year into dating, we started having arguments about religion. Circumcision was a big one, but there were others. I had the upper edge generally, because at that point he couldn’t put his finger on why these practices were important to him, considering he didn’t really believe (or not believe) in a higher power.

    At our college, he started going to services at an Orthodox outreach organization and I started coming along because I found that being left behind for something I didn’t understand was scarier than going out and confronting it. We both ended up becoming really close to the rabbi there, who took many hours out of his days just to sit down with us and parse out (often painfully) what Judaism was about and whether it was relevant and in line with what we wanted out of life.

    My fiancee found out that due to his mother’s death (and lack of details on her conversion), he would likely be required to convert to confirm his status. So boom, we both went into the conversion process together. It’s been tough, probably the hardest thing I’ve ever taken on, but so worthwhile and not a moment too soon. To anyone dealing with decisions about whether religion is important and how it will figure into your future lives, I say with all my heart, DO IT NOW, DO IT NOW, DO IT NOW. Time, marriage, and children will only make these discussions harder.

  • Anna

    I was raised strongly atheist by a cultural Jew (dad) and an ex-Protestant (mom). He was raised vaguely Protestant. He’s worried about the ceremony (what will be IN it if not religious stuff?), whether his mom wants us to get married in a church (ain’t gonna happen), and that he knows his mom wants to baptize our future children. So far I said that she can go baptize them if she wants to, but I’m not going. I want a couple of vaguely Jewish things in the wedding and am trying to convince him that Sunrise, Sunset is *totally* mainstream!

  • Anon

    I was a bi-racial kid raised in an atheist household and married a white (currently non-church going) Christian. Both our larger extended families are religious. I believe in the power of people and the Golden Rule. I respect the role religion has in others’ lives, but it doesn’t fully speak to me. Where I see some life circumstances as results of opportunity, hard work and luck, he believes in a helpful nudge from the Man Upstairs.

    We eloped and found a local, secular official. The wording of the vows was nice, but not particularly memorable. Because I worked for Hillel in college and have many Jewish friends, I loved the idea of a ketubah and selecting wording that held meaning for us. What’s a non-Jewish couple to do? Find a secular humanistic text of course.

    After the name/date portion, the text reads, We hereby pledge to trust, respect and support each other throughout our married life together. We shall always endeavor to be open and honest, understanding and accepting, loving and forgiving, and loyal to one another. We hereby promise to work together to build a harmonious relationship of equality. We shall respect each other’s uniqueness and help one another to grow to our fullest potential. We will comfort and support each other through life’s sorrows and joys. Together, we shall create a home filled with learning, laughter and compassion, a home wherein we will honor each other’s cherished family traditions and values. Let us join hands to help build a world filled with peace and love.

    Love, growth, equality, and respect for our different cultural and religious backgrounds. This I can get behind!

  • Legato

    This is a thread I needed at the moment. At 24, a practicing Christian with a commitment to God I chose for myself at 13, I recently met someone who completely flipped my expectations of being permanently single (for reasons of faith, opinions on premarital sex, and conviction of my own invisibility) on their head. I was always certain that I would either remain single permanently — which I was content with, I have a full and fulfilling life — or else meet one person and marry them. Along comes this man.

    We’re very different people and yet share very similar values: he respects my faith completely, but struggles badly with the lack of sex in our relationship. The knowledge that sex was made for marriage is bound so deep in my bones, I can’t shake it, and yet I feel horribly for him that being a non-Christian man who has had several long-term relationships before, he’s being denied one of the primary ways he shows the level he cares for me.

    Has anyone had similar experiences? It’s a struggle, and the feeling of being torn in two directions does not get easier.

