The Case for Raising Your Child With Two Religions

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Americans are leaving behind single-faith identities. According to a 2009 study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, almost one quarter of all Americans attend religious services of more than one faith or denomination. Interfaith marriages are increasingly common, with families who are Jewish-Christian constituting the first great wave of religious intermarriage. Clergy often argue that children raised with two faiths will be confused, and oftentimes one religion takes precedence over another in an effort to minimize conflict. Choosing one religion works for many families, but not all of them. After conducting a survey of parents who joined interfaith communities and put their children in interfaith education programs, I believe that celebrating two religions can enrich and strengthen families and greatly benefit children. Being both is not simply a compromise or negotiated settlement, but a positive, inspirational choice. Here’s why:

1. It Promotes Transparency About Differences.

Neither parent’s religion is being suppressed, so children are less likely to feel confusion, guilt or even resentment on behalf of the “out-parent.” Meanwhile, interfaith children trying to formulate an identity as solely Jewish or solely Christian often struggle against society’s assumptions about their religion, based on physical characteristics, name, and extended family. An interfaith child raised Jewish may be presumed otherwise because of brown skin or even blond hair. An interfaith child raised Catholic, but whose last name is Cohen, will be presumed to be Jewish. Children allowed to identify equally with both sides of the family may more easily integrate the reality of their hair, their name, and even their grandparents. And while the children must learn to integrate two worldviews, as rebellious teens and young adults, they often appreciate the respect their parents show them by allowing them to make their own decisions. “No one is dictating to me what to believe and what not to,” reports a thirteen-year-old girl in the Washington interfaith group.

2. It Encourages Family Unity.

Families who choose to raise their children in an interfaith community often cite unity as one of their reasons for doing so. In my survey, 48 percent of adult respondents, over one hundred of them, responded that one of their reasons for joining an interfaith community was that they didn’t want one spouse to feel left out. In an interfaith setting, both parents have equal status. Both parents can sit at a gathering or holiday celebration with the children, and neither will feel like a guest. There is never a question of who can hold the Torah, who can say a blessing. Ideally, when a family chooses both, it means parents also take on equal responsibility in transmitting culture and beliefs to the children. If a Christian wife is toting the kids to Hebrew school, at least she knows she can also tote them to Mass. It also means that while both parents may be sacrificing some of their traditions because of time and logistical constraints, neither parent is being asked to sacrifice everything.

3. It Gives Extended Family Equal Weight.

Choosing one religion can strain relationships with the extended family celebrating the “out-religion.” Parents feel they must be on guard against grandparents from the “other side” proselytizing or lobbying in more subtle ways. There may be pressure to minimize contact with the “wrong” side during school vacations, which often coincide with religious holidays. Grandparents may not understand what it means at first to choose both religions, since interfaith family communities did not exist when they were raising children. Often, they become less skeptical when they visit the community or when they see the results of dual-faith education in their grandchildren. One of the benefits of choosing both is that both sets of grandparents may transmit beliefs and rituals more freely. A Catholic grandparent can teach a grandchild to say the rosary, even while a Jewish grandparent can teach a grandchild to say the Kaddish (the traditional Jewish prayer for mourners). In fact, extended family members on both sides can be appreciated as guardians of religious lore and family history. A mother of two young children in Washington, Veronica Sholin was raised Catholic; her husband was raised in Reform Judaism. When asked about the greatest benefit of raising children with both religions, Sholin replied, “Both sets of holidays are celebrated in our home, and our kids can identify with both parents and the grandparents.”

 4. It Sidesteps the Matrilineality Conflict

In interfaith families choosing one religion for their children, the issue of whether it is the mother or father who is Jewish can have a tremendous impact. Children raised as Jews with a Christian mother will not be accepted by Conservative or Orthodox Jews unless they undergo conversion. Children raised as Christians with a Jewish mother will hear from these same quarters that they are Jews, no matter how they were raised or how they feel. And sadly, despite the historic decision by Reform rabbis to allow patrilineal Jewish children into the fold, even many Reform Jews continue to reject them. Generations of tradition and tribal consciousness are not easily erased by a rabbinic recommendation. As a patrilineal Jewish child whose parents did everything by the book to raise me as a Reform Jew, I can attest to this. In an interfaith community, children are raised to believe that they have a right to claim both their Jewish and Christian heritage, regardless of which parent is Jewish. Of course, when interfaith children go out into American society, they must still face these issues, but at least they have the strong support of an interfaith community. In the end, since the different Jewish communities have different opinions on the heritability of Judaism, and these opinions are still in a state of flux and conflict, it seems difficult and rather fruitless to try to conform to them.

