Against Interfaith Upbringing

This past October, to mark the Feast of the Holy Rosary, one of my Facebook friends posted a link G.K. Chesterton’s braying ode to the Holy League’s 1571 naval victory over the Ottomans at Lepanto. Here’s a taste:

Strong gongs groaning as the guns boom far,
Don John of Austria is going to the war,
Stiff flags straining in the night-blasts cold
In the gloom black-purple, in the glint old-gold,
Torchlight crimson on the copper kettle-drums,
Then the tuckets, then the trumpets, then the cannon, and he comes.
Don John laughing in the brave beard curled,
Spurning of his stirrups like the thrones of all the world,
Holding his head up for a flag of all the free.
Love-light of Spain–hurrah!
Death-light of Africa!
Don John of Austria
Is riding to the sea.

Calloo, callay, indeed. Very stirring stuff. And properly timed — the Feast of the Holy Rosary, originally named the Feast of Our Lady of Victory, was instituted for the purpose of recognizing the Blessed Mother’s role in determining the battle’s outcome. But, beneficial though that outcome undoubtedly was for Christendom, it was perhaps less so for the Jews. Spain, which had furnished the flotilla with ships and commanders, expelled its Jews in 1492; Pope St. Pius V, who took the lead in forming southern Europe’s maritime nations into a coalition, followed suit with most of his dominion’s own Jews in 1569. It was the Ottoman sultans who welcomed them, permitting them to settle in, among other places, Jerusalem.

I’m a Catholic, an adult convert from unreligion. My father, though raised and buried Jewish, suspended religious observance at nearly all points in between. One fringe benefit of that suspension — at least for my purposes — was his marriage to my mother, herself in flight from the Catholic Church. Though I’ve never practiced Judaism (apart from dozing or fidgeting through Shabbos services at a Jewish summer camp), my connection to my father has left me with fraternal feelings for the Jewish people perhaps profounder than those of the average Christian committed to inter-religious bridge-building. At moments like these, that sense of kinship can make life mighty awkward.

Susan Katz Miller has been plugging “interfaith” upbringings, where children of Jewish and non-Jewish parents receive catechesis in both parents’ traditions, with decisive preference given to neither. She herself was born to a Jewish father and a Christian mother and identifies as Jewish. However, as she carefully observes:

Simultaneously, I claim the “interfaith” label—the synergy produced by the confluence of religious cultures, and immersion in the commonalities, differences, and entwined histories of Judaism and Christianity. Rather than defining me as a “partial” or “half” Jew, the interfaith label gives equal weight to both sides of my heritage.

Synergy, hell — the idea of being fully Christian and fully something else sounds like a kind of intellectual hypostasis. It also sounds impossible. And indeed, judging by the cases Katz Miller cites in Salon from her book, Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family, interfaith upbringings tend to have messy outcomes. Of a sample consisting of 50 self-selected graduates of several interfaith schools, more than a quarter chose to label themselves “interfaith” (not surprisingly), and over 80 percent of these expect not to settle on a single religion. And many do refuse even the most elastic of labels. Responded one participant: “I don’t think the label is as important as what you actually believe, and what I believe probably has some aspects that are Christian, some that are Jewish and some that are neither or a blend of the two.” Did I say hypostasis? I meant intellectual polyamory.

In blazing the interfaith trail, Katz Miller may have had to show some grit. As she reminds us, having a Christian mother has meant “having to defend my Jewish identity to my fellow Jews throughout my lifetime.” But to hear professor of Jewish history Jack Wertheimer tell it, many synagogues now see accommodating intermarried couples as the path of least resistance. “Already,” he writes, “Reform and Reconstructionist synagogues around the country proclaim their warm embrace of all kinds of families, and many Conservative synagogues are competing to be equally hospitable.” If they resist interfaith education per se, it doesn’t sound as though they’ll hold out much longer. Katz Miller’s research subjects report that Catholic parishes have made few bones. If ever there was a battle, her side’s all but won.

