What about the Kids?

The doubt most commonly expressed when on the topic of interfaith or inter-cultural marriages is, “What about the kids?”.

I was dating my husband for 6 years before we were married, and in that time we agreed on an approach towards raising our children, considering that we would be practicing different religions in the same home. We currently have 2 young children (my eldest is almost 4 years old and my other is 1 year old).

Living in a world that is plagued by hatred and intolerance which is breeding violence and discontent in all parts of the globe, predominantly between and within religious groups; we aspire to raise our children to be free of the burden of prejudice and hate. More than that, I would like my children to grow up with an appreciation and indeed, even love, for all religions, races and spiritual paths. I try to provide my children with opportunities to be able to learn and benefit from all the world’s major religions. I would like my children to see and experience the grandeur of God in all of God’s creation, including in all loving religious practices. We would like our children to have peace and love in their hearts always for all people regardless of their religious affiliation or lack thereof. I would like our children to appreciate the diversity of this wondrous planet whilst understanding the truth of our ultimate and absolute unity.

Given all these hopes and aspirations, we have chosen to teach our children both of our religions since we are most wealthy in knowledge of these, as well as bring in integral information from other major religions as we ourselves learn of them. I as the stay at home mother play an important role in encouraging our children to practice both religions during much of the week.

All major religions agree that God is ultimately nameless and formless, omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient, (including Hinduism and Christianity, which are the religions we practice); so this is what my eldest is taught. He is then taught that the different names and forms attributed to God are just God appearing to man because of His love; in different ways, in different places with different cultures and in different points in History.

I believe that children raised in a home where there is more than one religion being practiced have the unique opportunity to watch and experience love, tolerance and respect between religious groups more often than most (provided that the adults in the home act with maturity, love and respect as well as a lack of competitiveness and lack of egoism).

As I expand my knowledge on the core philosophies of religions, I see that major religions agree on moral and ethical codes of conduct and so children in multi-faith households can have access to greater wealth of resources to feed their moral and spiritual development.

Children of interfaith descent may be the bridges we need to build a more cohesive and peaceful society… world peace anyone?

Thoughts for Success in an Interfaith Relationship

Most relationships come with challenges, no different is the relationship between people of different religions or different cultures. If we see these challenges as opportunities for self reflection and personal growth then we can greatly and ceaselessly benefit from an interfaith relationship. Through the years I have noted many characteristics that I can change within myself to better serve myself, my interfaith relationship and my interfaith family. I admit that it has taken a long time for me to go through this process of refinement and I must acknowledge that I do have a long way more to go. Here are some thoughts that I keep in mind when facing the added complexities of an interfaith or inter-religious marriage, based on my personal experience.

Do not be competitive, especially on the topics of religion, race or culture. There is no room for competitiveness in love. This is an extremely damaging pastime and will win you no love or respect. Value the role of your partners religion in this world and in your partners life and accord it respect and eventually even love. It may take you some time to come to this place, but after 12 years I have feelings of peace and love for my husband’s chosen form of God and it is indeed a beautiful and natural feeling once you open your heart. This in no way takes away from my love of my own religion since my religion encourages love of all.

Not being competitive includes not speaking down on your partners religion or culture especially when you are not directly asked for a view. If you do have to disagree on a certain philosophy, do so in a respectful manner whilst acknowledging if there are aspects of that philosophy that you do agree with. I admit that I am guilty of being negative about certain aspects of my partners religion. I always abandon such a topic and I always regret it.

You should rather choose to be understanding. Understand that your partner has a different history, different experiences, different affiliations, and different fears stemming from his/her different background. Acknowledge that you may have been very different had you had the same upbringing. Try to understand why things are done the way they are in your partners religion. Try and understand your partners emotions and fears and your partners families emotions and fears based on their belief system, even though at times their fears are unfounded.

