2016-06-30
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He's Jewish. She's agnostic. They're in a serious relationship, but sometimes they face serious faith-related issues. In a periodic series of columns, Howard Lovy and Heidi Rehak will offer a window into the challenges and joys of being an interfaith couple.

In the heat of yet another debate with Howard, my Jewish boyfriend, about our future as an "interfaith" couple, I found myself driving behind a car with exactly this bumper sticker: "Surgeon General's Warning: Quitting religion now greatly increases the chances of world peace."

I had to laugh. While a tad extreme, the very same action would have a calming effect on my home life, too.

Since we're living together now, Howard and I have started serious talks about what will happen when--in theory, of course--we get married and have children. Although, until I'm presented with a little blue box with a princess-cut diamond set in platinum, we'll remain in the talking stages.

But, hey, everyone enjoys a good debate, right? So, for now at least, we're trying to decide with whom to confer regarding bringing harmony to the coupling of a minimally observant Jew and an agnostic. He'd like to seek advice from a rabbi; I'd prefer to take the couples counselor route. There is a certain amount of logic to each of our points, but I'm right, and here's why:

First, I've already talked to a rabbi on my own about this very issue. I have many Jewish friends and colleagues, and through this network, I found a local Reform rabbi who everyone said I'd love. They were right - I really enjoyed talking with him. He actually told me that one could convert to Judaism without believing in God and that his congregation has many interfaith couples as members. He had some interesting advice, seemed very down to earth, and overall the conversation was going rather swimmingly.

Until I mentioned having children.

The kind rabbi informed me that he thinks children should never be raised as "both" religions of an interfaith couple. He said it's too confusing. That's when I thanked him for his time and left. Oddly enough, a year and a half later, Howard met with the same rabbi, who repeated the same thing to him. Of course, his reaction was much different from mine:- Howard agreed with him.

I take tremendous issue with this. At the risk of sounding egotistical, I am sure we could raise healthy, balanced children without indoctrinating them in one clearly defined religion. Case in point: me.

My parents are, for lack of a better term, freethinkers. They form opinions about religion--and life in general, for that matter--on the basis of reason and independently of tradition, authority, or established belief. They raised me this way, too. Last I checked, I'm reasonably sane, moderately successful, and arguably well-adjusted.

My hypothetical kids will be as well. I just know it. If Howard and I have children together, it's a given that he'll teach them about Jewish history and culture. Heck, he already lectures me about it all day, every day. I'll teach them about my family traditions and holidays, too, Christian-based as they are but very unreligious to me.

And if these hypothetical children would like to explore Buddhism, Wicca, or whatever else is out there, hurray for them. If they wish to be freethinkers like their grandparents, even better.

Secondly, rabbis and interfaith groups have an agenda. I think it's wonderful that these groups have found something in life that completes them, gives them purpose, etc. I'm aware of the fact that they won't push me to convert--that's not the Jewish way. But they are going to encourage The Interfaith Couple to raise our children in a "Jewish home." But you see, I'm not Jewish. There needs to be a balance here, and I have a feeling my background will be just that when listening to the opinions of these groups---in the background.

How is that fair?

Even the term "interfaith" rubs me the wrong way. I bring no religion to this relationship, because I believe that trying to explain the unknown by means of the unobservable is too perilous. I'm literal that way. Howard likes to say I'm religious about my nonreligion. That's too confusing. I'd rather we just didn't put a faith-based label on our relationship. And if we have kids together, they will be half-Jews, no matter what ceremonies they go through or what we declare.

In the near future, we'll probably wind up seeking advice from both a rabbi and a counselor, because we have to be diplomatic with this very touchy subject. With enough love and respect for each other, we will eventually find a clear, workable, and mutually satisfying way to deal with our different backgrounds. An objective couples counselor will help us develop more sophisticated communication skills, so we don't become too angry or sad when we have these conversations. This person can also help us with conflict resolution, which really is the root of this problem we1re having.

Maybe, when all is said and done, I1ll look for a bumper sticker that reads: "Surgeon General's Warning: Greatly reworking your personal definition of religion increases the chances of world peace."

Or even: "Proud parent of an Agnostic Jewish-Buddhist."

That I can live with!

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