As Moses used to say, cui bono? If it’s interfaith couples who just can’t help themselves marrying and having kids, okay. For obvious reasons, I’m biased on that score. Beyond the facts of my birth, I’m a firm believer in romantic love — probably one reason I never married. Not everyone whose tastes roam outside the fold can be so lucky as my parents were in losing their faith first. If neither will yield to the other…well, as a last resort, maybe interfaith is better than no faith at all.

But as Herod used to say, think of the children. Even people who don’t value orthodoxy for its own sake should pause to ask themselves whether the benefit of religious affiliation gains more from its variety or from its depth. Me, I’m a depth man. In my experience, attaining real depth means moving beyond the use of text and ritual as a roadmap to the divine, or even as a blueprint for a solid moral foundation. It means throwing in your lot with a community, adopting its view of history as your own. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it means choosing a bloody side.

Living with the implications of that choice isn’t always easy. Chesterton beating up on orientals on Rosary Sunday is kids’ stuff. Far more bracing is getting to know people who see 13th-century Europe as the apogee of civilization, the Society of St. Pius X as the guardian of Catholic authenticity, Joe Sobran as a misunderstood and maligned genius, and Hitler as…well, not a nice guy, by any means, but a damn sight better than Stalin. If these people seemed to dislike Jews or subscribe to negative stereotypes regarding them, that would make everything very neat and very easy. But as far as I can tell, most don’t. They simply root for the Church’s interests to win out over the Jews’, without apology or hesitation, whenever the two appear to come into conflict.

Fortunately, this orientation is too vague to have been defined infallibly, but it makes sense. Though I can’t quite pretend to find it appetizing, coming to recognize its logic has forced me to stretch myself intellectually. So has recognizing that the people who hold to it are, through the sacrament of Baptism, my real peeps now. Once my viscera catch up with my brain, I’ll no longer fear running into them on Good Friday, after they’ve been hitting the plum brandy, and getting my throat slit for my troubles.

But choosing a single faith doesn’t mean smothering any sense of affinity with others. It needn’t mean rewriting personal or family histories. Simcha Fisher, another Patheos blogger, has called herself a Hebrew Catholic. If I’m getting this right, she and her family converted from Judaism when she was very young and continued observing those Jewish customs that are congruent with Catholicism. As she writes: “All during Holy Week, my father could be heard practicing the Exsultet to chant at the Easter vigil, as my mother fried and ground up liver and onions in preparation for the Passover seder.” She went on to earn a Bachelors in literature from St. Thomas More College, and uses it to defend the Catholic faith. (For the record, she has, as of this writing, borne nine kids, an accomplishment that would earn the same plaudits on Mea Shearim as it would in Ave Maria, Florida.)

As for me, well, my patrilineal descent has always complicated my relationship with Jewish tradition, especially where it relates to questions of Jewish personhood. “Fraternal” doesn’t always mean “harmonious,” as Abel and Joseph would readily attest. Becoming Catholic has helped me exorcize the bitterness I’d sometimes felt over being a bar sinister who could never become a bar mitzvah. “Hah! Big shots!” I now get to say. “Full-fledged member of a royal priesthood and the people Israel right here!” Nostra Aetate describes the gentiles as “wild shoots” grafted onto the well-watered Jewish olive tree. Disraeli would have had my mother’s family swinging from trees — probably after nipping at the Jameson’s — so I consider the Council’s view a step forward.

On the surface, being raised interfaith and remaining so after the Katz Miller fashion would seem to offer some of the same opportunities for intellectual enrichment and identity-resolution. There’s nothing wrong with either goal, provided neither is the end all-be all. But it sounds to me like that’s exactly what they are here. Nowhere in Katz Miller’s program do I see any space reserved for surrender, and without surrender, is faith even faith? One respondent to her survey predicts his affiliation “will probably always be changing, evolving, discovering, diving in, easing out, going up, going down, spinning around, running around, sitting down, and last but not least, floating.”

It should be pointed out that this came from a 14-year-old, whose views may well mature along with the rest of him. But in the absence of longitudinal data (and, for that matter, a control group of kids raised single-faith), I’ll say this sounds like a bad trip, man. I’d urge coming down with all deliberate speed.