 5. It Provides Literacy in Both Religions.

The most common reason parents in my survey cited for choosing an interfaith community was a desire for their children to be knowledgeable about both religions. More than 90 percent of parents chose this as one of their reasons for joining. Whether or not a family also belongs to a church or synagogue or both, a dual-faith religious education program gives children the freedom to compare and contrast in a way that is rarely condoned in a single-faith educational setting. And an interfaith education program provides practical advantages over shlepping children to two different religious schools. One Washington parent explains, “We didn’t feel competent to be the sole religious teachers for our child, but sending him to both church and temple religious school was not realistic or appealing.”

Even if your child chooses not to practice a religion as an adult, or to embrace a non-Abrahamic faith, our culture—American literature, music, politics—was forged in a Judeo-Christian context. A familiarity with Bible stories, rituals, and holidays from Judaism and Christianity makes a child more culturally literate.

23 comments
MattDavis
MattDavis

My parents are Jewish and Christian, so they raised me without religion. That's the obvious choice; they never indoctrinated me - never told me there was or was not a god. I decided for myself. There isn't, obviously. When I grew up, my dad told me he didn't believe either. It's good that he let me make up my own mind, though - no-one can accuse him of indoctrinating me!

velesot365
velesot365

What about raising your child with no religion? Why is that not even an option according to Time?

goldengrain
goldengrain

I don't think the love and knowledge of God is exclusive to any one religion.  It's a healthy thing to show God's many faces to children.  It's healthy that they know that there are many paths to follow.  Even if a child is eventually an athiest, it will be a knowledgeable decision. 

We live in a multicultural society.  Religions that preach that they are the ONLY way are only causing dissent.  It's a good thing that a child learns to love God but put dogma aside.   

buckybone
buckybone

This makes absolutely no sense. To paraphrase an old line about quarterbacks: If you have two religions, then you have no religion.

RJWinUK
RJWinUK

Or better still raise them with the truth that God(s) do not exist and religions are what man made to explain the world before we understood the world through science. Free their minds from absurd supernatural nonsense. 

DaveDavis
DaveDavis

Yep, teach them the Koran too.

That way, when radical muslims choose who to kill in a mall in this country, your children will know who Mohammad's mother is, and they may be put on the no kill list, and  be allowed to leave with their lives.

ShoshanaBryen
ShoshanaBryen

This strips religion of everything that makes it "religious" and reduces it to a set of forms and family dinners. Christianity has a central place for Jesus, risen from the dead and the means to eternal life. He is the Son of God put on earth to save us from our sins. If you don't have that, you aren't a RELIGIOUS Christian even if you have a tree in December and colored eggs in April.  Judaism rejects that place for Jesus and posits a different means to the end. Islam requires a place for Mohammed that is not part of Judaism or Christianity. Can you be a "cultural" Christian, liking trees and eggs but not worrying that if you don't accept Jesus as your Savior you won't go to heaven? Yes, of course, but you should recognize that you are not religious and then you have to wonder why trees and eggs are so important. Can you be a "cultural" Jew by eating bagels and lox but not entering your male children into the Covenant with a Brit Milah or submitting to individual judgment on Rosh Hashana?  Yes, too. But then its bagels and dreidels all the way down - not the Jewish religion.

 "Cultural literacy" is nice and to be encouraged, but not mixed up with religion. Jewish culture can be Ashkenazi encompassing many countries, languages and customs, or Sefardic doing the same.

Honesty should make parents decide what they do and don't believe before they mash it into food and toys for their children. If one parent believes Jesus is the path to Heaven, he/she should consider how he/she will explain that Mommy/Daddy isn't going there - or Grandma and Grandpa aren't going because they're Jewish or Sikh or Buddhist.

MattDavis
MattDavis

I forgot to mention my primary school did have daily prayers, but even from the age of 5 I was intelligent enough to know that it was all nonsense.

velesot365
velesot365

@RJWinUK apparently that never entered the author's mind. They just assume everyone wants to believe in magic over reason.

EnricMartinez
EnricMartinez

@DaveDavis YI agree! And when your fellow White Christians are in the mood of bombing the hell out of a public building they will know the Bible and... well, never mind...
Greetings and watch that bad bad black Mexican muslim I heard they are conspiring with the Illuminaty and the Alines to steal your hamburgers!!!

Openminded1
Openminded1

@ShoshanaBryen Let the kids decide what they believe in, not the brainwashing most of the religious holly rollers like to sell. Mormons, Jehovah witness, Scientology, and the rest of the brainwashing cults out there, who think their god is the only god and everyone else is delusional.

baruchm
baruchm

@ShoshanaBryen As someone who comes from a family background that includes an interfaith marriage, I would suggest that you miss the point. You are forcing your understanding of a dogmatic, perhaps outdated, mode of Christianity into the situation, and I don't think that those in interfaith marriage, or most of those in the Western world today, would easily submit to your version of Christianity.

