On raising an inter-faith kid

I haven’t written much about the religious element of our household because frankly I think of blogging as a little bit like having a private conversation in the middle of a crowded pub; yes, I’ll reveal quite a lot about my life, but on the understanding that a bunch of randoms are listening in. And frankly, the very last thing I want to talk about with the randoms of the Internet is religion. And yet, I find myself writing this. We’ve navigated Christmas and Hannukah, Pesach and Easter are around the corner – it just seems like the time to get a few thoughts down. I can’t promise they’ll make much sense.

I spend most of my time online surrounded by lefty, feminist, yogurt-crocheting types like me, and of course they’re largely atheist or agnostic; those that aren’t, like the awesome Hannah Mudge, are excellent, but actually I don’t want to immerse myself too much in that part of the Twitterverse either. This is partly because I feel like faith is a fiercely private thing (one of the many reasons I object to state-funded religious education despite being a signed-up member of a particular faith), but also because a lot of what I come across is very much about a particular faith – so often evangelical Christianity, which to this Greek Orthodox-raised kid is as foreign as any non-Christian denomination could be.

If my adopted surname isn’t too much of a giveaway, we also ain’t a one-faith household.

I’ve thought about blogging what we do to try and tread that line between faiths and opening our daughter up to the idea of faith in general, but really, we’re stabbing in the dark as much as anyone. Had I married someone ‘like me’, I’d have done the default Christening and never thought about it twice; now, confronted with being unable to make that choice for her, I wonder why I thought it would even be okay to do so. I mean, I spend so much time hanging out in spaces where all we talk about is broadening girls’ horizons and choice, choice, choice, and here I’d be trying to sign her up from birth to a club she can’t even understand.

Equally, I know that she might find herself partially excluded from part of her identity. Many reform and liberal Jewish groups will be glad to welcome her with open arms; should she ever want to become more conservatively Jewish, however, she’ll find she has to convert, despite her father’s blood. Judaism is matrilineal; this is considered to be for spiritual as well as practical reasons. There is certainly quite a lot of hand-wringing over intermarriage – or, to use a phrase that literally has me squirming in my chair with irritation, “marrying out” – in the Jewish community if letters from Disgruntled of Golders Green to the JC are to be believed. (I think my favourite was the one from the woman who said gentile women having children with Jewish men were “finishing Hitler’s work”).

I kind of feel it leaves her on even footing, though. Should she choose to identify more closely with either tradition, she’ll have to go through the process of becoming a member of the group from scratch, more or less – though at least the traditions of both will be familiar to her. No matter what, she’ll observe apple dipping, candle lighting, fasting and chometz avoidance in addition to temporary veganism, icon kissing, wine sipping and egg smashing. She’ll witness both, at different times of year and in different households; on a more frivolous note, she’ll also get way too many presents. She’s started to refer to herself as ‘half-Greek, half-Jewish’; although the latter is not a nationality and the former is not a religion, it’s only the beginning of a process through which she’ll come to understand her place in the world from a cultural and religious perspective.

And you know what? No, I don’t worry about her getting confused. I feel I should be somehow apologetic about this, but I’m just not. I can’t see how being descended from two such rich and beautiful traditions can be anything but wonderful – even were she to end up never being fully part of either. Before the theology even comes in to play, there are different, yet often complementary, languages and music and art and literature and thought and spirituality and ethics and history. I feel she’s incredibly lucky to have all that to draw on from such a close perspective, especially as with a writer mum and artist dad she’s likely to be creative in some way or other (and really, isn’t everyone, somehow? I reckon there’s creativity in practically any path, if you’re open to it).

So there are my thoughts. Garbled and emotional, for sure, but show me a parent who’s totally sorted and I’ll… probably feel guilty about it.

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6 responses to “On raising an inter-faith kid

  1. What a wonderful post. I think your child will have the best of both worlds, and as you say, choice. She’ll also be able to philosophise on a much deeper level than many of her single-faith based peers. If Mummy thinks one way and Daddy another, that means it’s okay to have my own thoughts without disappointing anyone I love, including my own parents. (The grandparents might be another story.0 ; D

  2. I found this a really interesting read. I have decided to not give my kids a religion at all – I want them to decide if they want to have one or not – and I love to read other’s decisions on this!

  3. Oh that is really not the most succinct comment ever written but I hope you know what I mean… I’m tired, I’ve had a glass of red, you understand 😉

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