“Are you Catholic?” We’d only been in the soup kitchen of The Basilica of San José de Flores five minutes and the question had already come up.
“Um, no.” I replied hesitantly.
“So, what are you then?” The middle-aged woman looked us up and down. “Nothing?”
“Christian”, I said, hoping that the wide-cast term would satisfy her curiosity. It didn’t.
“I like Catholics!” I stammered. Not much better.
“Everybody ready? We are about to open to let everyone in!” Luckily, the fast-pace of the soup kitchen allowed for the subject to switch to more pragmatic things. This was our first week at our new service project in the Flores district of Buenos Aires and there was a huge line of people lined up in the street beside the basilica, waiting to come in and eat. Denominational differences don’t mean a lot when there are mouths to feed. Some things are simply more important.
I don’t enjoy sectarian labels. In most matters they come across as artificial and divisive. Often, denominational chatter distracts from what truly matters.
Religious differences don’t matter… until they do
One big, hairy exception to the above rule slaps a lot of would-be happy people in the face though: The dating world. Try to seriously date across religions divisions and you are often asking for trouble. They might seem petty at first but religious differences can be a deal breaker relationally.
I consider myself open-minded and often say that I am a religious tourist. I was raised and am still a devout Seventh-day Adventist Christian. I find my faith to be the greatest source of meaning in my life. It is super important to me. But I don’t think my faith has all the answers or that the answers I’ve grown up with are perfect. Far from it. I see a lot of value in learning from others and borrowing ideas from other faiths… in deliberately growing.
But when it comes to dating and marriage, I basically stuck to my own. I dated and married Jammie, an Adventist girl. I am happy to announce that we just happily passed the two-year mark in our marriage and I could not be happier!
Some of the reasons I decided to date and marry within my faith were cultural:
Dating someone of your religion is less hassle – There are things about every subculture that are a little special. I’ve had many a good conversation with Muslim, Jewish, Baha’i and Hindu friends and they all have funny stories about the things their families and faith communities do that seem absurd to everyone else.
Adventists, for example, wash each other’s feet at communion, have a charming obsession with vegetarian potlucks (although more than half of them will gladly eat meat at home) don’t drink (unless they are “liberal” European or Californian) and until recently had three socially acceptable career paths for their kids: teacher, pastor or anything medical.
Understanding all the rules, ideas and stories that condition Adventists to behave like this takes a while. Dating another Adventist saves you having to explain everything. It makes sense. Similarly, I don’t blame my Muslim friends for marrying other Muslims or think that sites like JDate.com don’t have a valuable place in Jewish communities.
Dating someone outside of your religion can be an unnecessary fight starter – Jovial debates about cultural peculiarities are just the beginning. The classic “serious” scenario is child rearing. Religious differences can be overlooked until kids enter the picture and you can’t agree on a tradition in which to raise a child. All of a sudden things get tense. Fights break out. Kids are confused and predisposed to hating on something as potentially divisive as faith when really faith should be a source of strength.
And then the caveat…
Having said the above, I know plenty of exceptions to my self-imposed dating rules. I know happy couples and families that seem to successfully transcend religious differences. They have developed a hybrid culture where both traditions are respected and celebrated. I have often wondered how they do it. Am I too entrenched in my religious ideas? Did I grow up in a weirder subculture than they did? Was it the veggie meat? What happened?
Rather than going around asking themselves how to find someone to date that believes all the same things or trying to convert romantic partners through some form of ‘dating evangelism”, they have decided to focus on other common ground and let the religious differences simply be.
Instead of scouring denominational online dating sites or paying faith-based dating services (big biz by the way…), they have connected with their partners as they have met them through life circumstances. Their list of dating tips doesn’t start with “Go Adventist/Baptist/Buddhist”.
Where do you stand on all this?
How important should religion be in dating? Should you hold out and try to find a date that believes the same way as you or is it not that important? I would love to hear your views in the comment section. CultureMutt is a place to discuss and understand cultural issues in order to make this world a better place. We are not going to vote you up or down based on your view. But do add to the conversation… there are epiphanies waiting to happen…