    • JMS

      I totally get this. I was in the same situation except my fiancé was a virgin as well. (I imagine it’s even harder when your partner has had sex before.) I felt a lot of guilt about asking him to wait for me. There were many times when I wavered and we almost had sex, but it never felt right to me and I continued to put it off. He was very understanding and reassuring, but I recently discovered that he quietly dealt with some resentment and frustration while we were dating. When we got engaged, it became a lot easier because we saw the finish line and my guilt eased quite a bit. I don’t have much advice for you, but I’d like to say that we were *both* glad that we waited. My one regret is that I wish I had worked harder to understand and explore my own sexuality before we got married.

      • Kathleen

        My situation is similar to JMS – my now-husband was also a virgin when we met, though he had a bit more experience than I did in other ways. He had no religious or ideological commitment to waiting, and although we struggled a lot and wavered a lot, by the time we were approaching the wedding, he was telling me that even if I changed my mind, he’d want to wait until we were married – it felt like a project to finish or something to that effect. I did feel a lot of guilt for making him wait; he felt a lot of guilt for sometimes encouraging me to do more than I was comfortable with. It really is a difficult time in the relationship, especially when you’re not on the same page, but now that we’re married, I don’t think we have any regrets and it doesn’t negatively affect our long-term relationship at all.

      • I second the putting some work into understanding your own sexuality. I grew up super religious and planned to be a virgin until I got married.

        What I didn’t acknowledge at the time was that I was using that to avoid facing some very big fears around sex. It was easy to ignore those issues using my religious conviction as an excuse. (Not saying you’re doing that, that was me).

        When I finally did try to have sex, I wasn’t able to and had to go to doctors and counselors for a while. I think it’s good to go into your wedding night knowing that it might be difficult at first. It might not be a magical wedding night. Knowing that can help you not panic if things don’t go as smoothly as you want.

        • Legato

          Carolyn, you’ve hit the nail on the head for me. I’ve been seriously questioning whether my hesitation is genuinely from a concern about what is right in God’s eyes or whether it’s become an excuse to avoid facing myself or letting someone else actually see who I am. I have been trying for a very long time to be invisible, and it’s been very difficult to deal with the fact that I am not: figuring out who I am without sex and with sex is something I’ve been working on.

          I mostly simply feel anxious about disappointing my partner if I simply hit a wall and can’t progress. It’s good to hear that you were able to go to counselors to figure this out. Nice to know others have gone through similar things as I have. :)

          • Absolutely! You will get there. If you’re asking the questions, then you almost certainly have the fortitude to get to the answers.

      • Legato

        Thanks so much for your reply, JMS. I struggle with much the same the feelings as you did, of guilt and wavering between having sex and not. It’s interesting that you say that about regrets: I have been forced to assess what I want and what I know about my own sexuality, alone.

        It is really tough, but it’s encouraging to hear that you and your partner worked through it successfully.

    • Teresa Janelle

      I really respect your struggle, as a (Anglican) Christian who has thought and struggled a lot with pre-marital sexual expression. My boyfriend and I are still working things out between us. Briefly, my story is that I grew up with very liberal parents but still the strong expectation that sex was for marriage alone, but then dated somebody who I deeply respect religiouslly about six months ago and he sparked me to really re-examine those beliefs…and I now see the issue as much more grey. I think what is MOST important is that any sexual expression you two have together is under Love and Justice, that you both enthusiastically consent, and that it is right for BOTH of you. It’s cliche, but anybody worth having will wait for you.
      Recommended reading, that has helped me:
      Sex for Christians – Lewis Smedes
      Sex God – Rob Bell
      (BEST BOOK EVER): Wisdom of the Body: Making Sense of our Sexuality – Evelyn whitehead and James Whitehead
      Just Love – Margaret Farley
      Unprotected Texts – J. Wright Knust

      And there’s several other good ones out there that you may find helpful.

      I encourage you to keep reading and examining your perspectives, keep the lines of communication open with your fiance, and rejoice in whatever sexual expression you DO feel comfortable with (whether that’s holding hands or kissing or everything up to intercourse or intercourse or some other set of things that works for you). And if you feel that you believe in abstinence because you’re afraid of sex, talk to your priest and/or a counsellor/sex therapist…priests can be amazingly affirming, and they’ve already hear it ALL, trust me!

