The power of an interfaith relationship

by Dezi Hall

I'll never forget the look on his face when I dropped what I like to call the "A-bomb" on him. "Technically I'm Jewish, but I'm actually an atheist."

As the big blue eyes on his sweet Midwestern face grew wide with shock I immediately thought, Ah, shit. I'm never getting a second date out of this one.

But, that farm fresh tall drink of water shocked me right back and some how I found myself on a second, third date, a fourth date, until I ended up engaged to him eight weeks later.

My husband is a real life son of a (Lutheran) preacher man and I am a Jewish atheist. I always thought religion (or rather, vehement resistance to religion) was a major deal breaker for me. Turns out having piercing blue eyes, calling instead of texting and showing up at my apartment with Goldfish can undermine ironclad deal breakers.

The more I fell for him, the more I decided we would just work out this minor kink of having two completely divergent viewpoints on how the world works later. As an atheist, I assumed I would be the one to influence and change my husband. I would come at him with logic and facts and undeniable truths and he would succumb to my beliefs through intellect and sheer force of will. Turns out I was wrong again. Being in this interfaith relationship has changed me and taught me so much more than it's taught him.

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On our first weekend getaway together, a mere four weeks into our fledgling relationship, I started my attack, eager to rid him of his religion- the one thing holding him back from being utterly perfect for me. All of my well thought out, carefully planned arguments were met with infuriatingly calm shrugs and rage-inducing responses like, "Hmm, interesting." After I became seriously unhinged, he hit me with the ultimate counter blow, "Why can't I just believe what I want? It's nice and it makes me feel good. What's the problem?"

This was when I started to realize I might actually be as bad as all those creepers on the side of the street waving signs and shouting nonsense from their megaphones. (Never mind- I'm definitely not that bad.) This is when I realized he might actually end up changing my mind on a few things. He never got me to believe that Jesus was any more real than the Tooth Fairy, but he did lead me to a deeper understanding of myself. Forced to reflect on my own ideology and ardor towards believers, he taught me acceptance.

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I used to point out all the flaws in everyone's belief system, just because I could. But, you know what? That's not nice. So, unless someone wants to engage in polite debate, I try to keep my mouth shut and my mind open. This doesn't mean stifling my own beliefs, but it does mean not going after innocent people like a rabid bulldog just for thinking differently than I do.

When I first told him more about my beliefs, he responded with a casual, "That's cool." When we got more serious and I told him that while I was an atheist, it was important to me that any future kids know their Jewish roots he responded, "Sounds good." When I told him I wanted our family to celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah and never go to temple or church he said, "Fine by me." When I said, "Doesn't your religion say I'm going to hell?" he responded with a wink, "Totally. But it's cool. I'll come down and get you and bring you back to heaven."

Infuriating. Sweet. Annoying. Adorable. These are the constant struggles of those of us with partners from different backgrounds. It might be possible to eventually strip him of his beliefs if I tried long and hard enough. But what would be the point? Who would he be without his religious foundation? Maybe the Lutheran teachings are where he learned to open doors and bring girls salty Pepperidge Farm treats. I don't know. I've never been to church.

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Acceptance and learning how to respectfully discuss heavy topics are cornerstones of a fulfilling marriage. Those of us in interfaith relationships have been in the trenches from the start, so maybe this gives us leg up on all the traditional couples out there. I'm not sure. All I know is that I thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster every day that I found this non-believer-loving believer.

One final note: When I asked my husband if he thinks he has learned anything from our interfaith relationship he responded, "Hmm. Nah. But I do love matzo ball soup."

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