While I did have a heightened understanding of Jesus as the savior as a young child, it was more founded in the saving power of his life as an example and inspiration, dedicating one's life to strive to follow in his footsteps, and "picking up the cross" to follow him on his mission. His path of compassion and true love and acceptance of all, even the most seemingly immoral, was the "way"; his powerful and straightforward approach to banishing the superficialities and falsehoods in the Judaism of the day was the "truth"; and his life as a model for how to pattern my own life was the "life". I could easily see him as a full embodiment of Jewish prophecy. My hangups on a dogmatic Christianity like the one you espouse was what drove me in my adolescence to opt for my mother's religion, which was Judaism.

As it was presented to me, Judaism was a complete lifestyle, encompassing practice and belief and culture. It was not bagels and lox, just as Christianity had not been jingle bells and Easter eggs. I have, over the years, moved further and further into Judaism, and have been completely practicing as an Orthodox Jew for the greater part of a decade. Neither religion has even seemed to me, nor were they ever presented to me, as superficial as you try to make them seem in the context of an interfaith family.

I wish that I'd had an organization such as the one Susan Katz Miller works with in Washington, DC, or Interfaith Community in New York. It would have possibly provided me with better tools for understanding how I don't have to abandon the Jesus I had for the Judaism I embraced.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@EnricMartinez @DaveDavis You are a bleeding heart liberal, and a dummy muslims come in all colors, and the are all the same religious fanatics who hate anyone who is not a muslim.

velesot365
velesot365

@Openminded1 @ShoshanaBryen Why not teach them about all religions as stuff people believe without evidence and let them know they are free to follow any religion or none as they see fit but to always think critically and make sure what they believe can be backed up with reason and facts. I think that is much better than teaching children that magic is real.

ShoshanaBryen
ShoshanaBryen

@baruchm You're not the only one in this conversation with an interfaith family - which is why I stress the difference between religion and culture. The author mentions a mother who takes her children to Hebrew School and to Mass - but the Catholic Mass is connected to religious principle. If you take your child to Mass and tell him its something other than what the Catholic Church says it is, it its a cookie and juice and not true.  You opted for Judaism - as have people in my family, but others cheerfully go around with a Christmas Tree and a Menorah and haven't the slightest idea that those are attached to a system of beliefs. You argue that the view of exclusionary Christianity is "dogmatic and outmoded." I suggest there are a great many Catholics and Protestants who would disagree with you - living a good life, for them, would not be enough.

I argue only for knowing, if you choose an interfaith marriage, what you are choosing, what you may be giving up, what you may or may not believe about your spouse's faith, if there is any faith at all involved. 

If there isn't any, it doesn't matter anyhow and shouldn't be called interfaith, just cultural diversity.

velesot365
velesot365

@Openminded1 @velesot365 @goldengrain historically you'd be wrong. However yes in our modern times christians are not generally as violent. There is however no reason to believe that if they had as much power as they are attempting to gain over government that they could indeed begin being just as violent as they used to be.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@velesot365 @Openminded1 @goldengrain They are nothing like muslims, they do not kill all over the world because they do not like you or if you do not believe in their god. muslims are true fanatics who murder. christian nut cases just run their mouths and are annoying.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@velesot365 @Openminded1 @ShoshanaBryen In today's world with google and the internet in general kids find out most everything, Including sex, porn, history, even cooking. So they can make up their own minds and will. As a parent you do the best you can to teach by example and send them down the right rode. Then they go to school and on the net and make their own mistakes. It is reality. This is not my generation from the 50's.and 60's.

baruchm
baruchm

 @ShoshanaBryen It is sad that you see the understanding of Christianity I described as simply "living a good life". It was clearly more complex than that, and I get the sense that you know it. While I know that there would be Christians who would disagree even in the complexity, I would presume that those are not the ones entering into interfaith marriages, and likely not the ones who represent the future of Christianity.

Katz Miller doesn't seem to argue in favor of interfaith marriages willy-nilly. The type of program she runs, as well as the organization in New York, have committed members, practicing members, of both faiths teaching children about those faiths. They attend real services, perform real religious acts, and learn the theological and philosophical underpinnings of those things. These organizations do not just give parents a place where their kids can sing Christmas carols around a menorah. There is substance and authenticity in what they teach.

With regard to the spousal issue as well, Interfaith Community offers workshops for couples to get to the bottom of what they truly believe and want to pass on, what their faith means to them, how they see it in light of their partner's faith, and how it all fits (or doesn't fit).

No one here is saying that these dual-faith families should be, or are able, to pursue these things on their own. But there are institutions to help them explore substantive ways to approach interfaith realities.