  • Susan

    I am a semi-lapsed Catholic and am marrying an athiest. When we first started dating, we talked a lot about religion and how we perceived the world. He has never pushed me to change my religion nor have I pushed him, and this is the key to our success. We are getting married in October and decided to have a Methodist wedding because his family is Methodist and he is comfortable with the level of religion in the ceremony while I am getting a Christian marriage. Mutual respect and communication are the foundations of our understanding for each other.

  • Rachel

    Both my partner and I are atheists, and we were both raised atheist, so while the broader influence of religion has certainly impacted our cultural traditions (we celebrate Christmas and Easter, but in a secular way), we have no religious faith, and never have. Of course, this will carry forward for us when we have children in the future, and we plan to raise our children in an atheist household (while instilling a respectful understanding of world religions).

    Where we’ve struggled a bit is around the lack of formal traditions and rituals when you don’t belong to a religious faith. Even our atheist parents, simply by virtue of growing up in a somewhat different time, went through a lot of the motions that come with religion (getting married in a church, baptizing their children) simply because it’s ‘what was done’ in their day. As we now live in an era where atheism is much more common and widely accepted (I should point out here that I’m Canadian, not American, and there is a huge cultural difference in the attitude towards religion here) – we have no plans to baptize our children, and we were married in a secular ceremony with a justice of the peace. The wedding worked out beautifully, and we’re hoping to create our own rituals and traditions in the future that honour milestones without inappropriately appropriating meaningful religious traditions from faiths. In the area of baptism, we plan to instead have a welcoming and mentorship ceremony for our future children after they’re born, where we acknowledge the people who we hope will be important mentors in their life (rather than Godparents). This will allow us to honour a wide range of people who can bring different strengths and experiences to our children’s lives, and allow us to create important rituals and traditions, but will (hopefully!) not come across as ‘stealing’ from religious traditions we don’t believe in.

    • I love the idea of the welcoming ceremony. You know, you could create a guide for atheist parents! That’s a book idea right there. Or a blog. As more and more people embrace atheism, they will be looking just as you are for ways to bring ritual and tradition into their lives in authentic-to-them ways. You’re laying the groundwork in your own life and I think you could really help others find ways to do this in their lives.

  • Kate

    I just read through all the comments, and can I just say how much I appreciate everyone being so open and thoughtful? My wedding is next Saturday and we’ve already chosen our service (Presbyterian), but it was really meaningful for me to sit here and reflect on all of your experiences and beliefs. And it made me really think about our service in a way I hadn’t before.

    (Also, I’m totally stealing the Ecclesiastes 4 reading suggested by VivaLuisa and replacing our current reading. Nothing like last minute changes!)

    As for our complicated faith history: my fiance grew up attending both Catholic and Baptist services every week until he was about 11 or 12. Then his parents gave up the ghost and joined a Methodist church. My parents were “Christmas and Easter” Christians until I was in 7th grade when we became Presbyterian (PCUSA). I rejected all belief in college, came back, and joined a Methodist church in grad school (after spending some time in a mildly terrifying non-denominational church). My fiance hasn’t regularly attended since undergrad. Anyway, my childhood Presbyterian pastor is marrying us, but he allowed us to “tone down” the service (and make the references to the people getting married gender-neutral, which was important to me). I’m pleased with what we’ve come up with.

  • Sara

    Tried tweeting @Emily as previously requested, but I guess she’s busy. Anyway, Editz: two female Rabbi’s –> two female Rabbis

  • Teresa Janelle

    Any interchurch (Catholic and Anglican/Episcopalian or other Protestant) couples out there? Curious for your experiences, especially in regards to Eucharistic sharing, how do you decide which churches to go to, where do you Baptise/raise the kids, etc. This has personal relevance since my boyfriend and I are interchurch! (I’m Anglican, he’s Roman Catholic)