Tea Parties. Immigration legislation at a state level. De facto segregation of schools and neighborhoods. But is America slowly becoming tolerant of diversity, notwithstanding these trends? In my May 28th blog, I provided this quote from the May 17th NY Times, suggesting that younger Americans, those less vested in material possessions than their elders, were less likely to support the recent Arizona legislation requiring folks to carry valid residency documents: “This emerging divide has appeared in a handful of surveys taken since the [Arizona] measure was signed into law, including a New York Times/CBS News poll this month that found that Americans 45 and older were more likely than the young to say the Arizona law was ‘about right’ (as opposed to ‘going too far’ or ‘not far e nough’). Boomers were also more likely to say that ‘no newcomers’ should be allowed to enter the country while more young people favored a ‘welcome all’ approach.” The Times. Will these younger folks retrench into exclusionary feelings as they get older or is there something else going on?
We’re seeing a parallel “tolerant” trend in marriage patterns; inter-faith marriages are increasing rapidly: “15 percent of U.S. households were mixed-faith in 1988. That number rose to 25 percent by 2006, and the increase shows no signs of slowing. The American Religious Identification Survey of 2001 reported that 27 percent of Jews, 23 percent of Catholics, 39 percent of Buddhists, 18 percent of Baptists, 21 percent of Muslims and 12 percent of Mormons were then married to a spouse with a different religious identification. If you want to see what the future holds, note this: Less than a quarter of the 18- to 23-year- old respondents in the National Study of Youth and Religion think it's important to marry someone of the same faith.” Washington Post (June 6th).
Love and mobility, heterogeneous colleges/universities and workplaces plus lots of online dating sites (one fifth of recent marriages – including my own – emanate from this social phenomenon) have displaced neighborhoods and places of worship as the “place where you meet your mate.” But bringing up junior is frequently a sticky issue. Some with strong faith marrying someone with less powerful but different beliefs may require a religious conversion as a condition to marriage. Sometimes this works, but frequently, the tug of the original religion often pulls the converted party back after some of the fire and passion subside. Guilt and fear can replace that love and passion. Usually, raising junior is simply and peacefully determined. Sometimes, this decision tears families apart.
For the person marrying into a family where faith is a driving force, the results can be difficult, to say the least: “[T]he effects on the marriages themselves can be tragic -- it is an open secret among academics that tsk-tsking grandmothers may be right. According to calculations based on the American Religious Identification Survey of 2001, people who had been in mixed-religion marriages were three times more likely to be divorced or separated than those who were in same-religion marriages.
“In a paper published in 1993, Evelyn Lehrer, a professor of economics at the University of Illinois at Chicago, found that if members of two mainline Christian denominations marry, they have a one in five chance of being divorced in five years. A Catholic and a member of an evangelical denomination have a one in three chance. And a Jew and a Christian who marry have a greater than 40 percent chance of being divorced in five years… More recent research concludes that even differing degrees of religious belief and observance can cause trouble. For instance, in a 2009 paper, scholars Margaret Vaaler, Christopher Ellison and Daniel Powers of the University of Texas at Austin found higher rates of divorce when a husband attends religious services more frequently than his wife, as well as when a wife is more theologically conservative than her husband.” The Post
Where these marriages hold, tolerance of differences rises, and with a few notable exceptions, most communities are increasingly accepting of interfaith marriages. Yet surprisingly, most couples don’t even talk about religion before they marry; they usually believe that love does conquer all. But given the above statistics, is staying within your faith bigoted or practical? Shared experiences clearly do enhance a marriage, but is it necessary for a family to pray together to stay together?
I’m Peter Dekom, and the complexities of modern living never cease to amaze me.