One big assumption made by most online dating sites is that birds of a feather flock together. But opposites also attract, of course, including in the realm of religion. Stephen Prothero, author of God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World—and Why Their Differences Matter, shares what he has learned about making interfaith relationships work.
Forbidden fruit is, of course, one allure of interfaith romances. The Capulets and the Montagues have nothing on the Hindus and the Muslims, and in many traditional Jewish homes, if you marry a Christian, your family might well disown you. In fact, a New York–based modern Orthodox rabbi recently told me the prospect of his son marrying a non-Jew was "the nightmare scenario."
Almost every couple I know, however, is an interfaith couple. My friends are Catholics married to Jews, Protestants engaged to Buddhists and Hindus dating Muslims. And they are not alone. According to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 37 percent of married adults in the United States have spouses from a different religion. So for every two Jewish women scanning JDate or her local kosher deli for the perfect Jewish man, there is one Jewish woman eyeing a Protestant or a Buddhist.
But making an interfaith relationship work isn't easy. Especially in the United States, religion matters. And despite what popular books on the subject might tell you, the world's religions differ fundamentally on matters of both belief and practice. So when sparks fly across the interfaith divide, they do not have to leap very far to set off an interreligious skirmish.
When Shanny and Kimberly Luft started dating, both Jesus and Yahweh seemed to be standing in the way. He had been raised a Conservative Jew, she had grown up an evangelical Protestant and faith mattered to both of them. So they talked endlessly about religion. They even went to each others' worship services, including one excruciating nondenominational Protestant affair where the preacher went on and on about how the Jews killed Jesus. But try as they might, they couldn't get to yes. So they broke up and got back together and broke up again. Finally, they decided they were happier together than apart. They vowed to make the religion thing work. And they did.
Other couples are not so lucky. While researching this article, I met a Catholic woman whose relationship with a Muslim ended after five years and an evangelical Protestant man whose relationship with a Sikh ended after seven years, both because of religious differences. But some interfaith relationships thrive. What's their secret?
Many interfaith relationships work because one or both of the partners just don't care all that much about religion. Katya Ramdya, a Hindu writer living in London, says she and her Muslim husband get along because both of them are pretty secular. "My answer is not a very PC one," she tells me, but "I think the only way for interfaith couples to make it work is if both or one person in the couple are somewhat indifferent to their faith(s)."
What do you do if you or your partner take your religion more seriously?