Focus on common ground instead of the sometimes superficial differences between your religions. The most important thing is that you both are likely to share common values which you have each inherited from your respective, religions, cultures and families. As I learn more about my husband’s religion, which at face value seems quite different, I find more and more in common with my own religion. Do not be tempted to constantly bring up those things that are different between your religions, these are the things which usually have no tangible impact on your physical lives.

Be supportive in your partners practice of his/her religion. Remember that there are many damaging pastimes in the alluring material world and praying to God (regardless of which name or form or lack thereof, you may choose to worship) is usually not one of them. Indeed focusing on spiritual practices and charity activities can add deep and lasting joy, peace and mental fortitude to your partners life; and can help ward off mental agitations and diseases such as depression. Be sure that, in a loving relationship, you can never be truly happy if your partner is not happy and fulfilled. Never underestimate the value of peace as a prerequisite for happiness. Spiritual practices are a significant tool for acquiring peace. Allow your partner to dip in to this inexhaustible stream of joy without him/her having to contend with your hesitancy or negativity first.

Do not speak or act in anger. When angry, take some time out to try and understand your partners words or actions better and then respond from a calmer footing. In anger we often say things that we don’t fully mean and this can cause untold and often irreparable damage. If we do act or speak in a hurtful way, apologise sincerely.

Do not be egotistical. Often we prevent ourselves from loving fully, we prevent ourselves from compromising on superficial things and we prevent ourselves from choosing to live in full joy because of our pride. For example, we stalled our wedding for over a year because we couldn’t agree on how to do it. My ego was definitely in the way. Eventually I gave in on most accounts, having a very small religious ceremony of my husband’s faith and then a larger “universal” or non-faith-specific reception. It ended up being a very loving affair but we hardly think back on that one day because we are so busy enjoying our marriage and our family. The wedding was not that important after all. I am sure I would have so much less love now had I chosen my ego over my love. However, this does not mean that we must not each insist on respect.

All of life’s relationships challenge us to be better, challenge us to drop our boundaries and expand our horizons, challenge us to live fully in love in thought word and deed. Use your interfaith relationship to find your truly wonderful True Self.

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Sending universal love to my interfaith family.

Fear or Faith

In my study of religious philosophy I have come across two fundamental emotions or values from which all other emotions or values originate. The first may not surprise you, it is “love”, the root emotion to most positive feelings such as empathy, compassion, duty, non-violence, patriotism, faith etc. The other  opposing emotion is “fear”, from which most negative emotions or values are spun, such as jealousy, anger, frustration, competitiveness etc.

When testing these fundamental emotions whilst observing religious people over social media and news platforms, most religious people who are newsworthy or who are prompted to speak out openly seem to be driven by one of these base emotions. Most of us will probably be motivated by a mix of these two emotions, but leaning heavily towards one side produces two very different kind of religious aspirants within the very same religion.  This has become exceedingly apparent in the times of the Trump presidency. There is the kind of Christian that is seemingly motivated by fear, whose fears are manifest as racism and religious intolerance, the irrational need to own guns and invest more in defence and security, including an expensive border wall. On the other hand, there are the Trump detractor Christians, who, driven by love, insist on protecting the victims of war regardless of their religious inclination or race, who would rather invest money in humanitarian causes than defence. These Christians, like the great Mother Teresa, driven by love, are able to see Jesus in all.

Every major religion produces many different kinds of followers, depending, I would say, on their motivating feelings and their intentions. These differences in motivation produce very different world views and naturally very different outcomes.

We can say that religion is the cause of most major conflicts in the world today. I am convinced that religion, by itself, is not the problem; but rather, it is the motivating emotions behind each person’s chosen religion (regardless of what that religion is) that is the problem. If we were to live in a world where the religious were motivated by true, divine, unconditional, unprejudiced, boundless love; then our world would flourish and we would usher in the Golden Age that many of us await.

I am often able to relate more to my husband who is of a different religion to me, than others of my own religion. This is because the variation within religious groups dictate that the traditional means of dividing and judging people based on religion is actually very ineffective. We should rather be judged on how much of love we have in our hearts; and since this is impractical with our limited senses, maybe we should leave the judging and the grouping to God.

