When people ask me if marriage can survive religious differences, I strongly express that the power of shared values in a relationship should never be underestimated. Your values define you and drive your every word, thought, and deed. When there is a clash of values, there will be continual need for compromise and tolerance. Usually, frustration and contention creep in. Religious differences tend to be more deeply imbedded into our psyches, and have a bigger impact upon our relationships than even our financial beliefs.
Why? Our beliefs about God, souls, salvation, and the afterlife are core beliefs. They are extremely difficult to change because they shape our very identities. Where financial values affect oneís bank statement, a personís religion is thought to influence the outcome of oneís eternal salvation. That is an undeniably intense motivator.
Whom do you love the most?
When two people agree to marry despite their religious differences, they must agree that their love for each other is more important to them than their religious beliefs, and when most religions call for obedience to the religion above all else, this tests a personís conviction towards both. Nearly all religions contend that weíre supposed to love God above all else. But God is not a church or a religion. Religions are designed to aid people in learning about God, but Godís spirit is within us. Too often, people confuse church and religion with the true God that exists within those He has created. When we love one another, we love Him.
Putting your religion to the test (of love)
How do you know if a tree is good? By its fruits, ye shall know it. Does your religion or church bring forth bitter fruit (discord, separation, judgment) or does it bring forth good fruit (love, unity, forgiveness, peace)? When you apply your religious principles to your marital relationship, does it bring forth love, unity, forgiveness, tolerance, joy, and peace? There are spiritual laws and then there are higher spiritual laws. The highest, according to most all religions, is the law of love. But many spiritual doctrines expound conflicting tenants.
Consider if your religious beliefs cause you toÖ
*condemn or help others.
*accept or judge people.
*forgive or hold grudges.
*offer or withhold charity.
*love or hate.
*allow others free will or coerce them to submit.
*feel superior and special or humble and equal to all.
*mingle with everyone out of love and fellowship or separate yourselves out of fear and disdain.
Marriage is one of the best spiritual practices in that one is called to apply spiritual principles instead of only believing in them. Tolerance? Forgiveness? Unconditional love? It should be easy for us to offer these to the one we claim to love the most, but often, we fall short. The effort to keep trying is a fundamental part of religious practice.
My non-religious husband is a good man. I believe that matters a lot in the eyes of God. God is a loving, just and merciful God. Who am I or anyone else to tell this good man that God will abandon him because he does not go to church to pray? My husband lives religion when he loves and cares for his family, shows kindness and tolerance towards others, spreads laughter and joy, expresses his sincerest gratitude and love for this spectacular earth home that God has provided for him. His very life, dare I say, has been a heartfelt prayer. And if that isnít enough to save his soul, nothing else should suffice.
No, we no longer have religious differences because we agree that a love-filled life is the sincerest prayer to God. Rituals, books, and group gatherings aside, our marriage is a daily practice and offering of faith and praise to the Almighty. Amen.
Helpful tips for living with religious differences:
1. Agree to be respectful and supportive towards each otherís religious beliefs. No ridiculing, condemning, or criticizing. No preaching or trying to convert the other.
2. Allow the children to be raised in a tolerant home with both religious faiths to be presented objectively and non-judgmentally. They can practice both, even if the beliefs may seem contradictory. Let them embrace diversity and tolerance to see the highest principles of God and love in every faith.
3. Reflect on your own actions and attitudes. Remember to always exude unconditional love, gratitude, and peace which is the true purpose of religion.
4. Learn about each otherís beliefs together. And continue to seek spiritual knowledge. Closed minds donít grow. There is more truth to the immensity of God than is contained in any one church. Consider that God is a multi-dimensional, multi-faceted, omniscient being. Keep seeking knowledge and expressing love.