Here are 12 serious questions couples need have to address were they to consider marrying someone with another religious worldview.

Reading Time: 3 minutes


Let’s run through 12 problems facing people who desire to mate with others who don’t share their religious worldview. If you can’t address and deal with the following 12 items, cancel your next date and proceed no further with the wedding plans.

1.  Will you acknowledge or confront the feelings of both families—grandparents, parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins—who may oppose such a marriage? Do remember the hilarious scene in Woody Allen’s movie ‘Annie Hall’ when his Jewish character Alvy Singer visits the Diane Keaton character Annie at her Protestant Midwestern family’s home? Annie’s grandmother envisions Alvy with the long hair and beard and hat of a Hasidic rabbi. Granny Hall isn’t a fan of the new beau. Are you ready for these slings and arrows?

 2.  How will you raise your children—in which religious worldview? This is not a small matter. In many cultures husbands ‘allow’ wives to raise the kids any way the wives want. But in other cultures the husbands get to choose. And will there be any anxiety if the kids feel mommy or daddy is not getting into the post-mortem happy pavilion called heaven?

 3.  Whose religious holidays will you celebrate in your marriage? It’s easy to throw up a Christmas tree without being a Christian. And it’s a piece of cake to color Easter eggs on a Sunday. And a non-Muslim can certainly gormandise during Eid at Ramadan’s end. But other religious holidays might demand a bit more attention and piety. Look into it before you offend someone and mar the occasion (and perhaps end up with a bloody purple nose).

 4.  Will you circumcise your baby son if your spouse’s religion calls for that?  Or will you insist that your spouse agrees to circumcise your baby son if your religion calls for that. That’s a big little incision we’re talking about there. Better think hard on this one. And don’t fall for the line, “I want my son’s penis to look like mine!”

 5.  Will you participate in religious rituals for your children? Will you insist that your spouse agrees to participate in religious rituals for your children? Bar Mitzvah, Bat Mitzvah, the Sacred Thread Ceremony, Confirmation, First Communion. These can be serious events to think through.

 6.  Will you veil your daughters if your spouse’s religion asks for that? Will you insist that your spouse agrees to veil any daughters you both have? This one could be tough if either partner is a feminist, because it might appear that the rule and the garment were designed by males to address a male problem: i.e., a continual attraction to the adult female form with the solution being ‘cover yourselves tip to toe.’

 7.  Will you dress according to your spouse’s religion’s rules about dress? Will you insist that your spouse dress according to the rules of your religion? There are modesty rules in most religions. Sometimes even wrists and ankles cannot be exposed. Sometimes a hat must be worn. Have a talk about it. Visit a tailor.

 8.  Will you stop drinking alcohol if your spouse’s religion forbids alcohol? Will you insist that your spouse give up alcohol because your religion forbids it? Or will someone say with Sir Toby Belch of Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’: “Dost thou think because thou art virtuous there will be no more cakes and ale?”

 9.  Will you abide by your spouse’s religion’s dietary rules? Will you insist your spouse abides by your religion’s dietary rules? No pork, or all vegan, or periods of going without food for hours or days. If you can do all this, you might really be in love. You might have a chance.

10.  If there are sexual prohibitions in your spouse’s religion will you abide by those? Will you insist that your spouse abide by any sexual prohibitions in your religion? Think of birth control issues or prohibited kinds of sexual acts (I needn’t list them, need I?) Don’t wait till cool sheets are dragged over your head before you sort this one out.

11.  What of arranged marriages—marriages decided by parents? Here it’s unlikely that religious parents will choose a nonreligious spouse for their child. Or vice versa. But what if they did? Will you balk? Will you walk?

12.  What if your spouse changes religions or leaves religion after ten years of marriage? Do you file for divorce? Convert? Work it out? Leap off a tall building in a single bound?

Avatar photo

J. H. McKenna (Ph.D.) has taught the history of religion since 1999 at the University of California, where he has won teaching awards. He has published in academic journals and the LA Times, Huffington...