Valentine’s Day: For Some, 50 Shades of Blue
In Praise and Defense of Catechists
Lent and the Lame Evangelist
Monday Mourning Coming Down
  • Manny

    Wow, this really hit home for me, not that I was brought up interfaith; I’m a cradle Catholic. But the lady I married is Jewish, and so I consider myself Jewish on my wife’s side. I have great respect and admiration for the Jewish faith, born through my relations with my in-laws. The interfaith was never much of an issue until we adopted a little boy a year or so before our 20th wedding anniversery. I agree with you. Raising children in both religions is cacophonous. You have to chose one faith and develop it, and we, since I’m the religious one, have chosen Roman Catholicism. However one cannot ignore the other faith. My son is fully exposed to Judaism. There are relatives he has to embrace and understand. He’s not going to any Jewish services or participating in any catachesis, if that word applies. But he is experiencing the Jewish holidays and table talk related to Judaism. Is that growing up interfaith? I don’t know. You can’t cutoff half his family.

  • Martha Oram

    This is a huge reason why, when I was discerning marriage, I decided to not date men who were not Catholic. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t think I could stand it, but I know that I believe that Catholicism is really true – and I didn’t want to have to battle to teach my children that, knowing it would hurt them to know that their father wasn’t part of that faith that I was teaching them was the best way to Heaven.

  • Mom2Teens

    Of all the possibilities, I would think that being Roman Catholic with Jewish relatives would be the easiest for a child to understand. This is our religious history, after all. This faith history helps us understand Jesus better. I recently saw a talk given by a Jewish convert to Catholicism. He said becoming Catholic made him a better Jew for he was able to make so many connections from one faith to the other that are lost on us “Gentiles.”
    Yes, you do have to come to grips, at some point, as to why his relatives do not believe that Jesus is the Messiah. But there are so many choices children see adults make — In my house it’s: “Why is Grandma smoking again when she knows it will bring her lung cancer back?” People have free will. They make choices. Not always smart ones. Not always the ones we hope they will make. We have to trust in the mercy of God, since we, ourselves, do not always make the choices we should.

  • Manny

    Thanks for such a nice reply M2T. Yes, it does make easier that Christianity is an outgrowth of Judaism.

  • Paul Chaffee

    A cheap shot through and through. Mr. Lindeman’s issue is not so much marriage but personal relationships between faiths for all of us. When distinguished Catholic theologian Paul Knitter wrote Without Buddha I Could Not be a Christian, he got the same kind of flack that Susan Katz Miller’s remarkable work is receiving from a few conservative voices. No one has explored the details and nuances of interfaith relationship in our intimate lives like Miller, and her work will have the same kind of ‘legs’ that Knitter is receiving. Finally, of course, given the statistics and demographics, interfaith marriage will become nearly ubiquitous within a generation or two, with much less judgment, one hopes, about people’s choices regarding raising their children.

    South and East Asian religions, by the way, typically consider multi-religious identity a personal norm rather than an aberration. Worth thinking about.

  • faithr

    My husband agrees with you and that is why, even though he is Jewish, we raised our kids Catholic. He thought the interfaith thing was more about appeasing parental sensibilities than actually caring about the development of the child. A child is always free to reject their childhood faith when they grow up anyway, but to make a child have to balance the abstract nature of being brought up in two faiths at once, disrespects the child’s needs for truth, security and a feeling of closeness to the divine. Presenting the child with both as equally true is pushing adult mental gymnastics on an innocent child. That said, we do celebrate both Jewish and Catholic holidays, since my husband is part of the family (most definitely!) and it is part of our children’s cultural heritage.

  • hb

    Manny, you’re absolutely right: “You can’t cutoff half (your son’s) family.” I grew up with a Jewish father and Protestant mother, and resent constantly hearing how unfortunate it was that my parents didn’t choose my religion for me when I was born. My parents allowed me the privilege and opportunity of choosing my own faith, and boy does that idea make a lot of observant Jews and Christians uncomfortable.

  • Marni

    Religion has a lot to do with marriage, but for me, not the way the writer has presented it here. So, here is my perspective, which not everyone would agree with. I think people have to trust God. The writer himself is evidence that a very Catholic person can come out of a not very religious/interfaith environment. That is because God intervenes, or maybe his mom was praying all these years, even vague prayers like “help my son to grow up ok”, could be interpreted by God to mean “make him a wimpy Catholic”.

