Sunday, July 24, 2011

Marriage and Mixing Religions

It used to be that marriages which mixed culture or religion were at best tolerated, at worst isolating families from each other or creating fractures in marriages over time. But nowadays, with the diversity of religions becoming more well-known across the world, families seem to have become more accepting of blending boundaries that were normally inviolable and people are more willing to compromise on even those things they take very seriously, especially their faiths. Catholics marrying Jews, Jews marrying Hindus and everything else you could possibly imagine. With some faiths, Wicca in particular, I can imagine so much diversity that even some Wiccans might be thrown off by the variety of practices you could incorporate into a ceremony. But the importance of a person’s beliefs and associated culture that comes with that faith cannot and should not be underestimated. Some people take it more seriously than others and that can be an indication from the start about whether the relationship will work with any particular person. I myself, for instance, am more generic in my beliefs and don’t make a huge deal of the culture or religious practices associated with a wedding; an initial estimation would be that I’m either spiritual, but not religious or neither spiritual nor religious. Simply getting married at a beach ceremony, for example, with vows we’ve written to each other, a general officiator standing between us, would be fine with me; nothing huge, but simple without being simplistic. How you approach this very traditional sort of practice across cultures will have an effect upon not only your relationship with each other, but with your family as well.

Part of why planning out this sort of thing beforehand benefits everyone is that it reflects in part how you intend to raise your children. Of course, some couples marry without the intent to have children, but assuming the majority of couples intend to raise children in a blend of the faiths or one over the other is demonstrated by how the ceremony progresses. Some couples will just have a ceremony that’s centered around one faith, like a Catholic wedding. This is usually because the non Catholic spouse feels it’s more important to emphasize the part of their shared religious background or beliefs, which in many cases of couples could be that one member of the couple is a lapsed Catholic, while the other is still devout. There is a potential problem here in that it seems to put one of the partners’ feelings over and above the others’. But if they’ve talked about this and agreed that the other partner doesn’t necessarily oppose the Catholic ceremony and doesn’t feel there’s anything for them to add that they can’t do in the vows, it isn’t a huge problem. Some would still insist that it creates tensions from the get go, in that you’re letting one person dominate the relationship.

If, instead, you want to blend both culture and/or religion, then there is a bigger project ahead of them in deciding how to approach it. It would be next to impossible to incorporate all the important aspects from each faith, so there’s necessarily a need for compromise. Finding what you have in common can be a good start so that there’s less anxiety about what they don’t share. Jews, Hindus and Greek Orthodox, for example, share practices of breaking something after the couple is married, like a bottle, jar, or glass respectively. There’s also a definite need to either put background in your wedding program or have people at the wedding to explain the traditions to outsiders so that there isn’t as much culture shock as if you just went to a relative’s wedding and didn’t understand what was being said in Greek or Hebrew, for example.

There can be difficulties in cases where one of the couple is an atheist or agnostic, since there aren’t really any explicit traditions associated with either. If they wish, there could be secular humanist aspects intertwined with the marriage ceremony that their spouse shares in common with them, as, say, a Christian or Jew (unless of course they’re both atheists or agnostics, in which case a lot of the problems melt away). In that sense, it’s almost not different in some way from the example I presented prior with just using a basic wedding ceremony from one tradition and altering it slightly in relation to the spouse not associated with the tradition. And if both members are secular, but still rooted in culture, then part of the problem could be said to lie with simply not offending either culture involved. A secular Jew and Hindu would potentially have common ground, but would probably also need to be wary of not stepping on any toes on explicit cultural norms.

All in all, marriage, as important as it is for many people, ought to be approached with consideration of both sides without catering to one side to appease them. If you choose to, there shouldn’t be too much or too little of either side of one’s religion or their associated cultures in many cases. It should be moderated, but maintain the meaningfulness that it holds to both parties involved. If you do that, the rest of your marriage will have a better foundation to start from. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

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