Recently, I listened to an inter-religious panel of rabbis and priests discussing interfaith marriages. The context was quite serious—they were deconstructing an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm on the TV Guide Channel (yes, this is the quality TV I watch when Jersey Shore is not on). It was a good conversation, but I was struck when one of the guests, a seemingly liberal fellow, made the point that in such marriages it was critical, undeniably essential, that the couple pick one faith to raise the child. I was stunned. Certainly somebody would counter this guy. But they all agreed—the priest, the rabbi, and the host. Don’t confuse your kids by trying to raise them in two religions. You would have to be crazy to do that.
Call my crazy because that’s what I want to do. And not just in two religions. Why stop there? I want to raise my three kids across a broad spectrum of religions. I want them to have the best God that Sunday can buy. But here comes this panel of experts on the hard-hitting TV Guide Channel making me feel like I’m going to turn my kids into head cases. Children with religion confusion! I recalled the scolding my wife and I took when, as new parents, we unwittingly gave our first-born a bottle early in his breast-feeding career and therefore doomed him to the evil monster of nipple confusion. We just wanted to get out of the house for a martini. Instead we scarred him for life. And something is wrong with him. He’s six and doesn’t care about bottles or boobs—two of my favorite things.
Now I’ve unleashed a new kind of confusion. I’m going to have kids who don’t know their catechism from their four noble truths. They’ll be looking for holy water in mindfulness bowls and praying to Allah with a Rosary. I’m screwing these kids up in so many ways already, should I really be attempting a multi-faith childhood? TV Guide Channel says no.
To make the matter more potent, a dear friend of ours lost his battle with cancer. Now my mother is worried sick that I’m going to confuse my two oldest boys with my meandering explanations for all the possible locations of this man they both loved, each depending on which church we most recently attended. One minute we’re telling them he’s in the air and water and clouds around us; the next my mother is saying he’s fully himself sitting at a banquet table with Jesus (and if I know my friend, he’s got Jesus turning water into wine and the table salad into something greener and more potent). I finally settled the matter by telling the boys the truth: we don’t know exactly. We know something. We hope. But we don’t know exactly.
Now I’ve really done it. But what can I do? I’ve committed to staying with one woman, but I draw the line at drinking one kind beer, sticking with the same pizza toppings, and attending one church. I’m a spiritual guy who likes variety. And like many people my age, I have come to see religion as a valuable aid in one’s personal search for meaning, not an end in itself. It’s a tool. And there are many different tools worth using, or, as the saying goes, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. And yes, in this analogy, the cat is God and the skinning is how we get to Her (yeah, I said it).
I want my kids to have a religious foundation to their lives and a deep seeded sense of the divine. I don’t, however, want them to hit fifteen and realize that their dad, mom, and most the world, frankly, don’t believe all the unshakeable truths that religions push on us. I think most people are willing to grant God a little larger living space than one book and building. The Buddha said never believe anything until you’ve tested it yourself. If only I could just stay a Buddhist all the time. Problem is, Buddhists don’t have a God, and I like having a God handy. So I’m Catholic too, part-time, especially the time when I want my kids to have some good old ass-kicking religion. You know, old-time religion with straight-backed pews and uncomfortable kneelers and a nice hour of cleansing boredom and jarring organ music. My kids need quiet too—so I’m a part-time Quaker. They also need to be involved in an open, welcoming community: enter the Unitarians. Finally, on the Sunday’s after daddy and mommy were up a little late with their “church community” of friends who drink good wine and chat, well, then there’s this cool church nearby that doesn’t start until five in the evening. It has a rock band and a pastor who wears Chuck Taylor’s.
My mother disputes: what will your kids do when they grow up? Won’t they just end up doing nothing, therefore becoming uncaring, despairing heathens?
I counter: they can pick whatever religion they like the best.
My mother rebuffs: how will your children pick a faith when they’re adults, if you don’t show them that you’ve picked one yourself?
My rejoinder: how will they know if they like Thai food if I only take them to Italian restaurants? Plus, I have picked a faith. I’ve picked six.