    I was somewhat devout and still single and was on a trip in a small town in another country. The townspeople told me that at the church there was a statue of St. Anthony and that single people who prayed to him found spouses. Right, I thought. But I also thought, what the heck…I have nothing to lose. I prayed very honestly that I was just fine as a single person but that if Jesus knew of somebody who would love me the way I was, I would marry that person. This sounds really cliche, but something like 4 months later, I met the guy I am still married to today. In my only Mary-like moment of my life, I trusted God, and so far, for 20 years, this has been beautiful. (ups and downs of course, but overall, beautiful)

    What seems impossible to us is easy for God. Lots of Jews followed Christ and became the early Christians. Paul got them to accept Gentiles. You have a point about history, but I see it more that God’s love transcends historical side taking. I didn’t read the article about the lady raising her kids in the interfaith way, but from what is said here, it sounds like she is doing her best to let God into the family. We always think we control everything, but a lot of stuff is not in our control.

  • Pofarmer

    “It means throwing in your lot with a community, adopting its view of history as your own. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it means choosing a bloody side.”

    See, this no compromise position in Catholicism is NOT a good thing. It leads to all sorts of bad outcomes. As a pretty non denominational Protestant I was always basically taught the Golden rule, don’t hurt others, and compromise. Catholics are taught that their’s is the one true way, and fuck anybody who doesn’t believe the same. That creates issues.

  • Jade

    Jewish holidays are Biblical holidays, and Jesus celebrated Hanukkah (John 10:22-23). There is no reason that Christians, Catholic or otherwise, shouldn’t celebrate them, albeit respectfully and not appropriatively. St Paul says it’s fine as long as we don’t use them to cause others to stumble.

  • Jade

    Not even other Christians? Catholicism is a Christian denomination, not an entirely different religion. What about Eastern Orthodox Christians?

  • Manny

    I can understand why it makes everyone uncomfortable. Typically when it’s “left to the child to decide” what usually happens is that the child has neither. A child isn’t capable of chosing. I’m curious, which religion did you pick?

  • erin

    Catholicism is not a denomination. It is the original Church founded by Christ; all other denominations, including Eastern Orthodoxy, have broken away from Catholicism.

  • erin

    If there is not a position that demands no compromise, what is Christ doing on the cross in the first place?? You’re saying what is true does not matter. Catholics are saying what is true really does matter, and the fullness of it is here in this Church that Christ founded. Please come in.

  • hb

    We were allowed to explore and and ask questions, and weren’t put into the position of having to make a decision while we were children. Ultimately I chose a Protestant denomination in which I am now active as an adult, as is one of my other siblings. A third sibling identifies more with Judaism, and the fourth has no religious interest at all.

  • Pofarmer

    Jesus himself reportedly said “He who is not against us is with us.” I doubt the simple carpenter would have envisioned the monster Catholic Church that developed.

  • Jade

    Actually, no. Christ did not found any church. The New Testament era church that sprang up after His ascension was not the Catholic church and not recognisable as Catholic in any way. The Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox churches were founded at the same time, when they both split away from the one church which did not resemble Roman Catholicism. Also, Roman Catholicism is not the only Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy is not the only Orthodoxy – in fact it can be argued that the Ethiopian Coptic Orthodox Church predates Catholicism since it is descended from the Ethiopian eunuch Philip meets in Acts.

  • Manny

    Thank you, and God bless.

  • ME

    Right he said that, but don’t forget about John 17:11… “And now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” There are about 30,000-40,000 Christian churches apart from the Catholic church. I don’t think that’s what he meant when he was praying that they be one.

  • ME

    Except, the Roman Catholic church is the one that has the traceable primacy going all the way back to Peter, upon whom Christ founded his church..

  • Pofarmer

    Right. And he says, “No one comes to the Father, except through me.” He didn’t say, no one comes to the Father, except by me and these 42 sacraments. I also think he would have been against torture and killing to keep the faithful on track. But, that’s just me.