 

Lessons From an Interfaith Home – How to Hold A Peaceful Conversation About Religion

Religions won’t always agree; so how do we make a relationship with a partner of a different religion work knowing this? First, we have to be at peace with not agreeing on certain things. Much of the beauty, drama and vibrancy of this world, is that which is different from what we are and what we are used to. Being exposed to new and contrasting opinions is one of the adventures of life, embrace that. Sometimes though, those differing opinions may harm your ego and cause you hurt and pain. It is difficult to tell you how to handle such situations because each one will be unique. Don’t let your ego (or a reflection of your own ego onto God)1 get in your way of peace. Who knows what the truth is besides those that have directly witnessed it. The rest of us are at the mercy of what we have been told, passed on from person to person. The religious, rightly or wrongly, rely on faith to guide our hearts. Each religious person does this, therefore we should respect the religion of the next and be at peace with your partner not accepting the same ideas as you. Focus instead on those many things that most religions do agree on.

It has been my experience that some views maintained by some religious groups are particularly hurtful to those that do not belong to that group. If your partner expresses one of those hurtful opinions, then let him or her know how that makes you feel openly, calmly and honestly. Do not do this in a “waging war” kind of way, because war begets war. Speak always in a calm but feeling manner. Always be honest, but always be composed and compassionate in your approach. Encourage logical dialogue to seek out common ground on a topic. Do not believe that there is no home for logic in religion. Without logic, we are little better than animals. Logic and faith can live together and both should be employed in this aspect of our lives.

An activity my husband use to engage each other on religious philosophies is to use made-up “case studies” and apply the philosophies or laws of our religions to these case studies. We then discuss the justness of these laws in our opinions. What is important is that our philosophy on basic moral values (such as truth, love, non-violence, peace, right conduct) are aligned. When we use these values like a Litmus Test in any case study or real life challenge, we will then almost always come to the same conclusion, and this is where it matters.

Remember, it takes maturity to have a peaceful conversation about religion and it takes composure and humility not to become inflamed in the face of disagreement.

1Often we reflect our own personality traits onto God, expecting Him/Her to be much like us – power hungry, egotistical, competitive. But to me, God is beyond these human traits and we need to move beyond them too. After-all, who is there for God to compete with? Whether you call God Him or Her, Higher Consciousness or Higher Self or Light or Love, we can probably all agree that there is no equal.

My Story

I started my interfaith journey 11 years ago when I fell in love with my husband before realising that he belonged to a different religion than me. Having been brought up in a home which encouraged respect for all religions and belonging to a spiritual organisation that teaches that “all religions are one”; I felt obligated not to see religion as an obstacle for us. My husband (boyfriend at the time) was brought up in a more conventional setting, and often felt conflicted over many aspects of our future and thus began our journey of growth. Five years into our marriage and with 2 kids in our arms, we can proudly say that we have peace, love and happiness in our lives together. We still maintain our respective religions and we don’t agree on everything in each other’s philosophy books and sermons; but (and it’s a big but), we do agree on most things, especially the values that we ascribe to in our personal, professional and parenting lives.

 

In my life of 30 years I have seen many people give up on love because of the complexity of an interfaith relationship. I hope to provide the world with an example that interfaith marriages can work, and that not only can it work but it can work well. You can be your happiest self in an interfaith relationship. Like all relationships, interfaith relationships too take love, understanding, empathy, sensitivity, respect, amongst other values; to make it flourish. Although our interfaith family project is still a work in progress, I am here to give you a window into my life so that maybe you can benefit from it in some way. It is a very personal story to share with the world, but I am going to try to be completely honest whilst being sensitive to the people around me.

 

I have also included  help for those on a compassionate eating journey as I am. I believe that the topic of compassionate eating, alongside that of propagating love between religions, races, cultures and nations, can usher in a new era of peace and love and create a healthy environment for us all.

Please feel free to drop me comments and questions.