  • Thomas R

    I think it depends on the generation of a Catholic and some other things.

    Yes some things are correct and believing our religion is true is important in our believing it. We do value Truth. We do believe some things can not be compromised.

    But this doesn’t necessarily mean “fuck anybody who doesn’t believe the same.” It certainly doesn’t for me. For one there are different kinds of, for lack of a better word, “Not Truth.” If someone says “Our Galaxy is 50,000 light years in diameter” that isn’t true, but it’s likely not an intentional lie. The person may have just misheard something or is guessing. Or if a person said “The US is a democracy” that is, in a sense, “not true” in that it’s incomplete. The US is a representative democracy, but just saying “democracy” doesn’t say that and allows false interpretations. Or if a person says “The US is the best country in the world, that’s true because I was taught to believe it” that is “not true.” Oh it might be true that the person was taught that, but being taught that doesn’t make it true. It doesn’t make it false either, necessarily, we just don’t know based on this statement. Or if a person lists the fifty states but says Washington twice and says “Dakota” rather than naming both Dakotas. His or her list is “Not True” in that it has some inaccuracies. Non-denominational Protestantism, from my understanding, is often “not true” in the sense that it is guessing or incomplete or contains some errors or the like. It’s “not trueness” doesn’t necessarily make it “false” as in dishonest or purely untrue.

    But for another thing even if something is false it can be of value to tolerate it or at least to tolerate those who believe it. If a person believes that Portland is the capital of Oregon, and you can’t convince them otherwise for some reason, it’s not necessary to screw-them-over or humiliate them over it. If a grieving woman believes that her dead husband was reincarnated as a nearby tree it might not be necessary, maybe not even proper, to do everything you can to force them to abandon that idea.

  • Kevin

    Where’s your proof? We have a lineage of popes going all the way back to Peter. Read the Church fathers. The early Church was Catholic.

  • Pofarmer

    “Non-denominational Protestantism, from my understanding, is often “not true” in the sense that it is guessing or incomplete or contains some errors or the like. It’s “not trueness” doesn’t necessarily make it “false” as in dishonest or purely untrue.”

    Yes, but you’re talking “theological truth” here, which really doesn’t bear any resemblance to something that can be proven historically or physically true. I’ve heard Bart Ehrman state it as “Yes, that is theologically true, but it isn’t historically true.” Marian Doctrine, for instance, seems completely true to Catholics, but protestants see it as Theology made up of whole cloth. The same can be said for several of the Church’s sacraments, they are true to Catholics, but they are wholly theological constructs. So, whether you think something is theologically true or false, because of the inclusion or ignoring of this or that tidbit of scripture, you eventually get down into theological tedium which breaks down into obtuse tedium over the original meanings of some obscure Greek or Hebrew phrases. The sad part is, the Catholic Church, as well as some protestant sects, have been more than willing to enforce their views with threats of violence, actual violence, torture , and killing. That some were willing to die, and some were willing to kill for these beliefs, tells me that niether side has any lock on “truth”. If it were true, wouldn’t it be obvious?

  • Agni Ashwin

    For Christians, Hanukkah is biblical only if you’re Catholic or Orthodox.

  • Agni Ashwin

    Honest question: would not a parent’s practice of religion A, and the raising of children in religion B, also undermine a child’s need for truth, security and closeness to the Divine?

  • Brian Bowman

    It means throwing in your lot with a community, adopting its view of history as your own. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it means choosing a bloody side.

    Roger that; I’ve chosen.

    The question before the human race is, whether the God of nature shall govern the world by his own laws, or whether priests and kings shall rule it by fictitious
    miracles? ~John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson, June 20, 1815

  • Faithr

    Well, in our home, it doesn’t seem to so far. But I do think Jewish/Catholic couples have an advantage (as is stated in a comment below). Catholicism has many obvious ties to Judaism and as JPII put it, they are our elder brothers in the faith. Plus, even though my husband is not Catholic he supports us in our Catholicism. He attends mass, will read aloud to the kids things about the faith, happily celebrates holidays, etc. We have religious discussions in our house a lot, but so far all the kids are happily Catholic. My dh probably knows more about Catholicism than many Catholics. If anything it serves to refine our thinking, but again the kids weren’t given a choice. We baptized them as babies and they have been raised as Catholics.

  • ME

    I’m sorry that your kind has ignored the books they chose to, because they didn’t like the fact that they supported the rest of the sacraments that they apparently thought were too burdensome to worry about. I shall pray that someday you will come to a true understanding of what Christ’s church really is that he established (in full) and that you can come to appreciate the love shown to us in the sacraments as provided by Christ. I think it shall take a lot of prayers for you to come to that realization, but at least the communion of saints will join me in praying for you :)

  • Pofarmer

    This is what I’m talking about. And, I dunno, I think I understand pretty well what “the Church” is. Many would argue that Christs Church ceased to exist somewhere around the time of Constantine.

  • Kristen inDallas

    say there are 50,000 Catholics who could all either marry amongst each other or marry someone of a different faith. If each couple has 2 kids, we’re talking about the difference between 50,000 kids raised as exclusively Catholic… or 100,000 kids raised knowing that Catholocism is at least an option. From an evangelical perspective, it seems at first like a toss up (If we assume fully chatechised and unquestioning Catholic> confused Catholic). But… if we believe that one religion really is “truer” than all the others, or that the job of human evangelizing is simply to plant the seeds (and let God sow them in his own time)… then isn’t 100,000 > 50,000? Not to mention offering an additional perspective to the lives of our spoouses. This is complete riffing btw, still not sure I’m sold on the math, just curious about your take on it.

  • Kristen inDallas

    ps – all assuming both parents care about their religion equally enough to each want a stake in the rearing. If one Parent A says “meh, sure… your religion seems fine” that seems less like a discussion about interfaith children and more like a question of “so what is keeping Parent A from being religion B in the first place?”

  • zai

    As a former non-denom Protestant, I have to say that that attitude is flawed and is, in and of itself, uncompromising. There is no compromise on the issue of being compromising, if you will. You are basically saying that it is completely wrong, the uncompromising nature of Catholic Truth that is. If you do not believe that your religion is the true way, why do you believe in it at all? If it’s just about the Golden Rule and being nice, then what’s the point? This does not mean that there is not truth present in all religions, it just means that the parable of the blind men and the elephant doesn’t make sense (if anything that says NO religion is correct, because they are all missing the point of the matter and that is that they are touching an elephant).
    If there is no true way, I need not pick any particular way. I can truly be good without God.
    That said, many people in various religions can be very unloving in how they present the truth to others. That’s where we see intolerance and disrespect most often. Believing that you are right isn’t bigotry, believing there is no possible way you could have gone wrong and plugging your ears is.
    Finally, on the flip side, the compromising nature of much of Protestantism has resulted in people leaving the churches in droves, lack of any firmness and an ultimate lack of unity. That lack of unity always bothered me as a young man. Disagreement was handled in the “compromise” of forming another church, when the church is supposed to be one.

  • zai

    Please prove that they are theological constructs. Judging from my reading of the Church Fathers and others, it just took time to fully unpack everything.
    The thing about Catholicism (of which Roman Catholicism is just the largest group) is that everything is tied together. Taking out aspects or over emphasizing something leads to problems. Within the Church there is room for all (franciscans and dominicans are very different groups). You can have something you focus more on, but not to the detriment of the unity and whole Truth given to the Church.
    Lastly, lest we forget, people have always been quite able to kill and threaten people into believing the same things that they do. That’s actually the entire history of Mesopotamia…your god depended on who kicked whose ass. The group of people doesn’t matter. It’s human nature (read: communist russia under stalin). Even if the threats aren’t violent, like most coercion today, they are often used to enforce beliefs on others.

  • sans culotte

    compromise? Since when was compromise part of the Golden rule? If I remember correctly, Love God with all your heart and soul and strength, and love others as yourself. Don’t remember there being anything about compromise in there.

  • LindaF

    (1) There are NOT 42 sacraments – as you probably well know
    (2) Torture and killing are part of many religions, but, for the last 15 centuries or so, not Catholicism. I do hope that you also vent your bile at the many Muslims that DO torture and kill, even today – especially Christians.